Called by some the anti-trade-show trade show, The Running Event organized by Formula4Media attracts a growing but still intimate group of specialty retailers partaking in both educational seminars and a small exhibit hall.
But it’s so much more: Over four days (this year Nov. 10-13 in Dallas) about 260 specialty retail executives attend business workshops from basic to advanced, go to dinners and parties, go on morning runs and workouts, walk a small expo hall to see and hear about new product, clink wine glasses and break bread, and generally network with manufacturers’ representatives and their retail colleagues.
“Small business education is paramount and the hybrid of half-expo/half-trade show serves the market well,” said Mark Sullivan, president, Formula4Media, the founder, owner and manager of the 3-year-old The Running Event (TRE). He explained the event attracts the biggest to the smallest to the hoping-to-open stores. “The common denominator is that they’re running specialty.”
In its three years, the event has grown about 15-20 percent each year, with this years’ retail attendee numbers up from last year’s 215, and the expo hall holding 140 brands, up from 120 a year ago.
At the event, SNEWS® talked to a number of retail owners and managers who owned one store or multiple stores – all of whom had attended all three years. They came for the business education, they said, but they also came for the highly targeted expo hall, not to mention the after-hours networking. “The real networking starts after we get out of here,” said one retailer sitting in a seminar.
From education to expo to before- and after-hours activities, the event is highly directed to the needs of small businesses which live, speak and eat running. But it’s not all about what happens from 9 to 5; Formula4 puts huge effort, Sullivan said, into the early morning runs and the dinners and social events – a run one morning in a thundering Dallas downpour complete with lightening still attracted 100 or so hardy souls (or, shall we say, fools, and SNEWS was there to vouch for it), and a race one morning attracted about 150 of all levels.
“This is a competitive group, and they like to get their game on,” Sullivan said. “It’s how we choose to serve the market.”
The event has also been the springboard for the industry to cooperate and organize itself under the auspices of the IRRA, or Independent Running Retailers Association (Click here to see a May 5, 2008 SNEWS story about the group and its benefits to the small specialty running industry, “Running specialty retailers find collaboration builds business, good for industry.”). That organization, also founded by Formula4, grew out of the event. Sullivan said the retailers would gather and have passionate discussions about what was right and wrong, should be done differently, could be a problem, and other issues. A casual meeting in June 2006 about the possibility of such a group gave way to the non-profit itself (www.theirra.com), partly to give the retailers a platform but one where it wasn’t just about whining but rather about working constructively on issues of joint concern.
There are several advantages of the TRE and the intimacy of the event that go beyond just being a targeted, specialized show and conference:
- IRRA and Formula4 work together in reviewing registrants to make sure they fit the bill as specialty.
- Organizers also screen exhibitors and make sure they are all applicable to the stores. Some have been turned down.
- Exhibitors are told to keep the massive booths in the warehouse. The show’s largest booths were about 20-by-20 end caps at the front by sponsors such as Asics, Puma and Reebok. Most are 10-by-10s or 10-by-20s, keeping the show more about product than theater.
- Other than two sessions of break-outs where attendees choose from a menu of several workshops, everybody basically does everything: Keynotes and key presentations are all in one ballroom; coffee breaks are in the foyer; and shuttles take participants to dinner in one place. That makes the show feel very familial and you get to know people since you see them over and over.
- Sponsors’ support and booth fees also cover a number of “scholarships” for attendees, such as first-timers or new shops, to help bring in new people. That covers the registration fee and lodging so those attendees just have to cover their transportation to the event.
- Registration fees for retailers are all-inclusive, so for $650 for one ($1,000 for two or $550 for IRRA members) attendees get all education, all dinners and other food and drink, and the expo and special events -- a deal really.
With the industry per Sullivan numbering only about 750 retail doors (about 450 ownership groups) the event will never be huge but Forumula4 and the IRRA want to keep it small so it doesn’t outgrow its purpose: convenient, efficient education, business and fun.
Next year’s event will be Nov. 9-12 in Austin, Texas.
SNEWS® View: Although many industries could not pull off such an intimate all-industry event, most could effectively pull together something similar that combines education and expo with all the necessary networking that makes an event worth its while: We at SNEWS strongly believe in the education/business/fun combo to build bridges and cooperation which in the end builds everybody’s profits and helps them find solutions as an industry.
These events are a superior example of how they can be done and how can be done well. Other than the running-focused extracurricular activities and running-specific expo products, the business education seminars could have been transplanted in front of many audiences: “Building your brand in an enthusiast community,” “How to market to people who are not like you,” “The 2008 election: What it will mean for America, the international community and your business,” and “The store manager as leader in your business.” A special all-day session focused on the business of running a store and, called “Get your store to the next level,” and was called a crash course for sharpening operations from managing inventory to managing staff. Sound good? We think so too.
Although not an expo, the outdoor industry’s comparable event would be its business meeting called the Outdoor Industry Association Rendezvous. Fitness, however, has no such event that brings people together and provides all the benefits of TRE. Perhaps it’s time, especially in a down economy, to think about the broader industry and, in fact, even about working together across industries.