The Retailer Network
A key resource for runners in Kent is the network of specialist retailers that serves the county from Canterbury in the east to the metropolitan fringes on the other side of the M25. While they each have a unique approach (even the running chain stores) they all share a commitment to providing their customers with great product advice (specially in the key area of footwear) and information about all those extra things that offer an added dimension to your running - GPS watches, energy drinks and bars, compression clothing, etc.
They also are happy to let you know all about the local running scene - the races, the clubs, the groups, services like physio and massage and even good running routes. Some organise weekly runs for customers and often double as a 'pop-in' centre for the local running community.
Over the last couple of years runABC South has spoken in detail to a couple of these 'local heroes'. Dominic O'Mahoney at the Running Outlet in Canterbury has added a modern twist to the staple running store offering, with an emphasis on their online presence and social media to extend their customer reach. But Dominic has kept his eye on the basics and in-store he provides a great product range, a respected 'physio-endorsed fitting service' and great interaction with local clubs and groups.
Meanwhile 40 miles away in Tunbridge Wells in the south-west corner of Kent, local stalwart, Allan Cheek - he's the club president at TW Harriers - provides a hugely personal approach. All visitors to the town's Running Hub can be assured of service from the man himself - Allan is there all day - everyday, ready to offer advice, and help you find what you are looking for. The store can be busy at times, but Allan is sure that it is this personal touch that brings people back: "The shop is decorated with personal items from my years of running such as race numbers and other bits of memorabilia, anyone who comes to Running Hub will be taken care of by myself."
The scene changes once again and on a busy thoroughfare in south-east London 17 year retail veteran David Bennett at the Runners Shop is looking ahead to 2013 with optimism: "We've just had a major upgrading at our Beckenham Road store which means we're now even better placed to cater for a loyal customer base that includes occasional park runners (the store is half-way between the Bromley and Crystal Palace weekly 5ks), the track and field fraternity and many cross-country and trail runners who head out east to the big open spaces like Biggin Hill or the West Kent Downs.
"Our suburban location means we attract lots of people who just want to keep fit and, surprisingly, we get very busy around the time of the Moonwalk. However GB international or someone thinking about one of the Race for Life 5ks, they get the same quality of service. Although staff member Abdi Amare Madar once beat Mo Farah in a cross country race so expect some good stories too!"
The knowledgeable enthusiasm of Dominic O'Mahoney, Allan Cheek and David Bennett is replicated by Kate Austen at Podplus Sports in Ashford and Tim Smith at Bat and Ball Sports in Sevenoaks. Also in Sevenoaks is the popular Up and Running store where manager Alan Pope and his all-runners team offer a great service but watch out they'll be keen to tempt you to enter the Sevenoaks 10K (March) and the Orpington 10K (June) - events that the store supports.
Sweatshop is the other big name and they have a major presence across Kent with stores at Bluewater (Chris Wright), Maidstone (Lee Kitney) and Dartford (Richard Leahy). There is a regular Wednesday evening group that runs from Bluewater - contact them directly for more details.
Check out our Retailers Page to find more places to purchase your running kit in Kent.