It’s not easy being a small business owner, and the challenges are sometimes even greater when you’re a woman small business owner. Add to those rigors the unprecedented obstacles presented to all local businesses this year when COVID-19 resulted in shutdowns across the Chicago area and for many, it felt like the odds were stacked against them.
Burr Ridge resident Tiffany Cruickshank is a mother of four and founder of Peak Running, a local business that outfits runners and walkers with all the gear they need to get where they are going in comfort and style. She says that at a time when many businesses were struggling, her loyal customers helped the company reinvent its service in new and interesting ways.
“As a woman business owner, it’s fun to be able to really see the community get behind you,” says Cruickshank. “I felt completely supported during the pandemic with everybody calling to order shoes for delivery. It was a really neat experience to have so much support during these tough times.”
Peak Running, with locations in Downers Grove and La Grange and its popular Peak Running With a Twist (where craft brew meets running gear) in Burr Ridge immediately began to think of ways they could still provide core services remotely when the pandemic struck.
“In the blink of an eye, almost overnight, had to reinvent the business,” Cruickshank explains.
Delivering shoes and apparel was not the issue. But how do you measure a customer for walking or running shoes on Zoom, in order to ensure they receive great service and the right product?
“We instantly decided to offer virtual shoe fittings, where we were still able to have that really detailed and focused interaction, but making it safe for everybody,” says Cruickshank, who started the business six years ago and has continued to expand to new locations, customer engagement concepts and brands such as Brooks, On, Hoka, Alo, Rabbit, and Lululemon. “I was doing door-stop deliveries and virtual fittings on an hourly basis, and then we had to create an online platform to provide an e-commerce experience. It happened quickly but all of those things really enhanced our reputation and helped us be able to continue to do what we are known for in the community.”
One trend she noticed was that with everyone stuck at home and not commuting, life on pause gave people more time to run and walk and be outside.
“I am seeing a real uptick in new runners and walkers,” she says, explaining that for many of these first timers, discovering how important a well-fitted shoe can be transformational. “A lot of these new people are intimidated when they see the sign, Peak Running. They might say “I don’t run; I just jog’ or “I’m just a walker.’ We can explain exactly why a properly fitted pair of shoes can enhance whatever you are doing.”
Unless you are serious about running, Cruickshank says most people don’t think about getting fitted for a pair of running or walking shoes.
“We take several different measurements of the foot, so it works properly with the shoe. The flex points of the shoe are designed to flex and bend where your foot bends,” she says. “We also take a look at the shape of the leg and the gait or if they had any previous injuries, which helps us provide shoes for our customers that are designed to keep them feeling great and moving.”
In addition to her regular tribe of avid runners in the community, COVID-19 has prompted walkers to get more serious about their activity of choice. “I have people come in and saying that they are walking five to six miles per day now,” she says, adding: “We’ve had a huge increase in walking clients. I’m an avid runner, but I found a new love for walking as well.”
While she loves to watch people moving more and being more active, Cruickshank always tries to advocate for the necessary self-care that goes with it—including massage and other measures to make sure they are taking care of their whole body.
“It’s really nice to see so many people out walking or running in this current environment,” she says. “People are so unsettled right now for so many different reasons. When people come into Peak Running, we want to take some of that stress away.”
Now that Illinois is in Phase 4 of the recovery plan, Peak Running stores are open with enhanced safety protocols.
“It’s very safe and we’re wearing masks,” she says. “People are still getting a thorough fitting service, whether in person or online, and we’ve had some really meaningful interactions with our customers.”
While the pandemic is far from over, Cruickshank is comforted in the fact that her community has her back, and that she and her team have been able to not only weather the storm but innovate new services that are likely to remain long-term.
“It’s been a wild ride, but we have definitely made the best of every moment,” she says.
Peak Running has three locations throughout Chicago, including Downers Grove, La Grange, and its popular Peak Running with a Twist (which pairs running gear with craft beer) in Burr Ridge. For more information, visit peakrunningco.com.