New Martin City location champions support for a growing community.
As Brad Ziegler opens the doors of the new KC Running Company location in Martin City for the first time, he couldn’t be more excited. The building has fresh paint, fresh merchandise and even a drive-thru for quick, race day packet handoffs, compliments of the fast food restaurant that used to be there.
“We were across from Martin City Brewing Company for years, but our new location just a block down 135th Street really allows us to stretch our legs more as a community center for runners and walkers at all levels.”
The new location is the next step for the local company known for its targeted focus on supporting runners and walkers of all fitness levels with knowledgeable expertise, specialty running and sports medicine products, and fun events that are professionally run.
KC Running Company, owned by Troy Fitzgerald and staffed by Ziegler and five other full-time employees, is hard to beat when it comes to race event coordination and finding personal equipment from a trusted source. Ziegler says that’s a unique blend.
“Some companies support race events and others sell equipment, like shoes, but there’s no one out there that does both – except us. We can help you with everything related to running.”
Where Racing Meets Retail
A combination of race support and retail fit together nicely as a business and as a treasured resource for runners, walkers, and not-for-profits. KC Running Company partners with nonprofits who host their own races as fundraisers, and want everything done right – from event organization, promotion and set up to electronic timing, awards and preferred vendors.
“We try to take running event logistics off the plate of our clients’ staff and volunteers as much as we can so that they can focus on recruiting their constituents, sponsors, and volunteers. When we successfully work with them to combine our efforts and expertise, the events end up being larger, better organized and more successful. People are more likely to come back the following year and the events continue to grow.”
Relationships cultivated at race events fuel the retail side of the business. Online stores and big box stores across the area give runners plenty of options, but Ziegler says many prefer shopping at KC Running Company because it’s staffed with real runners.
“We understand our customers and their needs, from shoes to sports medicine equipment.”
The Whiskey Run: Proof of Potential
The annual Martin City Whiskey Run 5k is a good example of how KC Running Company combines all the right stuff for an experience that brings people together and keeps them talking long after the race ends.
Martin City has hosted the event for years, originally named for a popular local resident known for his love of whiskey. But until recently, something’s been missing from the Whiskey Run. Ziegler says KC Running Company helped change that and uncorked a new wave of enthusiasm.
“People kept asking us ‘Where’s the whiskey?’ Now J. Rieger & Co. is the official sponsor and brings samples of its locally produced whiskey to the race. It’s a great partnership that just makes sense for them, us, Martin City, the charity beneficiary, the runners – everyone involved.”
The event has grown from a few dozen participants to nearly a thousand and an even bigger turnout is expected this year. The Whiskey Run is just one of many races that dot the KC Running Company calendar throughout the year, and a symbol of the rewards that businesses and the communities they serve can enjoy by working together.
Inclusion Puts Success on Track
About ten years ago when the economy stumbled into recession, Fitzgerald and Ziegler decided to abandon the uncertainty of traditional employment and launch KC Running Company with a mission to help not-for-profits. At that time, race events were still dominated by serious, competitive runners. But Ziegler says participation started taking an unexpected turn.
“We started seeing more and more people joining races just for the fun of it, not to compete. Maybe they’d walk or even dress up in a costume. Some didn’t even care about their finish times. They just wanted to be part of the event to maybe become a little more fit but mainly to just have fun. We decided to embrace that.”
Social media was also emerging, and race participants sprinted to Facebook to share new kinds of personal stories, like the runner who didn’t even start until retirement and then raced well into his 90s, or the people who raced just to raise money for a loved one who suffered a stroke. Stories of weight loss and illness survival became common and inspired as much as they impressed.
“People began challenging themselves in so many different ways, and for every personal story, there’s someone else out there who can identify with it and become motivated. Whether it’s the serious runner setting a new personal record or a senior who’s celebrating a new commitment to fitness just by participating, the stories bond the community.”
A commitment to inclusion set the business apart and gave the staff a sense of purpose that Ziegler says now defines everything they do.
“We believe all people who sign up for a race event deserve the same respect as the runner who’s going to finish in record time. We want people to enjoy themselves no matter what, regardless of their personal goals. We believe the experience for all involved is just as important as who wins.”
Delivering that experience means constantly stretching creativity and listening closely to feedback from runners and walkers, both young and old. Ziegler says Fitzgerald fosters the kind of freedom he needs to experiment and develop a steady flow of new ideas.
Some ideas just don’t work, but most do, like the ugly sweater race theme during the holidays, the race route peppered with taco tasting and the morning Brew Crew events that combine running with a sampling of local coffee shops.
And while winners still get the special recognition they deserve at each event, everyone is treated to something special just for finishing, ranging from souvenir tee-shirts, free food and live music to the coveted Finisher Medals.
Medals that Motivate
Traditionally, marathon medals always go to the overall winners. Some still believe that’s the only way. KC Running Company isn’t among them. The company’s Finisher Medal concepts immediately caught fire and continue to drive race event participation like nothing else. The medals come in a variety of sizes that can sparkle, glow or even spin.
Ziegler takes great care in ensuring every new medal is creative, valuable and cool.
“We’ve designed over 500 different medals and people now take pride in them and collect them. We can offer all kinds of other giveaways at events, but nothing comes close to the demand for our Finisher Medals. And everybody gets one.”
The Next Leg of the Journey
Finding new ways to shape fun race experiences will determine the future of KC Running Company. One idea the business now champions is the organization of “Challenges”, often consisting of special medals and other premium awards for the completion of specific races within a specific time period, such as a year.
The Challenge idea may hold the key to unlocking successful events in other small communities across the region. It takes the event experience to new places for participants and gives host communities an extra shot of excitement and economic opportunity.
Ziegler says opening up the race experience even wider promises to make a difference for more people, more not-for-profits and more communities. And that’s what it’s all about.
“We want to become even more inclusive. So, we’ll continue to bring people of all ages and all paces together. We’ll keep integrating new technologies to improve the experience for the serious runner while also staying true to the traditions that make the events memorable. For us, proof of success is as simple as turnout. If people keep coming out, we’re on the right track and everybody involved wins.”