Arlington, VA

With running retailer Pacers shutting down its brick-and-mortar stores due to the coronavirus pandemic, the regional chain has shifted its focus to newly-launched virtual fittings.

Like many other video conferences being scheduled for those working from home, virtual fittings are being conducted via Zoom. The customer books an appointment online then joins a one-on-one call with someone from Pacers, who walks them through the sizing and gives the customer some shoe recommendations based on their needs.

The shoes are then ordered online and sent to the house, but can be returned for a full refund.

“This has been incredibly popular,” Pacers CEO Kathy Dalby told ARLnow. “We booked almost 100% — over 50 appointments the first week — within 72 hours of launching. We had 100 scheduled as of this morning.”

Dalby said the company is aiming to increase its capacity for virtual fittings over the next few days. A chat feature on the website has also proven popular for the online store. Dalby credited much of that to outdoor running being one of the few allowable, socially-distanced exercises left and a popular form of stress relief.

“Our online sales have increased 10 fold, as has the option for people to have their product shipped or picked up curbside at select locations,” Dalby said.

Still, Dalby admitted the closure of the physical stores in mid-March hurt the company as closures throughout the region has severely impacted other local retail.

“We certainly saw a large dip the first week when the world was just trying to figure out what was going on,” Dalby said. “Spring is a big season for us so it certainly stings but we saw sales double from the first week of closure to last week as we mobilized our team and rolled out virtual fit options and promotion of our online shop. While the closures are incredibly difficult for all small businesses we are hanging in there and staying positive.”

Dalby said the crisis put pressure on the Pacers team to respond quickly. Virtual fittings, for example, went from concept to market in eight days.

“Normally a product like that would take 3-4 months to develop and test,” Dalby said. “We are design testing it on the fly making edits as we go. Finding these new ways to communicate with our customers will have staying power past COVID-19 for sure.”

The other side of Pacers is as an organizer of local races, like the now-postponed Crystal City 5K Fridays. All races have been put on hold for now.

“April is our biggest month for events constituting about 65% of our event revenue for the year,” Dalby said. “Through amazing partnerships… we have been able to pivot and reschedule a good number of events. We will certainly see a dramatic decrease in revenue for this year but are working now with many of our client events to help them find new dates in the fall.

“This will change the landscape of events,” she added. “We are working with other race producers across the country to mold what the future will look like.”

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