How can a local, retail shoe store compete with national chains and online shopping?

Kathy Gates, owner of The Running Well Store, has found a competitive edge by going beyond basic customer service and products. At her three locations, customers can receive a stride analysis, shoe fitting session, test run outside the store, strategies for foot issues, free workshops and a weekly run with employees and other customers.

“We now and forever will live in an world,” said Gates. “The only way to not merely survive, but to thrive, is to continue to deliver within our three pillars: outstanding customer service; unrivaled product knowledge; dedication to the community.“

To help customers find the perfect fitting shoe, The Running Well Store performs a stride analysis to determine a customer’s biomechanics on how they walk or run. Before suggesting shoes, trained employees ask customers about any related medical issues, like plantar fasciitis, foot numbness or pain in the knee, hip or back. Then shoes are sized for foot length and width based on exercise needs. Employees even encourage customers to go outside and walk or run to compare different brands. The stores also sell orthotics, specialty socks, compression bands and foam rollers to help relieve pain from plantar fascia.

Gates said her team encourages customers to join employees on weekly group runs through parks, on trails and along city streets. Not only does everyone get some exercise, but many runs end at a local café or bar for a protein shakes, coffee or happy hour drink.

Since 2013, Gates has seen consistent sales growth, despite industry trends and the growth of online retail sales.

“These three pillars are our foundation and the reason why 50 percent of our new clients are referrals from current clients,” Gates said.

When Gates decided to open a third location, she sought the assistance of the Small Business & Technology Development Center for growth strategies. She received business coaching from Jill Meyer, SBTDC director of innovation and senior technology development consultant, and Jill Hathaway, SBTDC business development consultant. They encouraged her to apply for the ScaleUP! program, where she quickly learned that the operational processes and procedures she had for two stores did not work well for three locations. So, she revamped her operations.

Gates’ hard work has paid off with recognition from local and national organizations. The Running Well Store was listed in the Top 50 Best Running Stores in America for four consecutive years and won the 2018 KC Business Journal Women Who Mean Business Award, 2018 Thinking Bigger Business Media 25 Businesses Under 25 Employees, 2018 Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce Truly The Best Finalist, The Liberty Tribune Best Kept Secret of the Northland Award and The Lee’s Summit Lifestyle Best Health and Wellness Readers’ Choice Award.

The Running Well Store has three metro locations:


6009 Johnson Drive, Mission, KS • 913-400-2013


418 SE Hwy 291, Lee’s Summit, MO • 816- 600-2688


6106 NW Barry Road, Kansas City, MO • 816 741-8800


Kathy Gates, Owner