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Product Knowledge
August/September 2011

Selling more…

running shoes

‘I want to praise your staff member Maxwell. He really WOW'd me. I will definitely be referring my fellow club members (to him). He deserves a pat on the back for outstanding client service. He assisted me (just before his shift was over), in no hurry, and being very informative. He checked my feet, etc. Oh my word, this man is an absolute STAR! My husband was so impressed that he bought the takkies for me.’ This email from a grateful customer prompted us to kick off our series on the secrets of sales staff that mastered the art of selling, with tips from Maxwell Godloza
Selling running shoes

Maxwell Godloza does not merely sell running shoes; he sells a love of running. When assisting a customer he does not think about selling him a shoe at a certain price point — he concentrates on finding the right product that will contribute to the customer’s enjoyment of running.

“Running makes you feel good all the time, and I wish I could get everyone to share the feeling,” he says. “I’ll rather spend an hour or more with a customer to ensure that he walks out with the right product for him.”

Never embarrass a customer, is his approach. With the easy availability of so much information on the internet, many customers walk into the store with a preconceived idea of what they want — which might not necessarily be right.

“Never fight with a customer. Never tell a customer he is wrong, always listen to what he says he wants, and why. Then help with suggestions. Start slowly with your own suggestions and gradually build up to what you believe will be the right recommendation for that customer.”

Because the customers know that as a runner Godloza talks from personal experience, they listen. “Next time they see me at a race, they’ll remember me and come and tell me about their shoes.”


Most of the new customers at the store are beginners, and he goes out of his way to encourage them to become long-term runners. “I want them to walk out of the store, so fired up about the joys of running that they simply can’t wait to try out their new shoes. I don’t want them to go home and forget the shoes in their box under a bed.”

It is often difficult for people to start running, as it takes up a lot of time, he acknowledges, but it is always easier with support. He encourages novices by recommending a 10-12 week programme for them. He also invites them to come running with the group he coaches.

He also encourages them to call him to report back on how they are experiencing the shoes he recommended. “And it works,” he smiles, “they do phone.”

Product knowledge

It is important to know all brands of running shoes on the market, what they offer, and what technologies are used, he believes — even if you don’t stock them. It is also important to understand what technologies have the same function across different brands so that you know what a customer is talking about when he mentions a specific technology.

If a customer wears a brand that you don’t stock, you can only recommend an alternative if you know the features of his current brand. “Show the customer that the technology of the shoe you stock is as good, or better,” he suggests. “But, never try and run down the product he is interested in — acknowledge the benefits of that technology, but also show the benefits of the shoes you stock.”

Graphic illustrations of how a technology works displayed prominently close to the relevant shoes can help a lot with such explanations.

Godloza believes it’s easy to solve a problem when a customer has complaints about their shoes — if it is genuinely the problem. “But the shoe is not always the problem. Sometimes the body is not conditioned to running and you must first condition the body to fit in the shoe.”

In that case he will be sympathetic, and commiserate. “I tell them that I know the pain, I also run and felt the same pain — but that it comes from running too fast too soon. You start off running 20 minutes, then increase to 30 minutes and gradually run longer.”

About 45% of runners would nowadays come asking for barefoot running shoes, he says. He would, however, recommend alternating this with a shoe with more cushioning. You must condition yourself in slow steps to run barefoot — just as a toddler learns to walk in little steps, he says.

It is not only his salesman’s manner that keeps the customers coming back, it is also the care he takes to find the right shoe.

He recommends

  • Find out what he will use the shoes for — will he be running or walking, on road or trail surfaces?

  • Look at the customer’s height and weight — the heavier he is, the more cushioning and shock absorption will be needed.

  • Let him take off his shoes and look at his feet:

  • Does he have flat feet? With a low arch he might be an over-pronator.

  • A runner with a high arch would be less prone to pronate, but more prone to metatarsal pain, which can be helped with a cushioned midsole with high shock absorption.

  • Make use of the opportunity to examine his shoes — if they are more worn on the inside than the outside, he’ll be an over-pronator; if they are more worn on the outside, he’ll be an under-pronator.

  • He also asks the customer to run on a treadmill to observe:

  • How does he drive with his arms when running? Do they swing fluidly to help to spread his bodyweight out nice and evenly? Godloza also uses the opportunity to advise the novice runner on how best to use his arms and legs;

  • What kind of stride does he have? The way that a runner places his feet can lead to later problems and pains in the leg, knee or thigh. He therefore believes in helping a beginner to get it right from the outset.

  • A little pronation (movement of the foot when striking the ground) is natural and a runner with a normal arch will look for a neutral shoe, with the cushioning depending on his weight.

