Varsity Sports opened in Baton Rouge, LA in 2000. Now, Jenni Peters’ specialty running shop has expanded to include locations on the North Shore of Lake Ponchartrain in Mandeville and on Magazine Street in New Orleans. With a commitment to community organizations, lots of brand merchandise and participation in sponsored events, you’ll recognize their winged-shoe logo if you spend any amount of time out and about the running world in Southeast Louisiana. Peters took a moment to chat about the run hard, live easy lifestyle of Varsity Sports and what’s moving off the their shelves right now.
Q: How’s business been this past year?
A: We’ve had a really good year. I stay in tune with the industry and what’s going on in our [specialty] channel, and I hear that it’s been flat for many retailers, but all three stores have had a good year.
Q: Who is your typical customer?
A: It’s so broad—if I told you it was the serious runner, or even the casual runner training for their first half marathon, it wouldn’t be accurate.
Maybe only 3 in 10 of our customers ever intend to run in the shoes they buy here. Over the years we’ve gotten the reputation to be good to help people find fit and comfort. Podiatrists recommend us, people with diabetes or injuries come to us for help and we also have our summer vacation people who come to us for comfort shoes. We understand the biomechanical fit and people like the service aspect.
So, I’d say it’s the person who likes the unique service we provide. That seems to be the difference between good running stores and okay ones—the good ones have learned how to help customers find the right shoe for them.
Q: What are your best-selling brands?
A: Brooks is by far our number one brand. Second place is between Saucony and Mizuno, which is peculiar to our store, from what I understand, but it sells well down here.
Q: What are the hottest sellers right now?
A: The super cushy shoe is trending right now—the Hoka One One has set the stage for a new type of shoe and lots of other vendors and brands are following that trend. There’s a pendulum swim from ultra-minimal to ultra-maximal. I’m proud to say that we’ve kept a middle ground, but we do offer both minimal and maximals, too.
Q: Who do you think is buying them? Are people wearing them just for running, or to wear around town, too?Q:
A: Most of the people who’ve bought them are people who really want the cushioning. Another group is people who have chronic injuries or other problems, and many of them swear that the cushioned shoes saved their running careers.
As far as I can tell, no one is really wearing them out around town. But they would be a great choice if you wanted a height boost!
Q: What kind of events are you involved in? Do you have anything in particular you’d like to say about your community?
A: Well, I’m based in Baton Rouge, so this isn’t for all locations, but we take every opportunity to be engaged. To me, that’s the blessing of owning a store—we get to engage people and be involved. We’ve got several new running groups in town that we work with and we do as many fun, crazy things as we can.
For example, we’re sponsoring the Louisiana marathon with a partnership with one of our vendors and we will be throwing a big pajama part at the end expo. We’ve also been in on things like the Hot 100 Great Tutu Run, the Hot 100 Circus, the Bayou Paddle, all kinds of things…
Every time I think I’ve pushed the envelope too much or a theme is too wacky, people come out and participate and save me from my skepticism!
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