CINCINNATI -- Four specialty running stores in Greater Cincinnati are being rebranded, but should customers consider it a step forward or the end of an era?
Bob Roncker's Running Spots in O'Bryonville, Glendale, Loveland and Newport, Kentucky, are now JackRabbit, part of a national retail chain. The changeover hit in waves over the last several weeks.
The Glendale location, located at 267 E. Sharon Road, was rebranded with new signage about two months ago, said manager Matt Frondorf. Saturday marked its grand reopening -- the first opportunity for store employees to formally thank customers for their support.
Loveland celebrated a similar event June 9. Newport will mark the occasion June 23, and O'Bryonville, while not officially scheduled, will likely celebrate its grand reopening at the end of July.
Frondorf said shoppers, so far, are embracing the change.
"A lot of people ask about it (the rebranding)," Frondorf said. "But a lot of people are coming in and falling in love. It's really the same atmosphere. Everybody in this store is still a local person. We live here in the community. We're just trying to do things a little bit better."
While the JackRabbit name is somewhat new to the TriState, its path here, in a way, dates back to 2013.
That's when Running Spot founder Bob Roncker sold his stores to Denver-based Running Specialty Group.
The rebranding was not a surprise, Roncker said. It's happening across the entire RSG umbrella. Over the years, Running Specialty Group had acquired stores with about 20 different names, including JackRabbit in New York and New Jersey, which stuck. Today, JackRabbit includes 60 locations in 16 states.
"I thought it probably would happen," Roncker said. "We certainly knew when we sold that with new ownership, there would be changes. It makes sense…just from marketing (perspective) and trying to develop a brand. It's not like, 'Aw, man. I'm sorry to see my name go.' I wasn't in it for the ego."
Roncker, a former high school teacher and coach, and his wife Mary Ann, opened their first specialty running store in 1981 in O’Bryonville. He saw an unfilled niche. Three additional stores -- Glendale, Loveland and Newport -- opened between 2002 and 2009.
After the sale in 2013, Roncker stayed on for awhile, he said, working primarily with Running Spot training groups, until he officially retired Jan. 1, 2015. He he still checks in every chance he gets. He was at the Glendale grand reopening Saturday, for example, chatting with customers and staff. Frondorf said Roncker "is still our No. 1 fan."
"I feel very fortunate," Roncker said. "I was involved in something that I loved, and I got to make a living with an avocation. We, both Mary Ann and I, thought it was time to move on to something else. It was time. Certainly it's a changing landscape out there. Online sales are larger than they used to be. Still, I hope that, when people come in, they feel like they're receiving good service. That is our main concern."
Frondorf said that's still the No. 1 priority. The store has added new brands, including On, a fast-growing Swiss shoe, and holds more inventory. The O'Bryonville location, in addition to retail, is also a distribution center, meaning it can better stock the other area locations. If Frondorf doesn't have a shoe in-house, he can order it and have it shipped directly to the customer. The store didn't have that capability before.
"I'm confident in what we're doing," Frondorf said. "We're here because of what Bob built, and we don't want to change that, but we want to keep serving the community and doing things better. And I think the customers can see that, too. Now that things are streamlined, I know I'm going to have what they're looking for, and that's awesome."