Store profile: Black Toe Running

Black Toe exterior

Black Toe exterior

Black Toe Running opened in November of 2013 at the corner of King Street and Bathurst Street in Toronto. They’ve now been open for nearly seven months and have made a space for themselves in the Toronto running community. We caught up with co-owner Mike Anderson to talk about the store.

Canadian Running: The store has been open since the fall of 2013. How has the reception from the community in Toronto been?

Since opening our doors in November 2013, we have been very pleased with the reception we have had from the running community. We wanted to build a store that appealed to runners, so having them tell us that we have built a running store that they can embrace is very important to us. Our custom Black Toe Running singlets have been worn by both elites and everyday runners at a variety of races across North America.

Considering that we are a small independent retail store that has only been open for six months, we are thrilled with how our brand has resonated with runners of all levels.

Black Toe shoesCR: You worked in finance before opening the store. Why did you want to open a specialty running store?

As partners and co-owners of Black Toe Running, Maya and I have wanted to open a running store for a number of years for a variety of reasons.

We both have an entrepreneurial spirit and a love of the sport. When we decided it was time to build the kind of running store we thought was missing from the Toronto running scene, it was a huge life decision for us both. Maya and I have spent our lives in corporate careers which I think has prepared us well for the business side of launching our own company. Although Maya continues her corporate career to help support the business, we have both worked very hard to develop Black Toe Running. We spent many vacations talking about our dream of Black Toe Running. I used to use the phrase “I don’t want to die a banker.” After some pretty serious discussions and analyzing the marketplace, we decided to take the plunge.

CR: The store has a very modern feel to it which is distinctly different from most running stores. Where did the influence for the design come from? Who helped with the design?

The design of the store was driven by our love of the Toronto running scene and the routes we have come to be so familiar with. From the chain link and wood on the walls inspired by the rail path and the flooring inspired by the boardwalk and the Martin Goodman Trail, to the bleachers that remind us of so many laps around the track at Central Tech, which is located just north of the store, I think our design is authentically Toronto running.

Our favourite feature is the shoe table, our design focal point, made from metal and cement. It has footprints of people with whom we have run many miles with over the years and are active in the Toronto running scene. We wanted our customers to have a discussion with us around the shoe table, while increasing shoe accessibility. Most of all, we wanted very much to avoid the traditional shoe wall.

We were very fortunate to convince John Tong of +tongtong to take on this project even though we are a small start-up. His team did amazing work and the store has since been featured in design publications like Design Lines and Canadian Interiors.

Black Toe interiorCR: What talents do your staff bring to the business? Why are they the best for the job?

We have been fortunate to hire a great group of people to work at Black Toe Running.

We have staff who are active in the run community and are a positive influence in their own way. They run with a number of clubs and have varied backgrounds but all of them are a pleasure to work with. They will lace up and run with our run clubs and are comfortable running with all of our pace groups.

CR: How is the store involved in the Toronto running community? What do you offer above and beyond sales that customers can look to you for?

Our goal is to elevate the sport in Toronto. We have a team we train that participates in local races. We have also initiated the Toronto 10K club championships. This event is designed so clubs ranging from recreational to competitive can participate and all of Toronto’s run clubs will have the opportunity to compete. The club that takes the overall championship will have their singlet displayed in the store and we hope this will become an annual event.

We also have a Hipster Run coming on June 26 which is 5K, not serious and all about fun.

CR: What makes your store stand out, compared to more generic sporting goods stores or other retail outlets? What do you offer to customers that they can’t get elsewhere?

We offer the individualized attention of the true independent running store. We combine that with a truly exceptional staff who can offer a level of expertise that you would likely never find in a generic sporting goods store.

Because we are a running specialty store and do not try to be anything else, we put a lot of effort into making sure we carry the gear that runners need. We continue to listen to our customers, to ensure that we add the products that they are requesting, while constantly on the lookout for the latest and most innovative gear out there.

This interview has been edited from its original form.

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