  • Does he over-pronate — the foot rolls inward too much after striking the ground, making it more difficult for the foot and ankle to stabilize the body, and shock isn't absorbed as efficiently. A problem that can be controlled by motion-control or stability shoes;

  • Is he an under-pronator (also called supinator)? The impact is concentrated on the outside part of the foot and not distributed efficiently, and when pushing-off most of the work is done by the smaller toes, which can lead to metatarsal pain. People with flat feet as well as high arches can under-pronate. Think cushioning and shock absorption in the mid-sole;

  • After you helped your customer to decide on the model and colour of a shoe, you’ll have to help him to find the correct size and fit (see box below).

    With the customer’s foot in his lap, Godloza laces the shoe by crossing the laces and checking to see that the shoe fits snugly around the foot and that there are no bulges or too much tongue showing. He also loops the crossed laces at the top through the extra holes, set back from the others, at the top. “The heel counter is the life of the shoe and needs to fit snugly,” he comments.

    Only once he is happy that the shoe fits the foot as it should, does he ask the customer to walk around or run on the treadmill to feel if it is comfortable — and hopefully leave the store eager to try on his new purchase.

    More about Maxwell Godloza

    Maxwell Godloza has been running since his early 20’s when friend and fellow surfer Gary van Rooyen challenged him to join him in running the Peninsula Marathon in 1980. Both of them were involved in surf retailing in Muizenberg in the 1980’s (Van Rooyen owned some stores) and would grasp any opportunity to catch a wave.

    “My mom gave us Kool-Aid as our supplement at the half-way mark in a Tupperware mug and a corn syrup sachet — to share!” remembers Van Rooyen.

    That was the beginning of his career as one of that elite group of runners whose form and chances would be discussed and analysed in detail by other contenders before every race. As a regular podium finisher, runners got to know him well. Thirty years later, as a Masters runner, he is still a top-five finisher (if not winner) in his age group. A Life Member of the Fish Hoek Athletic Club and the Masters Athlete of the Year 2010 of the New Balance Multi-Sport Club, it is safe to say that Godloza knows more than a bit about running.

    Throughout his career his close friendship with Van Rooyen continued, and his running shoe sponsorships also reflect the brands Van Rooyen marketed — for the past decade he has been a staunch supporter of New Balance.

    Still a keen surfer — he cools down from his Sunday morning run by taking to the waves — Godloza’s growing interest in running led to a change to his retail career as he joined sport store Jack Lemkus for ten years, and also worked at Shoe Link in Bellville and Athlete’s Foot in the Waterfront before joining New Balance when they opened the concept store in the Canal Walk shopping mall, where he now works.

    Still a regular competitor in half marathons or shorter distances, Godloza is on a mission to get everyone running. “I’m in my 50’s, but I feel like I’m in my 20’s — and I want everyone to feel like that,” he enthuses. He is so keen that he invites all beginner runners purchasing their first pair of running shoes at the store to join him on an afternoon run so that he can ensure that he or she starts off correctly.

    Fitting a running shoe
  • Ideally, the shoe should be tried on with the socks the runner will use, but if this is not possible, you should keep a proper pair of running socks ready for customers to use when trying on running shoes. If you can explain the importance of matching shoes to socks, you could sell a pair of socks as well.

  • A runner planning to run longer distances might need a running shoe that is a size bigger than their casual footwear to accommodate feet that expand as they get hot. Even if an experienced runner knows his shoe size, the fit could differ between models and brands. The time of day could also affect the fit as feet tend to expand later in the day, especially if your customer walked a lot. If you sell running shoes early in the morning, you should make allowances for this. The sizes of left and right feet can also differ — fit the bigger foot.

  • Let the customer stand upright in the shoes with his weight evenly distributed. Press with your fingers to feel if his toes fit flat and without bunching together, that they don’t touch the front of the shoe, press against the sides, nor are too far back from the front. There should be about a thumbnail's width between the length of his longest toe and the front of the shoe and the toes should be able to move freely.

  • There are several other pointers to whether the shoe is the right fit:

  • The widest part of the foot should line up with the widest part of the shoe;

  • The foot should gently touch the sides of the shoe, without pressing against any surface;

  • When standing, the foot should be anchored above the midsole of the shoe — it shouldn’t move around too much, but the foot shouldn’t be pinched either. The runner must feel balanced, even when standing on one foot, and not feel as if he is leaning to one side;

  • No seam should press on or chafe against any part of the foot;

  • The shoe should fit snugly around the heel and it should be difficult to slip a finger between the heel and the back of the shoe. The heel counter should not press against the ankle bone;

  • With the shoe fully tied, your customer should still be able to flex his ankle — if not, the throat of that shoe is too narrow for his foot.

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