Jesse Squire | On 09, Jul 2013
One of the more annoying features of Facebook is the “so and so likes this business” thing that sneaks into your timeline. But sometimes they’re useful. Late last week I saw that one of my Facebook friends liked the page for RunFanShop.
I’d never heard of it but I was intrigued. I’ve long thought that this is exactly what running and track and field fans need, an online fan shop like all the other pro and college sports and teams have. I felt ignorant that I didn’t know of its existence.
It turns out the reason I didn’t know of its existence was that it didn’t yet exist and wouldn’t launch until Monday (yesterday). I did some internet research and found this:
RunFanShop will be THE destination for fans of distance running to buy books, DVDs, posters and gear from their favorite athletes. Our original line includes shirts and posters featuring two big-time fan favorites; Brian Sell and Nick Symmonds.
RunFanShop also gives running fans a one-stop shop for the best running books and DVDs on the market. No more googling and searching on Amazon. We’ve got them all in one place!
I contacted the owner and creator of the RunFanShop, Ben Rosario, and asked him a few questions.
Daily Relay: Where did the idea come from to start this business?
Ben Rosario: This idea has sort of been floating around in my head for a long time. I suppose the real lightbulb moment was when my wife Jen and I walked into the Niketown in Vegas and saw a room full of football jerseys, a room full of soccer jerseys and a room full of basketball jerseys all with players names plastered on the back but there wasn’t one single piece of apparel highlighting a track and field athlete to be found. And that’s not a knock on Nike. You can’t find anything like that anywhere (except Oiselle which is starting to get into it with Lauren Fleshman and Kate Grace which I think is awesome). So rather than sit around and blame this organization or that company we just wanted to try and change things ourselves.
Daily Relay: What kinds of products will the Run Fan Shop offer?
Ben Rosario: Our initial inventory includes shirts, books, DVDs and posters all designed for the running fan. Most of our shirts are original designs and they are all lifestyle pieces as opposed to tech gear. Our tagline is because you’re a fan all the time, meaning that we believe running fans want an outlet to show their passion for the sport beyond just when they are out on a run. Some of our first shirts include the Brian Sell “Blue Collar Runner” T, the “3:51.1” which is a tribute to Jim Ryun’s world record that stood for eight years and the “Say No To EPO” top which is my personal favorite.
The books we carry are some of the most famous titles in the running fan world; Running with the Buffaloes, Once a Runner, Bowerman and the Men of Oregon, etc. The kind of books that get you fired up about running. Same goes for the DVDs. We have a couple of really good high school cross country documentaries in The Long Green Line and Racing with the Rez as well as a couple fun ones like Saint Ralph and Across the Tracks which is really hard to find and actually stars Brad Pitt as an 800 meter runner from the wrong side of the tracks. It’s a terrible movie overall but it’s hilarious if you’re a runner. All told we have around 50 items right now but you can expect that to triple by the fall.
Daily Relay: Why should fans buy from your business instead of other online retailers like Amazon.com or our local running store? Are there any products that you will carry that are hard or impossible to find anywhere else?
Ben Rosario: Well I come from the running store background and it’s been my experience that people will forego the bargain hunting and pay the extra few bucks if they like what you’re doing and if their shopping experience is going to be that much better at your store. That’s what we’re trying to do online. We want to build a community around RunFanShop and we want our website to be much than a place to just buy stuff. We’ll have athlete bios, tons of blogs, pics, videos, etc. Plus, everything is in one place so it’s much easier to find than going online and searching for your favorite running books and DVDs which can be a bit of a pain.
As far as running stores we really don’t compete with them and quite frankly we don’t want to. We don’t sell shoes, we don’t sell tech gear, we don’t offer training plans. Your local stores already do all of that stuff and they do a great job. The apparel we offer isn’t in running stores. First of all, the majority of our designs are original, second they are lifestyle wear and third they are more geared toward the running fan.
As for hard-to-find items we definitely carry things that you’d have to search awfully hard for and we definitely carry things that you won’t find anywhere else at all, like our posters.
Daily Relay: What is your background in running and track and field? Athlete? Coach? Event manager?
Ben Rosario: I guess I’ve done just about everything there is to do in the running industry. I ran in high school (St. Louis University H.S.) and college (Truman State). I ran professionally for the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project from 2003-2005 and adidas-McMillan Elite from 2006-2007. I don’t really have much of a claim to fame as a runner but I did finish 2nd at the US Marathon Champs in 2005 and I had decent range (4:03 for the mile and 2:18 for the marathon).
As a coach I’ve worked with everyone from little kids to beginners to Olympic Trials level athletes. Back in 2008 I worked with Canadian Stephanie Hood (now Case) and helped her to a 2:44 at Boston and a 2:35 at Chicago. She also won the Canadian XC title that year. More recently I coached 2:01 800 runner Shannon Leinert and 2:17 marathoner Adam MacDowell.
Event management-wise I really cut my teeth putting on all of the events for Big River Running Company in Saint Louis from 2006-2012. That included a road mile, a huge high school cross country race, a couple of trail races and a 4-mile road race. Before that I was the special events director for the GO! St. Louis Marathon for a year. The biggest, or most prestigious, events that I’ve directed are the 2012 and 2013 USA Cross Country Championships and the Festival of Miles, a charity track meet that’s held every year in Saint Louis. I’m still the director for that one and plan to do it for as long as they’ll have me.
Daily Relay: What is your background in business?
Ben Rosario: My good friend Matt Helbig and I shook hands in late 2005 and said we were going to start our own running store in Saint Louis. In August of 2006, the Big River Running Company was open for business. It was an absolute whirlwind for the next six years. We opened three different locations in our first four years, we started a race management business, we put on our own events and we did an absolute ton of community events. Fortunately for us, the hard work paid off and we did pretty well. Most importantly I really do believe we made a difference in our hometown and that was the whole goal from the beginning. I am immensely proud of what we were able to accomplish and I feel quite confident that no matter what I do moving forward it will never mean quite as much to me as Big River.
Daily Relay: Will the RunFanShop stock become broader as time progresses?
Ben Rosario: Yes…much broader! The initial stock is just the beginning. We have around 50 items now and you can expect that to triple by the fall. The long term plan involves working with major brands to sell elite singlets, warm-ups, etc. so that fans can wear what the pros wear. Just like in EVERY other sport.
Daily Relay: What else should we know about Run Fan Shop?
Ben Rosario: I just want to talk a little bit about our target audience. When I say “running fan” it’s a much bigger group than you might think. Obviously it’s the guy/gal who ran in high school and college and checks LetsRun and Flotrack everyday. Those people are great and they are a big part of our target market for sure. However, it’s always been my belief that way more “beginners” or “weekend warriors” like the sport than we give them credit for and more still would like it if we just exposed them to it. So that’s a big personal goal for me – to bridge that gap a bit. Look at how many fans Kara Goucher and Ryan Hall have for example. Their fan base goes way beyond the “hard core” fan. Why can’t we have 30 Kara’s and 30 Ryan’s? We have enough athletes. We just have to promote them. Jen and I are going to do that as much as we possibly can so look for new items every week featuring more and more of your favorite stars. That’s a guarantee.
Full disclosure: The Daily Relay was not compensated in any way for this article, although we do have advertising space available for any and all interested parties.