Playmakers: Making Play More Fun in Lansing
For many retailers, “making it big” is defined by becoming so popular that your original location expands into a franchise, begins to pop up in multiple states and finally becomes a nationally recognized name.
That’s not exactly how it went for Playmakers
. While there’s no doubt that the Okemos running store is now known in the industry nationwide, this occurred only after it started as one arm of a quiet franchise and grew into a local sporting goods dynamo. Not Just a Shoe Store
Playmakers first arrived in Meridian Mall
in the late 1970s as one outlet of an out-of-state company. By 1981, however, the franchise went belly up and the owners sold each branch off in pieces. Curt Munson, who managed the Okemos location at the time, decided to take the opportunity to purchase the store.
It wasn’t long after that when now part-owner Brian Jones stopped in while planning a charity race for his MSU
fraternity. Playmakers helped with Jones’ event, loaning them a time clock and start/finish banner. The 1986 interaction turned out to be the start of a more than 20-year career for Jones.
“I stopped working there when I graduated and worked in public accounting for two years,” Jones says. “I was never crazy about it, so I came back.
“I felt like I could make a difference here.”
Make a difference? By working in a shoe store? Before writing Jones off as having a low bar for public service, its important to note that Playmakers isn’t one’s ordinary sporting goods store.
“The philosophy is we want to put people in the right product and we always want them to be in the right environment,” says Jones. “We want them to be relaxed and there to be no stress involved in the process.”
And he doesn’t just mean the right environment for buying running products. No, Playmakers has concerned itself with the environment in which their customers use their products - which is what has propelled “just a shoe store” into a force for health and self-esteem in the Lansing community.
For starters, Playmakers hosts regular clinics on injuries, good form running, good form walking, as well as special speaker events and training groups for runners and walkers of all levels. While training groups and some events have a fee, their clinics and most events are free to the public.
“We partner with MSU, sports medicine professionals and sports trainers,” says Jones. “A lot of people like to run but if they don’t do it properly, they can injure themselves.”Making Sure The Shoe Fits
Don’t tell Playmakers that running injuries are about the last thing most athletic shoe stores have in mind when making a sale. That’s just not how they operate. Jones explains that Munson’s mission statement for his business is to create a store that is “productive and enjoyable for all.” That means staff, vendor, customers and the community.
That’s a lot of people to keep track of. Munson Accomplishes this by training his staff according to Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
. Employees are educated in the habits, as well as “core values,” such as attitude, teamwork and innovation at training events and retreats.
Having a cohesive, well-trained staff is part of Playmakers key to success. Jones is one of multiple 20-year employees, and in the year of their 30th anniversary, they even have one employee celebrating her 30th year with the company.
“We tend to have a staff that stays,” Jones says. “And if they do transition we like to see what they’ve learned at Playmakers carry into their new career.”
Appropriate to a sporting goods store that doesn’t operate like an ordinary sporting goods store, Playmakers’ Okemos location reflects Munson’s business philosophy.
Over three decades of steady growth, what was once a 1,500 square foot spot in the Meridian Mall is now a nearly 20,000 square foot store on Grand River with an in-house waterfall, an open-air mezzanine and hand-painted trusses supporting the high ceilings, which are dotted with refurbished skylights. The interior feels more like a spa than a shoe store. And naturally, that’s the point.
“Even on a cloudy day we have tones of natural light,” says Jones. “It’s a fun building.” Community and Collaboration
The fun isn’t just about what it looks like, but what happens there. The offices on the mezzanine level don’t have doors and all overlook the store below. Among them include a boardroom that acts as free community space. Organizations - particularly those planning charity races - may reserve the space for meetings at any time.
Races, after all, whether planned or sponsored by Playmakers or others, are the primary events on the store’s community calendar. That calendar includes hundreds of local and regional races for each year. One glance allows one to see just how central a role Playmakers plays in the Lansing running community.
“There’s just this great collaboration,” Jones says of all the organizations who hold races in the area every year. “There’s a lot of camaraderie because everyone has the same goals. Whether it’s to benefit a charity or a passion for fitness, it brings a lot of positive energy together. So it doesn’t get too competitive or political.”
That’s not to say Playmakers doesn’t understand competition. They may not feel like competitors themselves, but part of their commitment to the community includes highlighting competitive runners in local middle and high schools. Recent running times can always be found on the Playmakers website, and larger-than-life size photos of local runners adorn the store. It may take a certain amount of time and investment to do so, but Jones says uplifting student runners is an important part of the store’s mission.
“Basketball and football get a lot of attention,” he says, “and yet running is something that can stay with you for a lifetime. We want to build up this running community by putting them up on a pedestal and saying, ‘Hey, our sport is great too.’” 30 Years and Counting
Playmakers will soon celebrate running with the entire Lansing community during their 30-year anniversary event set for the last week in February. Events will include a customer appreciation week, a family day, yoga classes, educational events, donating a portion of sale proceeds to the Special Olympics and more.
And, of course, there will be races. The week of celebrating will kick-off with a run from the store and will include other races out in the community including one in Old Town and another along the River Trail.
“It should be fun,” says Jones. “We’ll celebrate spring a week early this year.”
For the shoe store that works so hard to celebrate Lansing-area runners and wellness, Playmakers can most likely be assured that their community will be taking the opportunity to celebrate them as well.
Details on the forthcoming week of events can be found on the Playmakers website.
Natalie Burg is the news editor for Capital Gains.
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
Brian Jones and the Playmakers store
All Photographs © Dave Trumpie