Frank DeJulius keeps Cincinnati running
Fortunate are those who can take their passion and turn it into a career. Being able to introduce others to what you’re passionate about? Well, that’s a bonus and that’s what Frank DeJulius and his wife, Stacey, have been able to do in Cincinnati since 2012, when they took over Fleet Feet Sports.
Both are runners with marathons and triathlons on their resumes, so it would seem natural for them to get into the running/active lifestyle business. But this career path was born more out of necessity than the result of a grand plan.
“I went to John Carroll University in Cleveland,” said Frank. “And I needed a job between my junior and senior year. I didn’t have an internship, but I was a runner so I thought, ‘I’m going to get a job at a running store.’ And I did, at Fleet Feet in Cleveland.”
That summer job soon turned into a career that led Frank to the Fleet Feet in Nashville after graduation.
“They told me if I ever wanted to have the opportunity to have my own store, I’d need more experience. In the meantime, I convinced the owner of that store to hire my wife, because I said I think we’ll want to do this together. She quit her job in Cleveland, started working in Nashville, and the rest is history.”
Their chance to operate their own store came in 2012, when Fleet Feet Cincy became available.
“The opportunity was right for Stacey and me because we were friends with the previous owners (Susan Frankel and her husband, Jeremy Perlin) and with us being from Ohio, it was the chance for us to move back to our home state.”
Fleet Feet Cincy in Blue Ash and Oakley are not only retail outlets: They serve as social hubs for the running neighborhoods. Training groups regularly meet at the stores before going out on their scheduled runs. Runners chat about gear as effortlessly as others chat about the weather. For Frank, it’s all part of immersing the stores into Cincinnati’s running community.
“Our approach is high-end specialty retail. We believe that specialty is in the products that we sell, and in the service that you get. A lot of things you buy in our store you could buy elsewhere. But you’re not going to get the level of attention and the level of specific detail on whether or not that product is exactly what you need for your personal needs, your personal wants.
“What we like to say is that we tell stories about products. There’s not one thing in this store that I couldn’t tell you a story behind, whether it’s the company or how it was founded, or the materials it was made out of, or why we decided to sell that product versus another product. We just believe every product should be able to tell a story.”
“I like to call it, the kid with the coolest toys. Because the kid with the coolest toys always wants to show you everything he has. We’ll show you everything we have that we think would be appropriate for you.” You can decide if you want to buy one, or two, or none, but we get the satisfaction of making sure you know they’re all there, to help you make the decision. It’s a fun way of doing retail, because we focus more on customer satisfaction ratings. We throw high fives when we get emails from customers saying they had a great experience here. That matters so much more than big sales days.
“That’s what we do every day, every single day, every single customer. We try to put our arm around them and say, ‘Hey, how can we help you get what’s absolutely best for you?’”
And that’s where Frank says his own running experience comes in handy.
“People come in here every day and you can almost see yourself in every person, no matter what stage of running they’re in. It’s exciting to introduce them to the sport. I just tell them, if you’re willing to listen, I can probably help you.”
Cincinnati enjoys a strong running heritage, with its lineage traced back to running godfather and former store owner Bob Roncker (he and Frank regularly chat) and, according to Frank, what next month’s Flying Pig Marathon has been able to build here.
“I’ve lived in Chicago, I’ve lived in Nashville, Cleveland, worked in Texas, California, and those are big places with great running. But the way the Pig gets the city excited is awesome and it makes the event infectious. Every year there’s a new crop of folks who say, ‘I want in on that.’”
Introducing those new folks to the sport and growing the next generation of Cincinnati-area runners is a responsibility Fleet Feet takes seriously.
“You want people to fall in love with your favorite sport. Anything you love, you want others to do. We think our sport is healthy, it’s fun, it creates happiness, it’s family friendly, there’s an incredible sense of achievement to it.
“One way we do it is with our ‘No Boundaries’ beginner 5K group. That’s a great way that we get folks who maybe have never thought about running to say, hey why don’t you put the 5K during Flying Pig weekend on your radar. Let’s help you get to that finish line, then let’s talk after that.”
“People get hooked—or actually, they almost hook themselves. Once that happens, you have them come to a pub run or a Flying Pig event and all of a sudden, they’re runners. We just want to keep people moving.”