By Karen Hendricks
The Joslyns have big plans for their small business in 2020. Like all of us, they’re adapting those plans amid the pandemic. And there’s still much to celebrate.
Whether you’re a devoted or occasional customer at their specialty footwear shop, or perhaps someone who’s not yet stepped inside, we are introducing (or reintroducing) Shelby and Fred Joslyn to deepen your understanding and appreciation of small business owners, for starters. And we’ll dispel a few myths, such as: All customers are runners (they’re not!) and the Joslyns met through running. (They didn’t—and take a wild guess at the high school class where they did indeed meet!) Plus, we’ll shine a light on how they’re “giving back” to the Harrisburg and Central PA community—and beyond.
What led you to the decision to launch Fleet Feet Mechanicsburg in June of 2015?
Fred: Honestly, it’s a fascinating story based on our goals and ambitions, plus we learned a lot along the way—and it’s a story that goes back to Syracuse, New York. Shelby and I both worked at Fleet Feet Syracuse for more than five years—she was the Purchasing Manager and I was the Training Program Manager. It’s a very big, successful store--actually named the number one running store in the country in 2012—so it was exciting, and it’s where we developed the idea of owning our own store. We realized we would make a good team, with our different skill sets.
Why and how did you choose the Harrisburg area?
Fred: I can still remember Shelby and I sitting down at our kitchen table and writing down possible towns where we could launch our store. We didn’t want to go to a huge city—we wanted to move somewhere small enough to be able to have personal relationships with customers. And we wanted to stay in the Mid-Atlantic to be close to our family in New York. We scouted out six or seven locations and narrowed it down to Harrisburg.
Thinking back, what were your first impressions of Central PA?
Fred: There were a few intriguing things right away—the Appalachian Trail, the Susquehanna River (which we “knew” from growing up in Binghamton), and the Capital Area Greenbelt’s running paths along the river. These were huge advantages and I could imagine holding training programs and coaching here—those are my passions. Fleet Feet’s CFO visited and agreed with us!
As a small business owner, what’s the best thing about being affiliated with Fleet Feet, a nationwide brand?
Shelby: Fleet Feet puts so much into employee growth and developing great people. It’s a team approach, with about 170 locations, and we’re working together on the same goals and ambitions. It’s a unique and incredible support system, with conferences and idea sharing. As a franchise, they believe in owners who are active—they don’t believe in absentee owners. We love Fleet Feet—we’ve always felt like it’s a mutually beneficial relationship where they want to see us succeed and build great relationships as part of a great company.
Most challenging part of being a small business owner?
Fred: What’s happening right now, with COVID-19, is challenging. The hardest thing to plan for is something you don’t completely see coming. You have to be flexible, creative and adapt really fast. We’ve been making adjustments!
Shelby: One of the things that was hard to begin with was hiring people, as simple as it sounds, but now we’re so proud of the team we’ve assembled. It doesn’t matter who our customers work with—they’re going to have a good experience!
Most rewarding aspect of owning a specialty footwear shop?
Fred: Our customers! We have a broad range of customers, including loyal training program participants, to customers who are medical referrals from their doctor who are experiencing foot pain or plantar fasciitis. A lot of customer find us online because they’re looking for comfortable shoes for work or walking, or they want to join one of our running programs.
Shelby: Word of mouth referrals are one of the most rewarding things. We help so many new customers each day and each one of them has their own story. We have a lot of customers from the Harrisburg area running community, but the number one thing we hear from non-running customers is, “I’m not a runner.” Even though we are a running specialty store, we want everyone to feel comfortable walking through our doors because everyone needs shoes.
Let’s talk shoes!
Fred: People sometimes ask what the best shoes are and it’s a loaded question because there’s no right answer! It depends on what their goals are. So we talk to every customer about their needs and goals! The customer who says, “I’m working 12-hour days and my feet hurt”—that customer needs the most comfortable shoes. In terms of technology and the evolution of shoes, there are a lot of fascinating things happening in terms of cushioning, responsiveness, foam, carbon plates, compressed air pockets and more. Our “Fit Process” is framed around what shoes are going to feel best to each and every customer—the process is designed to figure out what shoes they’re going to love.
Looking back, what was the craziest part of opening a small business?
Fred: When we moved here in March of 2015, it was total chaos. We put our house in New York on the market, and it turned out to be one of the worst winters—every open house we tried to hold, it snowed. And we couldn’t buy a house here, until we sold our previous home, so we lived in a motel here—first, a Super 8 and then Motel 6. We were simultaneously trying to get our kids transitioned, trying to find a home, preparing to open a business, so life was hectic. The kids actually loved living out of a motel. Right away, we started connecting to the running community—we would go out on the Greenbelt and set up a water station. We met a lot of local runners, told them we were opening a Fleet Feet store, and made a lot of great connections. I love meeting and interacting with people!
