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I’d like you to read the below email from Martin at Likeys, one of the best outdoor stores in the UK – if not the world. They are an independent retailer and like many others from all over the country they are being battered by the larger, more powerful companies and we as runners (both ultra and not) have an opportunity to do something about it. I’d also love you take a look at the event photograph above and see how much kit is there – tonnes of it and I’m confident lots of it was advised on by the independent retailers I’m writing about now. Read on…

This isn’t your typical email but I would like to share some thoughts with you….. and as a reward, there is a 10% discount code at the end of the email – but if time allows, please read the following first.

Likeys (like most other independent retailers) have over many years strived to provide the very best service to our customers. This service includes the following…..

* Sourcing the newest and best products, often putting our necks on the line in bringing innovative brands and products to the market – brands such as Hoka, Nuun, Raidlight, X-Bionic, Aarn, Injinji (and many more) were first seen in Likeys, long before the “Big Boys” had even heard of the brands.

* We freely give advice for all manner of running and adventures whilst always having the customers’ needs at the very forefront of our minds. We have had customers traveling from as far away as Zimbabwe specifically to pick our brains, whilst we have stayed open until 12.45 in the morning to make sure a couple of athletes got the advice and correct kit choices for an extreme ultra they were about to compete in. In a nutshell, we will always go that extra mile to look after our customers.

* We always try to be as competitive as we can be with our prices.

* We passionately support the sport we love – over the years we have sponsored the Questars Adventure Race Series (past 6 years). Have been the main sponsors of the popular 3-4-5 mile race series in Brecon (past 5 years), as well as giving away over £5,000 worth of sponsorship to ultra-runners in 2013. Plus year in year out providing numerous spot prizes for many races both locally and around the country.

* We organise both the Beacons Ultra (8th year in 2015) and the 6633 Ultra in the Canadian Arctic (7th year in 2015). Both races organised with the primary aim of providing the competitors with no frills ultra challenges at different spectrums of the range of madness…. These events are organised because we love the sport… simple!!.

Over the last 12 months there have been seismic shifts in the outdoor retail market, with a number of large corporate retailers picking up on the boom of off-road/trail/ultra running, the results of which for customers is that there have seen some wonderful online discounting, particularly on items that were once perceived as specialist. 

Naturally as a business we have noticed this, and a survey that we conducted a month or so ago confirmed that discounting is a significant factor when buying. However, it was equally obvious from that survey that the knowledge of specialist retailers, the personalised customer service and enthusiasm of independents which are freely given are also very highly regarded when making a purchase.

Independent retailers don’t have the financial clout to compete with these behemoths of the industry, so whilst I don’t have a crystal ball, unless there are changes, I can foresee Likeys closing its doors to the public in about 14 months when the lease on our current premises comes up for renewal. 

In the 9 years Likeys has been around, neither Sue or I have ever paid ourselves as much as the minimum wage, so please read the above knowing that we are not trying to line our pockets, we are simply trying to maintain a service that we truly think will be missed if Likeys go. Likeys (and I think this will equally apply to many other independents that are caught up in this current discounting melee) has always been a passion before any business sense could be applied to it, so making money has never been the overriding factor, but alas even we have to make enough to pay the bills and pay the wages of those that work alongside us.

Now before you go jumping to any conclusions…. This isn’t a begging letter, it is merely a statement of how I see the market panning out for specialist independents such as Likeys. 

So what am I saying….

Well, quite simply I would like you to consider supporting the independent stores (including Likeys) as much as you can in order that they can continue to support you in your adventures wherever they might take you. If you see an item for a few pounds more at an independent, please don’t assume they are being greedy, they are simply trying to bring products to the market at a fair price that will allow them to stay in business. Please support us independents, as your good custom means far more than you will ever realise. In return you will continue to get the excellent customer service, the free product advice, the enthusiasm and passion that only an independent store can provide….. and it’s only the likes of a Likeys that can offer you the chance to tackle what is probably the toughest race in the World!!!

Whilst I don’t imagine the above musing will change the world, I am a born optimist, so fingers crossed I am hoping enough people will appreciate the true value for money you get from independents that will see both Likeys and many of the other brilliant independents survive for many years to come so we can share the laughs and tribulations as you go on your merry way competing in daft events in this country and further afield.

Now, I mentioned a discount code….

Bearing in mind what I have written above, we would love it if you didn’t use it (wink wink), but equally we know everyone likes a bit of a deal….So, as a “Thank You” for a few minutes of your time reading the above – for 10% off anything you buy at Likeys (www.likeys.com) from now until Friday 26th, simply type in the two words coloured green above into the promotion code (without a space between) during checkout and the wizardry of the Likeys website will do the rest for you.

