Is Boulder’s Newest Running Shop the Future of Retail?
The founder of the Boulder Running Company is opening a new store and merging it with his physical therapy business
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Boulder, Colorado, is about to get (another) new specialty running store, but this one will be a little different from its competitors: It’ll have a physical therapy practice alongside merchandise on the retail floor.
The store, In Motion Running, will be owned and run by Mark Plaatjes, who is also a PT practitioner. Customers will be able to come in to address their niggling running injuries during a PT session, get a gait analysis, receive training on how to improve their form to prevent reinjury, and then walk over to the display shelves to find the shoe that works best for their feet.
Plaatjes is uniquely qualified to open this kind of running store. Born in South Africa, he was the 1993 world marathon champion and won a handful of major marathons in his prime. He also holds a degree in physical therapy from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. Most important, Plaatjes was the founder of one of Boulder’s most well-known and established running shops, the Boulder Running Company.
In 1995, Plaatjes opened the BRC with fellow South African expat Johnny Halberstadt. Over the next 18 years, the shop grew into a hub for Boulder’s running community. In 2013, the pair sold the store to Gart Companies (against Plaatjes’ wishes). Plaatjes stayed on as a store manager for a year and then quit to focus on his physical therapy practice full-time.
Plaatjes had his personal practice upstairs from the original Boulder Running Company store on Pearl Street. (He and Halberstadt had gone on to open two new locations.) “The clinic and store had a very symbiotic relationship,” he says. “Getting a form or gait analysis and then walking down to the store to buy appropriate running shoes happened very naturally.”
After a few years away from the retail floor, he grew to miss the running shop environment. Plaatjes also realized that few shops were offering the kind of in-depth biomechanical analysis that the Boulder Running Company offered in its heyday. “I work with lots of doctors, PTs, and podiatrists,” Plaatjes says. “They’ve been calling me for last four years because no running shops had training to help their patients.” So he’s getting back in the game.
Plaatjes’ new shop will bear the same name as his physical therapy practice and is tentatively set to open on August 1 in a storefront on 30th and Walnut Street in downtown Boulder. The PT side of things, which includes dry needling and sports massage, will be walled off from the retail floor.
“We want to provide people a place where the staff has extensive training to recognize different problems and make appropriate referrals,” Plaatjes says. The new store will be equipped with a treadmill that has a built-in pressure sensor and three cameras—one to the rear, one to the side, and one at the front. Gait analysis will be free, and Plaatjes will even offer to send results to customers’ podiatrists. Plaatjes will also give customers form training, an ongoing process that starts with an initial evaluation and continues with one-month, six-month, and one-year progress check-ins.
It’s all an attempt to stay relevant in the age of Amazon and Zappos. If a customer can get the same pair of shoes online for less money, they need a darn good reason to come into your store. Plenty of other specialty running shops offer gait analysis, and even some have on-site orthotists to make custom insoles for customers’ shoes. Some running stores have coffee shops or community hangout spots in their retail space, host races and community events, and foster ties to local running clubs.
But according to Terry Schalow, executive director for the Running Industry Association, Plaatjes is taking innovative retail practices “to the next level” by tying in an actual physical therapy clinic. “Everyone needs physical therapists,” Schalow says. “And physical therapists have a long tradition of sending patients to running stores because shoes play a big role in keeping people healthy.” So it makes sense to have the two businesses under one roof.
Indeed, Plaatjes is adamant that In Motion Running will be much more than just a running store. “We’re not selling shoes,” he says. “We’re giving people solutions to their injuries.”