By Missy Sheehan
North Wales Running Co. thrives thanks to focus on customer experience, company culture, and community.
For Scott Tantino, running isn’t just a beloved sport — it’s how he makes his living while simultaneously giving back to his community. As the owner of North Wales Running Co. in North Wales, Pennsylvania, Tantino shares his love for running with others and helps them reach their health and fitness goals.
“Running has benefited my life tremendously,” said Tantino, an avid runner since age 13. He competed in track and cross-country in junior high, high school, and college and briefly professionally before working as an assistant track coach on the university level for several years.
During college, Tantino worked part time at a running store and was so inspired by the way the owners conducted their business that he decided to open a similar store in his hometown. He founded North Wales Running Co. in 2006. Seven years later, he opened his second store, All Kinds of Fast, in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.
Tantino’s initial goal for his business was to fulfill a need that was not being met. “The area is very active and has a lot of walkers and runners,” he said. “When I was growing up, there was nowhere close by to get fitted for shoes in a welcoming environment. I felt I had an opportunity to provide a needed service to my hometown.”
Beyond simply providing a service, Tantino’s business is a knowledgeable, friendly resource and gathering place for members of the area’s walking and running community. “I wanted my own place where it feels like you are taken care of as if you are a family member, where employees are excited about your purchases,” he said. “I wanted an exciting place for my hometown.”
Emphasizing the Experience
North Wales Running Co. is an experience-driven business, according to Tantino. He wants customers to enjoy themselves and feel like they belong when they shop at his stores. “The experience is the most important thing,” he said.
We want to be our customers’ partner in their journey to happiness and health, so our customer service is focused on that. Some days we are coaches, some days we are cheerleaders, and we are always teammates of our clientele.”
Tantino emphasizes personalized service from a small but dedicated staff of 20 employees on average between his two stores. “Just as each person is unique, our approach must be flexible, supportive, and informed,” he said. “We need to always be receptive to or anticipate our customers’ needs.”
At both stores, customers can find footwear for running and walking, but Tantino doesn’t focus on how many shoes are sold so much as helping customers find the right shoes. In fact, that’s the crux of his business. “What we do is more of a hands-on fitting process to get people into the appropriate shoes,” he said. “We do gait analysis, and we fit people specifically for shoes that are appropriate for what activity they’re doing, what their injury history may be, and what type of foot they have.”
While customers can purchase running and walking shoes, apparel, and accessories on North Wales Running Co.’s website, most sales take place in person at the stores. “We have toyed with ways to sell more online, but online sales take away the most important part of our business — the experiential aspect,” Tantino said.
Hiring Exceptional Employees
Customer service drives people’s happiness, according to Tantino, and exceptional customer service begins with exceptional employees. “Staffing is the single most important element in success in my business,” he said. “You can buy running shoes anywhere — on a smartphone, at the mall, or on your computer. What separates us from those mindless places to buy shoes is our active and wonderful staff.”
Tantino said his hiring process is slow and picky. While he doesn’t require employees to be runners, his business tends to attract people who are interested in the sport. But it’s more important to Tantino that employees are knowledgeable and welcoming. “When I’m looking for a new staff person, I ask: Would I want this person to be the face of my business if my mother were the customer, or my grandmother, or my dad? How is this person going to represent the ideals of our business for each person that comes in the door?” he said.
He also looks for employees who are passionate about health and fitness and who want to be involved in the business and the community. “I try to find people I admire and respect — people who will help improve the culture of the store,” Tantino said. “We build our staff based on kindness and passion. I can teach anybody to fit running shoes, but if you don’t genuinely care about the customer’s journey and experience, then there’s no point in being here.”
From an employee perspective, Tantino’s approach seems to be working well. In his 12 years in business, he has never fired anyone, nor has any employee left on bad terms. “It’s all about having a culture of people you want to be around,” he said.
It’s like a snowball going downhill: If you keep adding good people, the overall culture of your business improves as people become more passionate about adding to it.”
Supporting the Community
Community involvement is another key part of North Wales Running Co.’s culture, and Tantino encourages employees to fully participate. He and his staff lead free group walks and runs twice a week from each store. They visit local gyms to test shoes. They volunteer with the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association to help maintain local trails.
Staff members also provide coaching through beginner and intermediate running classes as well as clinics at local schools and gyms and with community groups.
Looking to the future, Tantino wants to find more ways to support his customers and his community. “We want to be more active in our community and get out there and meet more people,” he said. “Any way we can keep our community healthy will benefit everybody.”
Missy Sheehan is a freelance writer and editor and the owner of Sheehan Writing & Editing. She edits magazines, books, blog posts, and marketing materials and writes for magazines and business blogs. Learn more at sheehanwriting.com.