As Bob Garfield and Doug Levy write in , “You Can’t Buy Me Like,” – shouting ever louder doesn’t work any more.  In my case, you can’t pay me to shop retail, but you can certainly persuade me by building good word of mouth and good relationships.

Anyone who has been to a speech of mine in the last ten years has heard me say that the majority of my clothing comes from Goodwill and that I have a moral abhorrence to paying retail.  But on Saturday, I went out and paid full retail and felt great about it.

The object for which I paid full retail was a pair of running shoes DSC_1823 — something I’ve never done in 30 years as a runner. And I did it despite the gazillion dollar budgets of almost every running shoe company that the store carried.

Runner’s Alley is a small (3-store) chain of running only stores in New Hampshire.  About ten years ago a friend recommended the store to me, and over the years I’ve had a number of other friends, runners and non-runners alike, recommend it as a great place to go for running gear. So, last weekend when I was looking for YakTrax cleats so I could run in the ice and snow of this horrible winter, I decided to try there.

The first thing that got my attention was how helpful they were. The woman at the front desk checked all the other stores for YakTrax and then wrote a note to contact the supplier on Monday. As it happens, they were having a sale and  I wasn’t wild about the shoes I was running in, so I thought I’d see what made them so adored by all my friends.

I wandered over to the shoe section and told them my sad running shoe tale. I showed them my much beloved but totally worn out pair of Locos – and when the company stopped making shoes ten years ago, I bought every pair they had in my size but I’d finally run through them all. The salesperson was familiar with the brand, studied the tread, asked me about my running habits, and then made me walk and then run up and down the store a few times.

He eventually brought out three pairs for me to try, including a brand new high tech one that offered an extra inch more support on the outside of my foot.  Sounded great, and of course cost a little bit more, but when I said that I could really feel that extra support, he warned me off, saying if I could feel it now, it would drive me crazy in a week. Not only had he listened, but he expressed concern for my welfare — classic relationship building.

While he was writing up the sale, I looked for the first time at the array of brands offered along the wall and realized I hadn’t a clue what brand I had just purchased. All the millions of dollars that Nike, Addidas and Asics spend annually had no influence whatsoever on my decision. My decision was entirely based on the store’s word of mouth and the relationship that the store’s staff built with me in the time I was in the store.

Turns out I’d bought a pair of Saucony Guide 7s.  Interestingly, Saucony has  arguably the tiniest marketing budget of any of the brands in the store. So to all of you relationship builders out there, aka PR people,  next time someone asks you what all this relationship stuff is worth, tell them its worth everything.

And oh, by the way, I’ve cut two minutes off my running time and give all the credit to Runners Alley and Saucony.

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