The new headquarters of Running Fit on Jackson Road, which serves as both retail store and warehouse space, is the former Church of the Nazarene. That seems entirely fitting. For Randy Step running is a religion, and the bouncy, skin-and-bones Step is an evangelistic preacher.
Step, fifty-three, owns Running Fit along with Steve Angerman, fifty. With this new location, they now have seven stores in southeast Michigan. “But we’re really 50 percent an event company,” says Step, who has so much energy he runs every day and jumps around when he talks. Under the Running Fit umbrella (which has somehow spawned, according to Step, twenty-seven websites) are classes, group runs, races, and anything else Step and Angerman can think of to drag people into running mania. “We trick other people into the sport so that they become passionate runners,” Step says. “They wear out shoes and buy more. That’s our business plan.”
Their original store is on East Liberty, but Step thinks this newest location, at 5,700 square feet (about half of it devoted to warehouse and offices), may supplant it as the flagship. It was a big investment. “I’m nervous,” he says. “It’s the first thing I’ve ever owned that’s over a million dollars,” but with government incentives, he couldn’t turn down the opportunity. He didn’t make any structural changes to the 1979 church, basically a pole barn, but “we put a lot of lipstick on this thing,” adding windows and facing it with stone. In front there’s still a cross, covered up by a plywood sign.
In spite of his waggish way of talking about his businesses, Step preaches a serious, technical approach to running and dismisses a lot of shoe innovation as fad. The fads, he says, are always about impact and shock absorption, but “all shoes on the market handle impact about the same.” What matters is how a shoe deals with the foot’s torque, or pronation, as it goes through a step cycle. Running Fit’s specialty is finding a good match between runner and shoe.
Step has no plans to close the Liberty store (he also owns that building), even though it’s a block away from another running store, Tortoise and Hare, owned by a former employee of his. “It’s good to have a competitor,” he says. “It gives the customer options. If you get mad at me for something, you can go over there.”
Running Fit, 5700 Jackson Rd. 929-9022. Mon. & Thurs. 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Tues., Wed., Fri., & Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sun. noon-5 p.m. www.runningfit.net