BY TERESA HAMMOND
Tony Vice is not in the business of selling shoes.
As the owner/operator of Fleet Feet Sports Stockton and the newly opened Modesto location (collaboratively known as Fleet Feet StoMo) this may be contrary to what some believe.
Vice is in the business of building relationships and encouraging healthy living. He just happens to do this through the sales floor of his two store locations.
Deemed as a specialty retailer, Vice and his crew cater to a variety of runner/walkers, be it trail, track and field, cross country, walking, running, as well as Cross Fitters. While the owner recognizes in a day and age of everyone wanting a quick answer or quick fix when it comes to fulfilling a need, finding the perfect fit by way of shoes takes a little work.
“There’s what people know and what people think they know,” Vice said, regarding proper fit for a specific sport. “The greatest tool we have with getting you proper footwear is using our ears.”
According to Vice, he can teach/train anyone how to properly measure a foot, analyze a person’s gait and choose a shoe based on the mechanics of need. The conversation, however, the looking in the eye of the customer and building of the relationship is where he finds the most success with the customer base.
“There are 110 different shoes out there,” Vice said of his Modesto inventory. “They’re all great shoes. It’s just … what’s the right shoe for that body. Measurement, analysis help us narrow it down. But the knowing, finding of the best fit in the way of lifestyle, usage and need comes through looking them (the customer) in the eye and talking with them.”
The fitness enthusiast acknowledged the misconception of exclusion in the area of running and a specialty store.
“It’s actually the opposite,” he said. “We’re inclusive. We speak to you in a way we all understand. What is it that they’re telling you? It feels ‘mushy’ or ‘heavy’. Okay great, we can help you with that. A general department store is not going to have that knowledge.
“Ultimately my goal is to build a healthy, active community. Just get moving.”
As a man who spends his days surrounded by athletic shoes, apparel and gear, Vice recognizes each of the categories they cater to offer distinct differences. He shared the trail runner may benefit from more of a ‘natural’ type shoe with a protective upper, as the terrain varies. The urban runner may need a bit more support or cushion for the constant strike of the concrete, while the Cross Fitter uses a shoe with a lower heel drop to service their athletic needs.
“There really is no difference between a walking versus a running shoe,” Vice said. “Basically it’s just a way for the manufacturer to get more space on the wall. They should be classified as an athletic shoe. We know that the gait is slightly different walking versus running. The question is which direction do we need to go to get the customer in the right shoe. That comes from looking you in the eye.”
According to Vice it is a lesson he learned firsthand as a Sacramento Fleet Feet customer, turned franchise owner. Acknowledging the common misconception that just any shoe will do and noting that the wrong shoe can and will take you out of activity due to injury.
“I’m a perfect example,” Vice said. “I went from Fleet Feet Sac when I first started running to a general sport store. I found a shoe that was comparable to what I had. I thought it was the same. Two months later I was injured and couldn’t run at all. I never made that mistake again.”
That’s also something he now sees on a regular basis.
“The number one reason people come in, is because they’re injured,” the owner stated. They’re in the wrong shoe. The fit of the shoe has everything to do with nuances of the person’s foot. Building those relationships is having the expertise of what that foot type is like.”
At the end of it all Vice shared his passion has little if nothing to do with making money. The successes of his customers, the relationships he has built through the past 11 years of ownership and the lives he has changed is where he finds the most reward.
“I love getting up every morning and coming to work,” Vice said. “You’re helping change lives every single day. It just can’t get better than that.”
For more information on the Fleet Feet Stockton and Modesto locations visit www.fleetfeetstockton.com.