Startup’s take on the virtual shoe salesman

Natural running store employee Austin Archer, left, and founder Patton Gleason

OptimalRun employee Austin Archer, left, and founder Patton Gleason

A Richmond-based online running shoe store has taken a new step in its customer service. this summer began offering a free service that allows users to get advice about buying the right shoe without having to leave their home. It’s an attempt by the 2-year-old company to bring a taste of an in-store experience into the online shopping world.

“For some people going into a brick-and-mortar store seeking advice about running can be intimidating. Even I find it intimidating sometimes,” said OptimalRun founder and President Patton Gleason. “This service allows people to share as much as they want in the privacy and comfort of their own home,”

The Personalized Footwear Recommendation service consists of a five-part online questionnaire related to the user’s running habits and shoe history. Users then choose between video, phone call or Google Hangout session to receive their feedback from an OptimalRun representative.

“Social [media] has always been a communication tool for us. As soon as it becomes a sale tool people tune out,” Gleason said.

The high volume of customer service queries received on Twitter necessitated a more systematic and convenient service, Gleason said.

Gleason would not comment on the number of requests for the new service or specifics about sales but did say he has been surprised by how many people have used it and how sales have increased since the service was first offered.

“This is a benchmark service for us,” Gleason said. founder Patton Gleason in a Personalized Footwear Recommendation. founder Patton Gleason in a Personalized Footwear Recommendation.

The new offering is the latest tweak for Gleason’s startup.

He founded the company originally as the Natural Running Store more than two years ago, before relocating its headquarters from Dallas to Richmond in May of 2012. He then changed the business’ name to in February.

The company has three employees and leases a small warehouse and office space on East Fourth Street in Manchester.

According to Gleason, 99.5 percent of users of the new service request video feedback. Users are sent an email with a link to a 3 to 4 minute video of a shoe expert explaining his or her analysis of the user’s running and shoe history and goals. The shoe expert presents recommendations, holding and detailing each shoe model for the user to see. also offers free live chatting with running experts on its website during normal business hours.

Gleason would not say whether the shoe recommendation service would always remain a free one.

“Our goal is to continue developing a service that is based purely on customer feedback and need. Empowering people is really important to us,” Gleason said.

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Will Boland
Will Boland
6 years ago

Great article! I’m a huge fan of Optimal Run. The personalized footwear recommendation video was a lot of fun to view, and the shoes they recommended ended up being spot on for my needs. Thanks for the awesome service!

6 years ago

Cool! I am in the market for a new pair of running shoes. I think I will try it! I agree with it being intimidating to buy at a running store. Because the stores are so small w/ relatively few to no customers in them at the same time, you feel like you HAVE to buy the shoes. It’s very hard to walk out empty-handed. I did it once and went to a big box store and the same shoes were $25 cheaper! There is value in paying for the extra service but $25 makes a difference.