General Running

Interview With Charm City Run’s Josh Levinson

I have made a conscience decision not to have advertising on this site.  Currently, there are no paid links or other ways I could monetize the site.  Who knows what the future holds but as of now everything you see on the site is here because I am interested in reviewing the product, event or service.  This post is not an advertisement.  I have included a permanent link to Charm City Run on my links page and conducted this interview with the owner Josh Levinson because I personally endorse Charm City Run as a great running resource in Maryland.

What makes Charm City Run post worthy?  Let’s start from the beginning.  When I started running I had a decent pair of running shoes, some cotton t-shirts, and no friends that were runners.  Even walking into a “running store” felt intimidating.  I wont mention any names but there are specialty running stores in Baltimore that don’t make you feel all that welcomed when it comes to the newbie runner, and others that have little expertise or knowledge.

I needed to train for my first marathon and by luck I chose the training program with Mark Dees at Charm City Run.  I was at the store every Saturday for our group long runs and it became the home base for my running universe.  Every week we were greeted by Katie Heyl in the morning and she was always chipper.  Mark would hand out the mileage sheets and the runners in training would get to work.  I loved it there.  Everyone was so positive.  I was trained and well prepared for my first marathon by the Charm City Run team.  If you are looking for training in Maryland check out Charm City Run’s programs.  The staff is not only helpful and knowledgeable, they are nice people.  Over the years I have become friends with some of the employees.  I even ran the TransRockies Run with one of the employees (Juda McGannon) after my original partner dropped out.  I see the staff at races and running events all over Maryland.  Charm City Run is part of the Maryland running experience.

I recently read an article about how no company or business cares about you, but a company and or business can empower their employees through culture to care about you.  I believe Josh Levinson (Owner of CCR) has created a caring culture at Charm City Run where the employees seem genuinly interested in your running success.  I was interested in learning more from Josh so I asked him for an interview.

What is your favorite running distance?  5 miles.  This is what I do on an almost daily basis for my mental health.  This time is a gift to me.

Do you have a favorite race?  The New York Marathon.  It is a journey through the history of our country.  Any 5K with my son.

What’s your marathon PR? 3:15 Arizona and Philly

What is your current race day shoe? Brooks Adrenaline or Asics 2160

What is still left on your running bucket list?  Not much.  Half Ironman.  Maybe HAT 50k and certainly Hood to Coast again

How long have you been running an independent running retailer? 9 years

Why or how did you end up interested in owning a Running Store? I was in Austin and I was done playing lacrosse.  I was looking for something to dive into.  That dive was a marathon.  I had been running since I was 10 for mental health peace and fitness.  I had the too-long lacrosse shorts and some real bad apparel.  My wife told me you actual had to train the right way to do one of these things.  She gave me a Marathon Training Program at Run-Tex.  I was familiar with Run-Tex because they put water and Gatorade out on the Towne Lake trail and every race was produced by them.  I fell in love with the place, the life and the community.  On a trip home, running on the NCR, Kara said Baltimore needs a Run-Tex.  We returned to Austin, I asked Paul Carrozza the owner if I could work for free and the rest is history.

What is the best thing that has come out of being a running retailer?  Relationships.  I really enjoy the young people that have decided to join us on this trip.  I love the customers.  I know their families their kids their hardships and their victories.  Kara and I love raising our kids in such a positive environment.  Lastly, I hope we have made a difference.  We give a lot.  Some notice.  Some don’t.  When Charm City Run is dead and gone I hope some folks will say, “Those guys did some good.”

What is the hardest part of being a store owner?  The hardest part is managing priorities.  I still like working with the customer, checking in product, seeing vendor presentations, developing our young leadership and spending time with my family.  I need to work on developing the young leadership more and staying out of their way.

How has being in the “business” changed your views on running in general?  Now that I am in the business I think that I am far more in tuned to people’s personal goals and triumphs and to play a part in their success is pretty powerful.  I think what is most surprising is how much my views haven’t changed, and they are reinforced by our customers every day.  When you run you feel better.  You are a better worker, a better father, a better mother and a better wife and husband.  These are facts that seem irrefutable.

Now that you have been running Charm City Run for 9 years, would you have changed anything or even gone into the same business if were to do it all over again?  There are always little things that you wish you would have done better.  I would not have changed a thing.  I jump out of bed every morning.  What I could not have done any better, was the people we hired.  They are fine human beings.

What has been the nuttiest trend to go through running since you started?  Vibram Five Fingers and minimalist running.  This was the first cultural revolution in running specialty.  It has had enormous influence on the industry and it has changed the development cycle of all manufacturers.

How do you decide what merchandise to carry in the store?  With footwear you are ordering the styles that have done well and the next evolution of those shoes.  With the minimalist movement, the number of skus has increased significantly.  We think about what customer would want this?  When would we get into this conversation?  Then we make some color choices.  With apparel, we defer to our female leaders a lot.  They are much better at predicting fashion trends.  Accessories, we are determining value to the customer and when a customer would use it.

Any advice for companies that want to get merchandise into an independent running retailer store?  Be willing to give of your time and product.  If you are out there hustling and volunteering, you will have a much better shot.  Too many vendors focus on technical specifics.  If you cannot translate it to a customer in 30 seconds, it is dead.  Get the product out on the street.  Give it to influencers and enthusiasts.  Do what you say you are going to do.

How many people do you think Charm City Run has trained for full Marathons to date?  1,000 +

Have you ever banned anyone from the store?  I have not.  It is a free country and as long as people are reasonable, there is no reason why they cannot come in.  Most of our customers are terrific.  There are always a few that don’t want to “win”.  No matter what we do they will be miserable.  Unfortunately, we do not have the power to help them and we wish them good luck somewhere else.

Why did you decide to contribute to 1% For The Planet & Back on My Feet?  I am proud of our community initiative and I believe we are second to none in this respect.  Back on My Feet quite simply demonstrates the power of running.  Running creates discipline, health, positive thinking and confidence.  Back on My Feet has proved this and they are local.  It hits everything that we care about.  1% speaks to who we are as a family both Charm City Run and my family.  My ten year old is a serious environmental advocate and he has asked me questions that I cannot answer about why we are knowingly destroying our environment.  I need to be able to say to him that we did our part.  Furthermore it is local.  It is an international organization where you can contribute all locally.  Lastly it is not a fair fight.  The corporations that pollute have a bottomless pit of money to influence decision makers.  That is not fair.  Our customers care, we care and they have enables us to step up.

How many races does CCR put on in a year? We manage and time 70 races.  Talk about good people.  Dave Cooley and then Kelly Dees is tough to beat.

What makes Baltimore a great place to be in the running business?  Loyalty.  I have spoken with numerous people that move away and then come back and it is because of community.  This community is second-to-none, just ask the Back on My Feet folks.  The Charm City has the best most energetic volunteer base in the nation.  The climate is also good and there are good places to run, but community trumps all of that.

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4 Comments

  1. Just ran my first half on Sunday and now that I know I can do it, I'm ready to get sucked in to better clothes, shoes etc. 🙂  Have heard great things about Charm City, and this interview combined with the store in Clarksville near work are definitely going to push me there sometime this week!  Came across your blog yesterday b/c of this post and really love the reviews – hope I can jump into the running community in this area!

  2. I have been working at CCR for a little over a year now and its is my home.  I love the store.  I love the staff.  I love the costumers.  I LOVE that I LOVE going to work.  GREAT post!  thanks! 

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