Sweatshop Running Club Blues

About six years ago, for the first time, I joined a running club. That club was SRC, or Sweatshop Running Club. Sweatshop are the UK’s leading running retailers, and set up the SRC as an initiative just over six years ago, possibly with a view to increasing foot-fall, and to spread the Sweatshop brand. The club I joined was based at the Fulham branch. It was free and offered incentives for completing runs, such as nutrition packs and fitness clothing. And if the runner was to achieve the lofty target of doing fifty runs within a twelve month period (1 run a week to count as max), then they would be awarded a Garmin fitness watch. That prize was eventually downgraded to up to £100 off the price of a pair of running shoes, which was still a good incentive. Something that I managed to achieve twice. And so over the course of those six years, I continued to run with the group. I attended SRC runs at Fulham, Clapham, Manchester and at their Rathbone Place branches.

Fulham Sweatshop

Fulham SRC was a great place to get into running. I was training for a marathon, and the Wednesday night 10k routes along the Thames were fantastic to help me with my training and to motivate me. They also did a Sunday morning 5k run to Bishop’s Park (which I found hard to get up for!). Eventually, Wednesday was scrapped because of dwindling numbers, but Thursday night was introduced as interval training, which Tuesday became a 3k to 5k run. Both of these runs were done as laps Eel Brook Common. Quite a camaradrie developed at the club amongst the regulars. Certain run nights involved themed fancy dress runs, such as halloween and Christmas runs. There were also evening events for members, like Christmas parties and bowling nights. Then, all of a sudden, the Fulham store announced that they were closing down. Apparently, what happened was that the lease had come up for renewal, and it was implied that they just were not getting the right figures. This coincided with the closure of some other stores too. The Stratford and Holloway stores were also closed down. If the stores weren’t profitable, regrettably, it made sense to close them down.

The Clapham Store

Being a Brixton resident for some time in the past few years, the Clapham Store became my favourite. Out of all the London stores, the SRC there attracted quite a large group of runners. The Monday night 5k run often involved a cheeky lap of Clapham Common, while the Wednesday night run involved some great 8k routes, that occasionally stretched as far as Battersea Park, and the Thames, and nearly always concluded in a post-run pub session. I made many friends over the three years that I frequented the Clapham store. Then on October 20th, they posted this on their Facebook wall.

sweatshopclapham20-10-2016

Rathbone Place Announces Closure

So here’s the announcement made on Monday 15th November 2016:

Hello to all our Sweatshop Rathbone Place family..
It is with a heavy heart that we must inform you of the forthcoming closure of Sweatshop Rathbone Place.🙁The powers that be have informed us that we will cease to trade in January.
We wish to continue welcoming our run club to run with us for the remainder of our time here.. We also welcome you and all of our customers to come and pick up one of the great bargains we’ll have here in store! Get them whilst stocks last!
Let’s try to enjoy our final few months here and send Sweatshop Rathbone Place out with a bang!

sweatshoprathbone14-10-2016

Well that was me pretty much done for Sweatshop and their running club. One of the managers pointed out to me that it was possible to go to the Trump Street branch for their club, but as far as I was concerned, that’s a little out of the way. And for sure, the Manchester branch can’t be running short on the foot-fall front, being right in the middle of the Arndale Mall in Manchester city centre, but I can’t make a weekly run there, being London based!

So Why Has This Happened?

Some years ago, it was known that 15% of Sweatshop shares were owned by the corporate sports retail store, Sports Direct. This was one of the reasons why the branches slowly started to introduce entry level budget brand, Karrimor. Mike Ashleigh, the owner of Sports Direct had recently brought himself to public attention, both as the owner of the Geordie soap opera, Newcastle United Football Club, and for his summoning to parliament over a hearing regarding his alleged working practices in his Sports Direct stores. Any reasons as to why all these stores have been shut have been pointed to the idea that store leases that came up for renewal were not being renewed. The reason for these terminations at the end of leases can only be speculated on. Either stores are deemed to not be profitable, or there is a deliberate strategy to shut down all the standalone stores and to reinstate Sweatshop as an in-store running brand within Sports Direct Stores. I visited a Sweatshop within a Sports Direct, and there was one fundamental difference. Sweatshop staff at the stand-alone stores tended to be dedicated runners, but in Sports Direct this was not the case. The general Sports Direct staff had no great knowledge of the needs of the runner, which was not ideal!

sweatshop_in_sports_direct_3

What Now Then?

As somebody who has become psychologically reliant on running with a club, as opposed to running by myself in a park, I need a practical solution for running. As do former members of SRC! Members of the Fulham SRC managed to continue the run meetings by reinventing the group as SRCF (Social Running Club Fulham). They negotiated with a local dance studio in Fulham to use them as a bag storage point, and continued with good numbers. The Clapham running group as of today are starting to look into doing something similar, but one solution for them was the idea of using the running club of the rival store, ‘Runners Need’, whose shop is based in Clapham junction, and is thankfully not up for the chop. And of course, there is always the hangover destroying Saturday morning Park Runs, which are highly successful and take place in parks across the UK (which incidentally used to be sponsored by Sweatshop). I could look into travelling further afield, because as of now, the Trump Street and Teddington branches have not to my knowledge been shut-down. Otherwise, looks like I’m back to running on my own again…

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