Very best wishes

Martin

P.S. Please feel free to share these sentiments with others that you think might appreciate them

I’m not including the discount coded because I’d rather we paid the price on the tin. But the point is that we as runners need resources like this, I don’t mind if you want to buy your Christmas sale bargains from Wiggle or. GoOutdoors or whoever but would it really hurt to spend that small bit extra to ensure we keep these places open?

To ensure I’m not being hypocritical I can tell you that 9 out of my last 10 pairs of running shoes came from independent retailers but I admit that my Salomon race vest came from Wiggle and some of my cheaper training kit comes from places Decathlon or buying direct from the manufacturer at things like the London Marathon Expo (though I still try and support smaller companies like Runderwear at these events). I’m also due to purchase my CCC shoes this week and given that I’ll be buying Altra Lone Peak 2.0 I know that I’ll be going to an independent retailer (either Accelerate or ultra-runner.com) because I think it’s the right thing to do and because the service and advice I have received from both these companies in the past has been really top notch.

All I’m asking is that you think about these companies, look beyond the giant discounts and try and remember that the deal you are being offered by Sweatshop and SportsDirect usually isn’t as good as you think (funny how Mike Ashley’s hand is involved in those two businesses and we are talking about the death of independent retailers). Let’s not forget these guys support the races we do with prizes, sponsorship, race day stores – if we undermine them too much then will the races that we love so much start to struggle to find funding? It’s a vicious circle isn’t it?

Help me out visit an independent retailer today and maybe make a purchase – do you really have to look that hard to find Run and Become? Likeys? Ultra-Runner? UltraMarathonRunningStore? Castleberg Outdoors? George Fisher? Accelerate? Endurance Store? Jog Shop, Brighton? Give them a chance and help them out – if not for you then for me – because I shop in them and I want them to stay around.

Just a thought guys.

As anyone who knows me I buy more running and training gear than is normal, it has gotten to the point now where I no longer have any real clothes – I have only running, hiking, swimming and activity kit. The few bits of real clothing I own are locked away in a cupboard somewhere and they almost never come out, my work clothes are on a bit of a rotation and I replace them only as they wear out – however, I’m not here to discuss the details of my wardrobe – no – I’m here to discuss some of the excellent retailers I have purchased from this year and perhaps the reasons I avoid other retailers

Sportsshoe.com
I’ve bought several pairs of running shoes from these guys, including my much loved and also much maligned S-Lab Sense trail shoes. These guys offer great value for money, they offer excellent service and I’ve never had a single days problem with them. Their website is pretty simple to navigate, although the top navigation could do with a little bit of clarity, perhaps the fact there is more than running gear here is the reason it can feel a little cluttered but it has never stopped me from finding the things I want and the payment system is quick and easy. Highly Recommended.

Wiggle
I only discovered Wiggle this year and despite a stupid name it offers excellent prices and excellent products. I was able to source my Suunto Ambit 2 from these guys at less than £300 and have purchased several excellent running tops from them. Their site tends to be crammed with goodies but it can be a bit of a chore going through it all and my recent search for gaiters led me to try elsewhere. However, the service is impeccable and incredibly speedy. These are good guys to buy kit from and the regular sales they run are generally very genuine. Perhaps the best bit is the inclusion of little Haribo sweets in their deliveries.

Sports Pursuit
There is something about trawling through my hundreds of early morning emails that I don’t mind and that thing is the offers that Sports Pursuit insist on sending me. Now this may sound like a bad thing, but it isn’t. Again this is a retailer I discovered only this year and while you are required to wait a little longer for your products they offer great value items that you can’t get elsewhere. Skora runners and Vibram Fivefingers have been my primary purchases from them during 2013 and each purchase has been excellent. It’s fair to say that sizes can difficult to come by sometimes and the returns are a little haphazard in what happens (there is no guarantee on return that they can get you a different size) but SportsPursuit are clear in their endeavour – bringing you great stuff at a decent price. Communication is excellent, packaging and delivery is excellent – what more could you ask for.

Centurion Running
What an ultra runner really wants from his shopping experience is people who know what they are on about. The Centurion store is not jammed to the rafters with kit – no. It has a couple of choices in key categories. So for example if you want a running vest/bag they have Salomon or Ultimate Directions, both of which are very high quality products and both used by in the ultra community. Additionally this was the easiest place I could find to buy Harveys Maps! It’s also nice not having to wade through oodles of crap choices and they have lovely communication, great customer service and speedy delivery. The fact that Centurion is run by runners for runners really shows and I’m very much looking forward to further purchases and events with them in 2014.

