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How a focus on running has paid off for Steve Millward of Gloucester Sports

How and why did you set up shop?

I took over Gloucester Sports with my friend, Ian Summers, in 2009 when the previous owner, Chris O’Carroll, retired. Previously I’d worked with Nike to provide product trial and gait assessments in specialist running shops throughout the UK and Ireland. I learnt a lot from those retailers about how to run a business and have used those ideas as a template for Gloucester Sports.

Why have you specialised in running?
I’m a keen runner, so it made sense to focus the business around that. We’re based about 400 metres from Gloucester Rugby Club, so we have a reasonable rugby presence too, but we’ve reduced it over the past seven years.

Space is limited, so other sports have gone by the wayside, but we’d rather do a couple of sports well than try and do a little bit of everything. 

How’s business?

It’s tricky. The market’s very crowded with brands, shops and retail platforms, but we’ve seen steady, sustainable growth over the past five years.

What’s the competition like?

There is one other local independent sports shop, but it focuses on rugby and multisports, so we don’t conflict. The big issue for us is the outlet centre in Gloucester Quays, which is slowly strangling the life out of the town centre. The ASICS and Nike shops there make things much harder for us. 

How do you remain competitive?
By offering superior service combined with a wide choice of brands, specialist gait analysis and team kit for local running clubs. All our staff run, so we offer a broad spectrum of knowledge to customers. We don’t advertise a great deal – recommendations from other customers are the best form of endorsement you can get.

What are your plans for the business?

We have slowly increased the range of footwear, apparel and accessories we offer in-store and will continue this over the next couple of years. We also plan to organise events locally to tie in with the shop. My dream would be to move to a bigger site that would have space for a biomechanics lab and treatment rooms.

What about marketing?

I struggle with marketing. Other than a Facebook page, we’re not great at self-promotion. We make sure we have a strong presence at events, both locally and further afield, but we could do more. It’s something I’m planning to address.

How do you find out about new products? 

We love to try new products and I’m learning to take a few more risks. I like to gauge opinions from other retailers who are friends and whose opinions I value and trust. We’re also members of STAG, which gives us a good service as well as the opportunity to see lots of brands in one place at the STAG show.

How does the business in your physical shop compare with online?

The online aspect of our business is a small percentage of our turnover. We don’t have the money or resources to compete with the big online stores. 

Would you ever consider being an internet-only retailer?

Absolutely not, even if this limits our potential. It would suck out all the enjoyment I get from owning a running shop, such as meeting runners and helping people select the right footwear.

What are your best-selling brands?

Footwear wise, we do extremely well with Brooks and adidas. Brooks work because they make very safe shoes with no gimmicks, adidas because they offer a strong range of shoes at different price points.

New Balance are our fastest growing footwear brand and are making some really appealing shoes. It’s always nice when we take on a new brand and it does well too. Aftershokz, Sunwise and CEP fall into that category for us.

What do you like most about your business?

The interaction with customers and chatting about all aspects of running, not just the shoes. One of my favourite tasks is deciding what to stock in the shop.

And the least?
I don’t like being told what to stock in my own shop by certain brands. This seems to be a new trend that’s creeping in and it worries me. Do the big brands not realise that one size doesn’t fit all? What sells in London may not sell in Gloucester. It feels like we’re being held to ransom if we want to continue stocking that brand.

What’s been your biggest challenge?

Apart from balancing the books, it’s getting the right staff. We have been lucky so far, but getting enough reliable help to cover all the events and races we do is difficult.

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