Sportseller: 36 years and still running
If you are wondering what key ingredients have allowed Sportseller to thrive for the past 36 years, the answer is knowledgeable staff, empathy and customer service.
So says Sharon Fenn, who has owned the Washington Mall store for the past 12 years.
“You need to have people who have empathy for the customer. I think we do a good job in that regard,” said Mrs Fenn.
“Customers like good service where staff are knowledgeable and will pay attention to them.”
Sportseller stocks running shoes and apparel from Asics, Mizuno, Saucony and Nike, together with apparel from leading yoga clothing companies. Swimming gear is given more floorspace during the summer months.
The shop has a long-established tradition of a 30 per cent off mid-January sale. This year’s week-long sale started today.
“We always do it at this time of year when Bermuda Marathon Weekend is on. Customers know it is going to happen and it is our way of giving back to them,” said Mrs Fenn.
“It’s 30 per cent off all the stock in the shop. We have this very level approach with customers and they know it is not a perpetual sale.”
The shop has been run by a succession of owners with sporting backgrounds, starting with Jim and Debbie Butterfield who opened the business in 1979. At the time they were among the best marathon runners on the Island.
A decade later triathlete Sutherland Madeiros took over, and it was during his spell as owner that Mrs Fenn joined as a sales assistant. Ten years later she became the owner.
“It was a good purchase. I knew who the main suppliers were, who the contacts were,” she said.
As a junior she swam and cycled. She trained as a massage therapist and worked at The Athletic Club, becoming operations manager, before deciding to work at the shop.
Describing Sportseller as a “running and fitness” outlet as opposed to a sporting store, she said: “Our stock starts at the higher end with all our vendors.”
The shop prides itself in how knowledgeable its staff are about the products it sells.
“You need to have someone who can sort out the wood from the trees and get the correct shoes for you.”
Running shoes are displayed along two walls, but customers generally don’t pick a shoe off the wall.
Mrs Fenn explained: “We pick the shoes that will work for each customer.”
However, she added: “Bermuda is a small place and we can’t service every single customer with the shoe they need, so we have a book that lists what customers want and we order them and call the customer when the shoes arrive.
“It sounds archaic, but it works very well — and that goes back to customer service.”
The Island’s economic downturn resulted a loss of regular customers for Sportseller in 2008 and 2009. The shop has bounced back, nurturing its customer base with an active Facebook page, where news about new products available is posted. A regular newsletter is also posted to 2,000 customers who are on the shop’s e-mail mailing list.
Sportseller’s customers represent a wide spectrum of the community, from everyday people to company CFOs and CEOs, said Mrs Fenn.
When asked about trends in running shoes, she said that for more than a decade there was no real change in the design of running shoes, but that changed eight years ago when the barefoot and minimal-style running shoes revolution took hold.
“For some people that was very successful, but not for everyone. A lot of people did not put in the time and effort that was needed.”
Looking ahead, the trend for zero-drop running shoes appears to be over. Even the Vibram company, which was at the forefront of minimalist running shoes, has started putting a thicker sole on some of its range.
“The zero-drop shoe is dying. Shoes are trending towards a 4mm to 10mm drop sole.”
Mrs Fenn said the next trend coming down the line appears to be maximalist shoes, which boast beefed up, cushioned soles.