Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Difference A Year Makes...

As we are approaching Mill City Running’s first birthday, I’m feeling compelled to write about the incredible growth I’ve witnessed at this store from conception until now.  Yes, I’m using words like ‘birthday’ and ‘conception’ in reference to a store, because it’s more than just a store. Mill City Running is owners Jeff and Bekah Metzdorff’s baby, their firstborn, and I’m just lucky enough to have been invited along to help raise this incredible kid.

On July 6th, 2013, Mill City Running opened its doors to customers for the first time. I honestly can’t tell you a lot about that day first-hand because I was off running around in Europe, but the vibe I got in my social media stalking was that it was primarily a celebration for friends and family, the people who were invested with Jeff and Bekah from the beginning to make the store a reality.
In the days that followed, we had a modest stream of walk-in traffic. Neighbors of the store would stop in just to say they were happy to see a store like this in Northeast, and wished us well. A lot of people initially made token purchases, a pair of socks or a Mill City Running T-shirt, just their way of saying they support small business, and wish the store well.
We got some shoe shoppers too, and believe me, we gave them the most enthusiastic, thorough, and thoughtful fitting process anyone could ever ask for. This was of course a priority of ours from the very beginning, but we also were just hungry to help customers, and had plenty of time to spend on each individual shopper. We hoped the stellar service would be memorable enough for people to walk out and tell their friends about it.  No matter the purpose, we made it a priority to talk to everyone who stopped in, genuinely making an attempt to get to know them, and remember their names in case they stopped back again later. This strategy was awesome because I think we did impress a lot of people by greeting them by name when they returned to the store.
So time went on, and when asked how the store was doing, the company line moved from “We’re cautiously optimistic”, to “Things are going pretty well!” There are so, so many things that fed into this transformation, and this blog is already getting longer than most people like to sit through, so I’d just like to share a few random ‘then and now’ examples that paint a holistic picture of where we've come from and where we’re headed.
A picture says a thousand words: Check out the store when we first opened, and then look at the store today. ‘Nuf said.
July 2013

July 2014

OUR brand: Whether it’s the numerous, free, all-abilities-welcome group runs that meet no matter what (come hell or high water...or in our case, come ice or Polar Vortexes, we will still be there for Flapjack Friday!), or the ‘Cheers-esque’ feel of the store where everybody (tries) to know your name, it seems as if newbies quickly become regulars at Mill City Running. There’s just something intangible about the personality of this store that gives people a sense of belonging and a desire to take ownership too. Given this awesome community feel, our Mill City Running gear sales seem to continually grow (it also helps that every article of MCR gear is the comfiest piece of clothing you’ll ever own!) In the beginning, we started with a couple basic tees, and two hooded sweatshirts. Then we branched into new colors, crew-neck sweatshirts, zip-ups, pom hats, etc. It’s amazing to see how quickly people burst through the door when we reveal the latest article of MCR swag.

On the subject of group runs: Not only has attendance increased exponentially from day one, but it is so exciting to see the transformation of individual runners who consistently attend group runs. Most of you know about our Mill City Miles Boards in the store (where we keep track of everyone’s mileage ran from the store in 2014), but what you may not know, is many of the people with the biggest numbers on the 50- and 100-Mile Clubs are originally attendees of our Tuesday night Beginning Running group!

From group runs to a race team: Sometime last winter, we decided we should try to form a Mill City Running Race Team to compete in the USATF Minnesota Team Circuit. With little more than a promise of a jersey, camaraderie, and support for runners of all abilities, we quickly had over 100 members on board! The race team has grown to be more than just a store-affiliated affair. We love to see the postings that team members are meeting up for their own trail runs over the weekend, BBQ’s, and brewery outings on a regular basis- friendships that might not exist had Jeff and Bekah not followed their dream of opening this store.

I could go on and on about the continuous evolution of this store, but I think the two primary contributors to its growth and success are the things that remain constant.
First- Its very DNA is a perfect synthesis of all of Jeff and Bekah’s best qualities- a balance of organization and quirk, business savvy and philanthropy, disarming friendliness mixed with classiness. They have a knack for doing things differently, and a commitment to doing different right. Their love for this store-child spills over to the way we as employees aim to represent it, and thus reflects upon the experience you get when you visit us.
Secondly- YOU. While Jeff and Bekah may be the ‘nature’ contribution, what makes the store so special is the ‘nurturing’ that comes from the incredible community that surrounds it. It is thanks to your promotion, participation, and purchases that this store is already earning prestigious awards, and surpassing our wildest expectations for success. Thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU for the very important role you take in raising MCR from infancy. We couldn’t have done it without you.

Written by Heather Kampf