When I was a kid, I always played school, and as an adult teaching came naturally. But in 2001, midway through my second year on the job, I got pregnant, and I knew I wanted to stay home with the baby. My husband and sister both had corporate jobs they wanted to leave eventually, too. We’re all runners, so we started exploring the idea of running-shoe retail. Very few shoe companies would give us product at first, but we had a good case: we were going after a region that wasn’t being well served. After borrowing against the equity of our homes, we opened Potomac River Running in 2003. The first couple years, we didn’t have any employees and didn’t pay ourselves. Now we have eight stores, and I focus on our training seminars. I also have the flexibility to race triathlon professionally around the world. I was an Olympic Trials finalist in 2008, and I’ll be competing in the Half-Ironman World Championships this September.
HOW YOU CAN DO IT: Launching a retail outlet requires “substantial capital,” cautions Pat Sweeney, co-owner of Fleet Feet Sports, which opened in 1976 and has since grown to 91 shops. Also required: in-depth knowledge of your sport. “You need the ability to explain the technical aspects of products from firsthand experience,” he says. Get free consulting on your business plan from the Association of Small Business Development Centers (asbdc-us.org) and Score (score.org).