‘The Tip: My First and Final’

I’ve always admired the warmth and excitment of running specialty stores. It’s like a safe haven, an embassy of sorts. Running shops are bastions of familiarity and endless possibility. You could be in Tokyo, Toronto, or Tampa and all alike they dabble in the language of running. Colorful products tantilize the senses, friendly store associates lay their complete expertise bare to your disposal. So many possibilities, and massive inspiration. Basically making you feel less weird amongst likeminded weird runner people.

Having fit running shoes for the last 10 years of my life, I’ve encountered a fair share of odd circumstances and situations. And for my encounters with the bizarre I didn’t waste any time. It was the first ever fitting conducted on my own. As I recall it was a pair of Nike Zoom Structure 15’s that I’d fit on a newly conscripted Army reservist whose aim was to get fit quick in order to scrape by in passing his mandatory physical fitness examination. The fitness test involved a timed mile run, and he was gracious for my assistance in finding some proper shoes to accompany his pursuit.

Because he was new to the rank-and-file, the reservist protested at having received a military discount on his purchase at check-out. Problem was however, the credit transaction had already been tendered. In lieu of his inexplicable, and might I add undeserved shame, homeboy thrust into my hands none other than the face of Alexander Hamilton printed on a crisp U.S. $10 greenback. He’d chalked it up to a cash tip to offset this disount for which he’d felt unworthy, then swiftly dashed out the door. I’ve been fitting running shoes for 10 years. Not a single tip since.

And in fact, I don’t need any tips. All I need are the small interpersonal connections that bring meaning to retail. For my Army reservist, I could tell he was stoked on the new shoes. Dude hadn’t yet experienced the accomodating spaciousness of an open running shoe fit. He was mesmerized by the gentle guidance and newfound restored alignment provided by the shoe’s support system. It was the bounce of the new shoe and the excitement brought forth by new possibility.

Folks bring baggage into retail stores. It’s my job to be the baggage handler. It’s that exhausted executive who’d arrived jadded from the working world outside and left enthused by the fit process, the people, our conversation. It’s the overburdened mom who’s thankful to our team for entertaining her kids while she finally got a moment to shop for herself. It’s a beaming online store review, a firm thankful handshake, or the words “I love those shoes you recommended. I run in them all the time.” It’s clients eager to learn, excited by our engagement, and gracious for our time that make it all worth while. I feel most gratified when our customers feel valued. And that is why the world needs running specialty stores.

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