It doesn’t always take the closing of one door to open another. Sometimes, it’s through one door that one can see others yet to be opened.
Such was the case for the Ruppels. After Steve Ruppel opened Ruppel Chiropractic in 2010, he began noticing a commonality among several of the visitors to his athlete-oriented clinic.
“We were fitting people for different types of shoes, and we realized there wasn’t really anybody in town who was doing that,” he said. He and his wife, Abby Ruppel, would open Marathon Endurance, 4002 Schofield Ave., Weston, less than four years later, in the spring of 2014.
Abby Ruppel runs the business, which seeks to outfit runners from head to toe in specialized shoes and apparel.
“One of our biggest resources is our gait analysis,” she said. “From high-end athletes to the couch-to-5K runners, to triathletes. We knew there was a market for it.
“We’re part of the running community.”
It wasn’t easy to move into the business community, however, as the Ruppels had to figure out the lay of the land in an unfamiliar sector.
“We had to make our own contacts,” Abby Ruppel said. “And a lot of them wanted to be exclusive.”
The Ruppels spent time cold-calling reps to try to establish contacts, which was tricky for a shop that hadn’t yet demonstrated the ability to sell anything.
“We had to tell them our business plan and what we’d like to do,” she said. “Brooks just wanted to get in the door. But then ASICS, well, they make a lot of stuff!”
Such broad arrays of product can be handy. All-season running has kept Ruppel on her toes as she looks to stay ahead of the curve in stocking what runners will be wanting.
“When you’re a runner in this state, you’ve got to be ready to run in cold weather,” she said, “but you don’t replace things like gloves as often as you do shoes.”
Like anything, she added, one can get serviceable apparel items such as gloves on the cheap from other non-running retailers., but it’s the performance-oriented crowd the Ruppels strive to reach. In doing so, they had to make early adjustments to their product selection.
“We used to sell bicycles,” she said.
Another challenge Marathon Endurance shares with other retailers is the perpetual presence of online sales. While the shop has a website, it’s not outfitted for ecommerce.
“You would need strict inventory controls,” Abby Ruppel said. “We might be leaving money on the table, but we try to have some flexibility, and we don’t bring in product we haven’t touched.”
While online retailers can be easy to call up and browse, Ruppel said she’s found they lack a certain human connection.
“One time I was fitting someone for an hour,” she said. “And they pulled out their phone and bought it right in front of us.”
Yet, it’s when Ruppel and company do make a connection with a customer that all the stresses of business ownership become worth it.
“What makes us unique is our gait analysis,” said Ruppel, who manages a staff of four. “But we get such a gamut. One woman from Rhinelander called and needed a pair of shoes but said she wasn’t going to be able to get here before we closed. So, I said, ‘If we know you’re coming, we’ll leave the light on for you.’ ”
She recounted another customer request that went the extra mile: “We got a call from a gentleman who bought some shoes for his dad’s 85th birthday. So, we pulled them off the shelf, wrapped it up in some ‘Happy Birthday’ wrapping paper and sent it. How fun!”
Ruppel said she and her staff will send thankyou cards, and she recalled one instance where they even sent someone an anniversary card. It’s attention to such details that keeps customers coming back.
“There’s no perfect shoe,” said Mark Esterline, a store manager. “The shoe we put you in depends on what you’re doing, everything from a 5K to a full marathon. That’s what people appreciate more than anything.”
Ruppel estimates that 65 percent to 75 percent of her customers are regular returners. And such connections that simply can’t be matched by many big-box stores could explain Marathon Endurance’s approximate 20 percent growth year over year.
“It’s also fun as far as being able to ask someone who comes back in, ‘How did your race go?’” Ruppel said. “We want to run alongside you.”