Running Insight

FEBRUARY 15, 2018

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14 © 2018 Formula4media LLC. RUNNING INSIGHT WALKING ACROSS AMERICA About the author: For the next six months I'll be walking across America. Taking a southern route to stay out of the snow (hopefully), while letting my 3 m.p.h. life absorb the country at a slower pace. I'll visit curious nooks between bigger cities on the map: from Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, Austin, Shreveport, Little Rock, Asheville, and eventu- ally the Atlantic seaboard. Along the way I'll meet interesting people and learn their stories. I also plan to stop at run retail shops within range of my trajectory. Not only to stock up on anti-chafe items, new socks, and some nutrition, but also to enthusiastically exclaim, "I walked all the way from Santa Monica, California, to come see you!" If your shop is along my route, I might drop in. And it won't be a secret shopping sort of visit. No way. It'll be more of a celebration of our paths crossing. Your business and my endeavor coming together to shine a light on why we do what we do. For passion's sake. Then, when I have a minute to write about my journey for Running Insight, I'll include my visit to your shop. Tell a bit of your story so other retailers get to know your business better. Specialty retail, like this transcontinental walk, is fueled by genuine human connection — which is, undoubtedly, something that will benefit every business. ON THE SECOND DAY OF THIS YEAR I BEGAN WALKING across America. My inspiration to take such an adventure reaches back more than two decades — to a moment in the early '90s when I was sitting in a barbershop, waiting for a haircut. Fresh out of the Army, I was still rocking a high-and-tight. No barber in town could hook it up as well as Hassan, coiffeuse extraordinaire. His shop was busy like usual, so I searched for a magazine to mindlessly thumb through until it was my turn. I found a National Geographic from April 1977. Inside was an article about Peter Jenkins, a regular guy who had walked from the Atlantic to the Pacific. When I finished reading the piece, I sat there stunned. "Wait. You can walk across the USA?" I said out loud. And since that crystallizing moment in my early 20s, I've been planning to do the same doggone thing Jenkins did. And with each passing year, my internal dialogue never changed: Now's not a good time. I'll do it next year. Maybe. But that got old. And so did I. So this time around I finally said "yes" to a 25-year-old "maybe." And now here I am, a month into my 3200-mile trek. I've already had life-changing experiences with gracious strangers I've encountered along the way. Folks who have helped me realize that journeys like this transcend the individual. And even though completing a transcontinental walk is my ultimate goal, the endeavor is not just about me. It can't be. Such explorations are too big for any one person to call their own. So what's all this got to do with specialty retail? Well, I'd argue that my walk is simply a metaphor, like retail, for the bigger picture of life. If I am open to it, my daily mileage may affect how I think about something like the customer service experience. This doesn't mean I am seeking out material from which to learn. No. All it means is that, like my slow-paced walk across the USA, good retail requires mindful living. I may be scooting along the side of the road, kicking up dust, and eating way too many cans of beans, but I am also consciously appreciating the mundane. Fully realizing it's the small things that matter the most. A quality retailer does the same. Take, for example, a smile or a warm greeting offered to a stranger. If my default was to be stone-faced, I wouldn't have met that guy in a wheelchair while we both waited for the light to change. Nor would I have been gifted with his story or had the genuine exchange we had (that lasted three or four blocks). Meeting him enriched my day, possibly my life. "When I see someone doing what you are doing, I dream of what it would be like to do it. Then I spend the next few days, weeks even, considering all you'll see, all the people you'll meet, all the interesting experiences you'll have. And in that way, I'm right there with you," he said. "Nothing we do is in a vacuum. You and I, even if we never cross paths again, are on this journey together." Another time I noticed a woman eyeballing my backpack. I could only imagine what she was thinking. So I acknowledged her and wished her a good day — and that was enough for us to strike up a conversation about the walk. She asked the usual gamut of questions, Where you going? Why? How long will it take? Where do you sleep? Aren't you afraid? But then the small talk went deeper. It became obvious she was considering her own lofty goals. "One of these days I'm going to be in the Olympics. Track and field," she said. "Now I know what you are thinking, I'm too old. But really, I'm not. Plus, I'm super fast. Just trying to get my life back in order so I can focus on the track." Starting the next day, she promised me she'd start working out again. Now don't misunderstand, I am not suggesting that our exchange will alter the course of her life. But she and I had an authentic human encounter. Rare these days. Rarer still in retail. And when this sort of connection happens, both parties are lifted up in ways that may prove to be the catalyst for the possibility of something bigger. Like a dream realized. I hadn't smiled at these folks, or been open to a little chit chat, I'd have missed out on their respective stories. Which is to say, I'd have blown the chance to truly connect. n Retail on the Road Something as Simple as a Smile

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