It seems like you’re both very humble, but let’s compile some “humble brags” about Fleet Feet Mechanicsburg’s accomplishments during the first five years.
Fred: We’ve trained over 500 Harrisburg-area residents so far, for goal races ranging from the 5k to marathon distance. We are even coaching people virtually to keep them moving and inspired throughout the pandemic.
And we held a virtual race, Running Is Not Cancelled, in early May that raised $1,300 for medical supplies to fight COVID-19.
Through Fleet Feet, we currently host four Harrisburg races annually, with plans for a fifth—stay tuned!
We have also traveled to India three times to hold running clinics during summer camps for impoverished children—this would have been our fourth year but the trip was canceled due to the pandemic.
As part of the India trip, we’ve donated approximately 800 pairs of shoes and Balega socks. This year, 300 runners raised $2,000 during the New Year’s Run Challenge, so we donated that money to the nonprofit Communities Rising, and it allowed food to be distributed to 500 families for a week’s worth of meals, so it still had a very positive impact.
Shelby: We’ve had a great relationship with Girls on the Run. They’re our charity partner for our Lucky Charm 5K/10K and the Big Run on Global Running Day in June. We’re excited about their mission and love raising money for them.
During COVID-19, we partnered with Feetures socks and donated 10,000 pairs of socks to healthcare professionals working in Central PA.
And, over the past five years, we’ve helped over 10,000 customers in the store.
A lot of people don’t realize what accomplished runners you both are.
Shelby: Fred has coached thousands of people, from walkers and new runners to avid marathoners. Fred began coaching at the collegiate level coaching at Binghamton University and Cortland University. He began coaching community-based running programs in 2010. At Fleet Feet Syracuse, he was coaching 2,000 people every year! He loves running, so it’s only natural that he shares that love of running by helping people achieve their goals.
Fred actually inspired me to become a runner back in high school. In college, Fred was a Division 3 National Champion at Cortland and he qualified for the 2012 Olympic marathon trials. He has run the Boston Marathon 5 times, and he was a member of the 2016 USA 50K championship team. And, Fred has a 16-year running streak (running every day).
Fred: A lot of people don’t realize what an accomplished runner Shelby is! She ran cross country and track and field at Syracuse University, and she’s run numerous marathons, including the Boston Marathon. My favorite race memory is from November 2015 when Shelby and I both won the Harrisburg Marathon, top female and male finishers.
How did you two meet?
Fred: A lot of people assume we met through running, but we actually met in high school and started dating in 2001. We met in an art class! The reason I was in art class—in order to get what’s called a regent’s diploma in New York, you either had to take a language a certain number of years or more advanced sequences in art or music. None of those things were my strength, but I decided to take art. Shelby, being very good at art, was in those classes. In fact, Shelby designed and sewed her own wedding dress in 2008 when we were married!
Tell us about your family life.
Fred: We have three children—a daughter and two sons. Chloe is 10 and she’s very responsible, outgoing and personable. She’s competitive with running—in fact, she ran a mile PR this week under 8:00.
Gabe is eight and loves being outside to ride his bike or scooter. He’s very curious—for example, he recently got into throwing a boomerang—and he loves building with Legos.
Jameson is three—he was born here—and believe it or not, he just started running. One day he just said, “I want to go for a run,” because he hears us say it, and he ran all the way around our block which is half a mile. He loved it. Later in the same day, he asked to do it again. It’s safe to say his running career has started.
As a family, obviously we run together, but we also love hiking and exploring, especially in the Michaux State Forest. We’re really into games—cards, Stratego, and I love chess so I’m anxious to teach the kids how to play.
How do you balance your marriage and family life with your business?
Shelby: We divide and conquer! We both have different strengths and weaknesses. Even within our Fleet Feet team, we each have a different skill set, so certain people report to either me or Fred.
Fred: I think owning the business has been very positive for our relationship. We enjoy being with each other, working together. We constantly have the same things in common, and we’re excited to share the things we’re both working on, so occasionally the kids tell us to stop talking about work at home!
Describe your goals for the future of Fleet Feet Mechanicsburg.
Shelby: To start with, we’re putting a lot of thought into reopening the business but not going back to normal. That’s step one, figuring out what the rest of 2020 looks like and how we can serve customers in a safe environment, not only from a business side but from a responsibility side. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to serve our customers and we strive to provide the best customer experience to everyone who walks through our doors.
Fred: Not that any of our long-term goals have gone away—we’re still focused on helping the Harrisburg and Central PA community stay healthy and active, and improving people’s lives through our sport. The positive influence and natural passion reflects back on our business. When COVID-19 hit, it was super encouraging to see people continuing to be really supportive, calling in orders for curbside pickups for example—it makes you realize that ultimately small businesses are all about relationships.