CEDAR FALLS - Walk into Sarah and Scott Gall's store on the Parkade, and they will introduce you to two old friends: your feet.
The Galls, owners of The Runner's Flat, at 120 Main St., told themselves before they started their business several years ago to offer their customers more than running shoes. They wanted shoppers to know how to use such specialized footwear.
The Galls claim to occupy a unique position in the marketplace as the Cedar Valley's only specialized running store.
But, it's more than a business, Sarah Gall said.
"It's helping others and hopefully helping the community get healthy and active," she said.
Both are avid runners, having competed in high school and college. Sarah Gall, who ran competitively, first at the North Carolina State University, and then at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, still runs between 70-80 miles a week, "mostly on dirt trails and bike trails" in George Wyth State Park and the Hartman Reserve and Nature Center. Scott Gall ran for Wabash College in Indiana before turning to marathons and mountain runs in Colorado. He now competes in triathlons and competitive snowshoeing events.
At The Runner's Flat, the Galls and their two part-time employees - both of whom also are avid runners - match customers with shoes using a Sports Motion System, which records customers running on a treadmill and allows them to view the mechanics of their strides, frame by frame. The Galls say the system not only helps the runner find the right shoe but it also provides important insights into the mechanics of running.
The store serves as a meeting place for school running teams, clubs and triathletes, all in the name of spreading the gospel of fitness, Sarah Gall said.
"It's nice we're able to help out people in different areas," she said. "We like to be very honest with people when we help them and, hopefully, people will see that. This town can be very loyal, too. It's been great to open the store here."
And, as it happens, there is some recognition for hard work. Last Wednesday, Sarah Gall received the 2009 Deb Dalziel Woman Entrepreneur Achievement Award from the Iowa Small Business Development Centers.
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The Deb Dalziel Woman Entrepreneur Achievement Award honors an Iowa woman entrepreneur who has significantly changed or improved her life and the lives of others. The award is presented in memory of Deb Dalziel, a devoted small business advocate who was director of the Small Business Development Center at Southeastern Community College, Burlington, from 1987 until her death from cancer in 1999 at the age of 44.
"Sarah is typical of most entrepreneurs that have a passion," said Mike Hahn, director of the Small Business Development Center at the University of Northern Iowa.
She had approached Hahn's center with her idea about starting her store, and her runner's determination to succeed was evident at the outset, Hahn said.
"When she came to us about this idea of doing a running store specifically to sell shoes, we were a little skeptical," he said. "Was the market large enough? She was determined to make it happen."
Sarah Gall, who launched the store as Scott taught English and special education, first in Waverly and then in Cedar Falls, worked closely with running groups and made certain those groups came to the store for meetings, Hahn noted.
"It's an example of taking that passion and building a business idea over the long haul," Hahn said.
Last November, the Galls moved their shop to Main Street, next door to Bike Tech - another smart business move, Hahn said.
"We've done some cross-marketing with them," Scott Gall noted.
On Wednesday, the award winners were presented to both the Iowa House and Senate, which sends an important message to lawmakers about the importance of small business owners and the roles they play in their communities, Hahn said.
"It's good recognition," he said. "It shows them that small businesses can make a huge contribution to our state's economy and fill a potential market void."