The Iowa Small Business Development Center at Kirkwood Community College helped Brian and Kris Tharp open their specialty running store by providing assistance developing a business plan and financial projections, helpful demographic market research, and advice on location, marketing, legal structure, and other start-up business basics.
Brian Tharp started running to lose weight and realized he was constantly buying new shoes. He became an expert in running shoes but, more importantly, he dropped from 400 pounds to about 200 by running. “It was either get healthy or die,” he said. “I started with nutrition and exercise.”
When Brian began running, he started to realize how important it was to have gear that fit and was comfortable. He went on the Internet and bought shoes but they ended up giving him knee pains, so he went to a specialty running store, got fitted and got the right equipment. “It went from painful to tolerable,” he said.
Brian fully committed to running and it soon became less of a chore and more of a lifestyle. He and his wife, Kris, participate in 5K, 10K and marathon races almost every weekend. Deciding to open a specialty running apparel store was a natural next step. “I really enjoy this. I love to help people to reach their fitness goals and this store can help with that,” Brian said.
The Tharps spent almost a year planning and working on the business before opening the store. They sought help in June 2011 from the Iowa Small Business Development Center at Kirkwood Community College (SBDC) with developing a written business plan.
With the assistance of SBDC Director Al Beach, Brian and Kris first spent a good amount of time just trying to find the best location in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Corridor. A storefront in North Liberty seemed to be the best fit because the community is very health conscious, there’s a great trail system in North Liberty, and its citizens support an active lifestyle. In addition, thousands of cars drive by on Highway 965 every day and the store location chosen on that highway was next to an established coffee shop and close to the local Fareway grocery store.
Al helped Brian and Kris develop a written business plan so they could apply for a loan, which they obtained from Collins Credit Union. Al provided the Tharps with a demographic market research from SBDC Market Research Coordinator Tricia Janes that was based on criteria he helped determine. He also provided guidance on their logo design and other marketing tactics. While ordering inventory, Kris sought assistance from Al on the best ways to approach reluctant shoe vendors, to convince them to allow We Run to represent their lines. “We haven’t done much advertising because our budget is pretty small,” Kris said, adding that they have reached out to chiropractors and physical therapists in the area for client referrals.
With the financing obtained and the start-up details worked out, We Run LLC opened in March 2012. Located at 555 Highway 965 S in North Liberty, We Run is very much a family-run business. It has eight employees, including Kris, Brian, Brian’s father, and two of the Tharps’ children.
We Run carries a selection of technical running or walking apparel for every season plus products for running in the cold Iowa winters and apparel for staying cool and dry in the hot Iowa summers or at the gym. The store also offers items for people to stay hydrated and full of energy during their training runs or on event day, plus it sells accessories like running socks, water belts, and safety gear. The business has a stock of 800-900 shoes and has about 100 different shoes on display.
Brian and Kris’ passion for running and the impact it has had on their lives shows in their commitment to their new business. Kris left her IT management job at Kirkwood Community College to start the business. Brian kept his day job but helps out with the new business on nights and weekends. In addition to selling its products, We Run hosts group runs and trains first-time runners.
The store’s official grand opening was held on September 1, 2012 in conjunction with a 5K Fun Run/Walk and a Kid’s Run.
The Tharps aren’t sure how their business will evolve, but say they do have visions for the future. “We have hopes and dreams of [opening] other stores that we would love to offer to other communities but we don’t know where yet,” Brian said.
Right now, Brian and Kris are focused on their current store. They would like to expand their product offerings, are considering adding running products for children, and might focus part of their business on people who would rather walk to stay fit. We Run does its share of community service, too, by serving as a drop-off location for new and used shoes to donate to Soles4Souls.
Kris and Brian have nothing but praise for the assistance they received from the Iowa Small Business Development Center saying, “Al Beach at the Small Business Development Center was able to look at our specific situation from a different outsider’s point of view, with his many years of experience that was often helpful and gave us the needed guidance to keep us moving in the right direction. Al was always positive and super supportive. He helped us make our dream come true and we are forever indebted.”