Ask Lesley Holleman about her work sometime.
To start with, if you ask her any question at all, it will probably be at the store she owns, Fleet Feet Sports in Ridgeland, Mississippi’s Trace Station shopping center. Since taking over the reins of Fleet Feet a few years back, Holleman can usually be found on-site. To say she is a “hands on” business owner qualifies as a major understatement: To many sports enthusiasts in the Metro, Lesley Holleman IS Fleet Feet.
Modesty would prevent her from putting it that way, though. I’ve interviewed Lesley many times (on the record) and talked with her casually (off) and she adamantly shuns any personal praise or attention. For as long as I’ve known her, when it comes to any discussions about the store, it’s usually always about the staff, what they can do for me or what they have done for others, her product lines, an upcoming promotion, etc.
But those of us who love Fleet Feet know it’s really Lesley’s store—in more ways than one.
While it’s undoubtedly true—if you’ve even shopped at Fleet Feet—that the shift of emphasis from her to her employees is justifiable, Lesley’s business style proves the old Management 101 adage correct: a company (or store) embodies the qualities of its leadership. The employees of Fleet Feet are as good as they are because their boss is that good, in other words.
For instance, I know of few other retail stores—athletic or otherwise—that do as much for its community and customers as Fleet Feet of Jackson does. From sponsored races benefiting area charities to the many “fun” and “pub” runs the store puts on which, doubly, serve as social events for runners and walkers and economic boosts to the restaurants and eateries where participants congregate afterwards—Fleet Feet demonstrates a rare commitment to its clientele.
Since Lesley has been at the helm, such events have been flourishing as have running/walking programs for children, seniors, women and first-time racers. And, as their regular email and Facebook updates indicate, they are continually adding new events, projects and promotions to their agenda—all of which benefit the customer.
Moreover, the events that Fleet Feet sponsors aren’t camouflaged sales pitches designed to just get you in the store to sell product. I would dare say that almost a majority of the participants don’t even enter the store’s premises during these events—for the ones even held at the store in the first place. It’s not primarily about selling for Lesley and the staff; it’s about promoting the sport the store is in business to represent and ensuring that customers—friends, really—have opportunities to get together and be a part of something worthwhile.
Plus, there are no “hard sells” at Fleet Feet. You’ll be informed what the staff thinks you most and really need (even if it’s the least expensive item in stock)—but there is no over-selling or pressure. There IS honesty about your body type, running form and respect for your budget.
I’ve heard some of the old school runners in Jackson wax nostalgic about the Phidippides store that was once in business here in town. I came along too late as a runner to remember that particular place or to measure it against Fleet Feet. But I simply can’t imagine any store as welcoming to a runner/walker or a group of people more committed to helping its customers than Lesley and her staff at Fleet Feet. Simply— but importantly—put, they’re nice, genuine people
I could go on and on about the store that has meant a great deal to me the past ten years or so, back to the days when former owner Jeff Wells helped me get through my first (and only) marathon. Instead, though, I would urge any reader who has never been to Fleet Feet to go see for themselves. Experience retail like it’s ideally supposed to be—customer-friendly, low key, staffed by people with knowledge of their product— and…fun.
Don’t think you’re athletic enough to enter a running specialty store? New to the sport? You won’t be judged at Fleet Feet. Instead, you’ll be welcomed warmly and probably congratulated for taking the proverbial first step. It’s the kind of atmosphere you’ll find—and it comes down from the top.
I don’t go in to Fleet Feet nearly as much as I used to. Other commitments have gotten in the way of my running which, while still steady, is more for fun and health these days and not for the challenges or races. Still, I tell everyone I know who wants to begin running or walking, that the only place to start is at Fleet Feet Sports in Ridgeland, Mississippi. The enthusiasm for our sport is contagious. You’ll be hooked.
So, do indeed ask Lesley Holleman about her work sometime. Chances are good that you’ll probably come away with discovering something interesting and worthwhile about running, the latest gear or information on an upcoming race…and you’ll also undoubtedly gain a new friend.
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