He’s a two-time Canadian university cross-country champion. She put together a rough business plan in first-year of university with the intention of opening a running store one day.
Together, Aaron Hendrikx and Emily Yungblut founded BackRoads London, a running and outdoors store, set to open August 2017 (update: see new opening date at the bottom of this page) in London, Ont. Yungblut, 25, and Hendrikx, 24, are recent graduates of Waterloo University and the University of Guelph, respectively. (The two are getting married in June.)
The store will have a twist. Not only will it focus on outdoor activity, including running, hiking and walking shoes, apparel and gear, there will be an in-store taproom featuring locally-brewed craft beer. Hendrikx and Yungblut originally joked with New Balance’s Dave Korell about the in-house taproom and soon after figured that it was a viable concept.
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“We know from our own experience that running is a social activity, and with the rise of big box stores and online sales, we feel the only way retail will survive moving forward is if you diversify yourself and create more of an ‘experience-based’ retail store,” Hendrikx explains. “We are a service-based store offering an experience and that’s what makes BackRoads different.”
BackRoads has been years in the making as the two have extensive running backgrounds, both in retail and on the elite side of the sport. “We both knew we wanted this business to be an integral part of our future and were ready to make the commitment.”
They hope BackRoads London will open the first week of August, however, that depends on the construction of the building. The store will be located at Hyde Park Village near the corner of Hyde Park Road and Gainsborough Road in west London. (The exact address is 1600 Hyde Park Rd.) They are expected to receive the unit in early July. Opening day apparel orders have been submitted.
“There will be a few other businesses located in the same building,” notes Hendrikx, the 2013 and 2015 CIS Cross-Country champion. The Parkhill, Ont. native also represented Canada at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. Yungblut, a runner herself, comes from a rich athletic family including sisters Madeline, the 2012 CIS Cross-Country Rookie of the Year, and Erin, a national team member in biathlon.
The name, BackRoads, comes from the thousands of kilometres the two have put in during training on the back roads of southern Ontario. “Everyone has their own ‘back road’ that led them to where they are now; just as gritty, lonely at times, and tough, but worthwhile,” explains Hendrikx.
A key aspect of the store will be the experience, which the two are pushing more so than what is actually being sold at BackRoads. Hendrikx and Yungblut, originally from Wroxeter, Ont., plan to offer a team for people to join (as opposed to running clinics they say) and will have weekly social runs from the store. Post-run, there will be opportunity to socialize, drink and eat in an atmosphere that features live music, a patio/taproom and live streaming of races.
As far as beer goes, the two are quite familiar with the whole process.
Living in rural Ontario, approximately 35-40 minutes from London, Hendrikx and Yungblut are in the final stages of setting up their own hop yard in aims of selling the hops to local craft breweries. A date for the store’s grand opening has not yet been set though you may see the BackRoads London tent, along with the owners, at local races around London in the coming months.
UPDATE (Oct. 27, 2017): The new location for BackRoads Brews & Shoes is 1295 Riverbend Road, London, Ont. with a Dec. 9, 2017 launch date.