Ultra Marathon Running Store
A bit like the Centurion store really in that it covers a great selection of good quality gear but with a little more choice (and the home of Dirty Girl Gaiters in the UK). Service and delivery are top notch and you feel it’s good value for money. Again they tend not to fill their site with things that ultra runners won’t use – we get a range of products at various price points. No complaints about this store whatsoever. I shall be looking forward to further purchases in the near future.

Decathlon
This is a bit of strange one, I’ve got some running Tshirts that are nearly a decade old from Decathlon that cost about £2.50 each and they rock but these days I find their running kit no longer fits me very well, but they do a great range of bikes and this year alone I have bought a rockrider, a triban and a hybrid (for my OH). I’m also a fan of their general equipment, things like lights, bandages, tapes, locks, etc and they do a decent range of swim kit – though I prefer mainly their speedo stuff. The great thing is that Decathlon staff are generally pretty well trained and not only know their own sporting area but also a bit about other departments. Add in regular vouchers and competitions through their loyalty card and actually you have a company that seems on the face of it to care. The letdown is their website which seems to have been built by a six year old or had a management hand in the navigation. Once you drill down to product pages it’s all pretty good but finding stuff is a nightmare. With. Decathlon I’d always say try and visit a store as the experience is so much better.

Sweatshop
These guys have been a bit a bit of a class act for several years and although I’m not as regular a shopper there as I used to be I still find them pretty darn good and with a good selection of items. I suppose though that Sweatshop has been a victim of its own success via both growth and attempting to be all things to all runners. This means that there is a decent range from beginner to very experienced runner but not as much depth as you might like, it feels quite mainstream – although saying this I have seen more obscure products like On Cloudrunners, Nathan running vests and Salomon S Lab clothing in store over recent months and this was also the store I got all my OMM packs from. Sweatshop remains the best of the major high street running stores. However, on a couple of occasions (and a less positive note) I have noticed in store there has been a lack of running knowledge, especially in younger members of staff, however, I am still a reasonably regular visitor to Bluewater, Dartford, Rathbone Place and Trump Street and these guys have always been on top of things, so when considering a store to purchase from where you can try things on, these guys remain good.

Run and Become
I’m a bit of sucker for a good shoe collection and great service and this is something that you always get from Run and Become. The staff are all runners, all very knowledgable (at least in the London store I go to), they have a great range of products in store and there is a feeling that they wouldn’t sell you a shoe that wasn’t fit for purpose. These guys are so popular that there is often a reasonable wait to be seen by the staff but it is worth it. My last purchase was some Vibram FiveFingers and Injinji socks and what I received was not only the basic back story to the shoes but also a bit of knowledge about the lady serving me, who was also a VFF user. If you happen to be near St. James Park and are in need of some kit or just to view some running porn – this is the place 🙂

Pete Bland Sports
Pete Bland will be getting more of my business in 2014, great service and quick delivery and a website that despite a rather strange navigation it just works. I bought my first pair of Hoka from Pete Bland Sports and they generally have a great range of running gear but being based in the Lake District is the thing that makes me love them as the Lakes are just about my favourite place in the entire universe. The little thing I loved the most was the later Twitter interaction about my experiences with the running shoes I had purchased. Classy

Cotswold Outdoor / Ellis Brigham / Snow & Rock
No good if what you are looking for is road running materials but if you are looking for trail running kit then Cotswold Outdoor, Ellis Brigham and Snow & Rock are pretty fine. All have a good range of footwear, clothing and accessories covering brands like OMM, Rab, Salomon, Hoka and Inov8. If you are in London then all three can be found with big stores in the heart of Covent Garden and all have highly trained staff who generally know what they are talking about and if they don’t they’ll get someone that does. Each of these stores has provided me with key pieces of kit over the last year or so and will continue to do so. In terms of online then I find Cotswold to be the easiest to navigate and find what I’m looking for but both Ellis Brigham and Snow & Rock offer excellent online services.

Sports Direct
I do have one bugbear though and that is Sports Direct. I find myself disheartened every time I walk past one of their stores and if I ever find myself in need of going in to one I generally find myself leaving quickly without purchase. I know some will argue that they offer competitively priced equipment but I find what little Karrimor equipment I do own never gets worn because it just isn’t as well made as some of the similarly priced clothing from Sweatshop or Decathlon – this of course is just an opinion but it is based on the experience and longevity and general feeling of the kit. The worst part of the experience is the staff don’t appear interested in whether you are being sold suitable footwear, suitable equipment or your general well being as a customer. I haven’t bought much here for quite some time and I don’t see myself heading back there anytime soon. Overall a disappointing retail experience.

Favourites?
Anyway, there are lots of very good retailers out there, these are just some of my personal favourites and ones that I have gone back to time and again. I’m sure you’ve all got your favourites and I’m always keen to learn about new places offering useful kit, great advice and most importantly brilliant customer service.

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