The faces behind your favorite running brands

Chris Trebilcock (center) working during the 2018 Boston Marathon.

You may not know their names, but you probably know their brands.

If you’ve been to a race expo, attended a brand-sponsored event, or even participated in a fun run at your local running store, odds are you’ve encountered a footwear brand representative. They are the hidden people behind your favorite running shoe brands, working across the region to make sure their brand and products are properly celebrated and understood.

The job description of a footwear brand rep is not easy to describe, admits D.C.’s Brennan Schwab, who will soon be celebrating his two-year anniversary as a Brooks rep this April. “It’s kind of a mix between sales, education, and marketing.”

Put in simple terms, the job of a footwear brand rep is to interact with stores who sell that brand’s product. Reps ensure that the sales associates at those stores understand the product, know how to sell it, know what’s coming up next, and to assist with any events, education or promotion.

For Brooks, a regular week means at least 12 store visits, where the rep checks in, says hello, or drops off shoes. Store visits have an objective with each visit beyond just a simple “hello,” Schwab said. “Ideally you’re going into a store with a reason, whether it’s to promote a new shoe that’s out or check out any promotional materials.”

Brooks also requires their reps to do one clinic or teaching time each week. Those are times when a section of time is blocked off specifically for the rep to teach about product.

Lastly, Brooks requires one event per week. An event can be anything and everything from a bra-fitting night to a fun run to a demo run with a training program.

But Schwab said those rules and quotas are flexible so long as the numbers average out at the end of the quarter.

“Sometimes I’ll do 20 visits in a week because I know that next week, I have more events going on. So sometimes I can have a visit-heavy week or an event-heavy week. It’s up to me how to spend it so long as I know I’m hitting those numbers.”

“Most fun job in the world, honestly,” said Ken Holmes, who has been a rep for Saucony since May 2018. “It’s not for everybody, but if you love the running industry and the people involved with it, then everything involved with the job comes second nature to you.”

Saucony has a similar schedule. For Holmes, an average day involves answering emails, scheduling store visits, driving out to stores, usually some visits during the day and a couple of visits and events later in the evenings.

D.C.’s Chris Trebilcock has been a rep for On for a year now, but has been in the running industry for a long time. Prior to working with On, he worked as a store sales associate, then a store manager, then an operations manager. He says that out of all the different jobs he has held in the industry, he enjoys being a brand rep most of all. “This is out of all those aspects, my favorite part of the business. It’s more free range.”

Trebilcock says he enjoys that there are not as many pressures to get stuff accomplished. As a store manager, Trebilcock was often “more worried about payrolls or schedules” than interacting with customers or promoting product. “As a manager, it ate away at some of what I liked about the industry.”

“[Now,] I love that I get to wear so many different hats and there is so much anonymity through trust by my supervisors at large.”

Trebilcock also finds that his current position allows him a greater web of influence than what a store was able to offer. “If you want to put a program together, you are free to put this program together and you can watch it grow into something cool.”

Prior to working with Brooks, Schwab was a high school track coach for seven years and worked as a sales associate at Fleet Feet Syracuse for three years. After being at the store for a while and realizing that there was not much upward mobility, Schwab decided to look at other jobs in the industry.

“Fleet Feet is such a big account that a lot of reps live in Syracuse. We had all these people who were around all the time so I got to know them really well,” he said. “I really got to know my Brooks rep, Jake, really well. A few jobs at Brooks opened up and he took me out and told me to apply for this job.”

Interestingly enough, Schwab admits that Brooks shoes were not his favorite shoes at first. Instead, he preferred Adidas. “I was one of the top Adidas specialty salesmen in the country … They held a cool place in my heart.” But with Adidas getting rid of their tech rep program, Schwab did not see a sustainable future with them as a company.

Schwab says the culture of the company is what drew him to work for Brooks instead.

D.C. was not where Schwab thought would end up. He was initially hired for the New Orleans territory, but when they flew him to Seattle for his final interview, they informed him that there was also an opening in D.C. When asked which location he would prefer, Schwab said, “Bring me to D.C.”

It was a very different story for Trebilcock, who asked for a position in Los Angeles.

“D.C. and Los Angeles were open at the same time and they asked me in my first interview, ‘Which one are you more interested in?’ I said, ‘I’ve always loved L.A. and the gold coast and I want to be on the West Coast.’ Second interview, they said, ‘We’re interviewing you for the D.C. rep position.'”

Still, that has not stopped Treblicock from getting his time out west. “[D.C. is] not the place out of those two places that I would have picked, but the funny thing is, I have been out there enough on the west coast from training and things throughout the year.”

Though it was not his first choice, Trebilcock has come to see a lot of benefits of working in the D.C. area, namely its proximity to other major cities in the area. “You can be in Richmond in two hours and Baltimore in an hour. You can be in Pittsburg in four and Raleigh and four. It’s so interesting and dynamic part of the country.”

For Holmes, the location never mattered. When asked where he would like to work, he gave no preference.

Originally from Newport News, the D.C. area is not new to Holmes. In fact, Newport News is part of his current territory. He lives in Alexandria now, as do many other footwear reps. In fact, enough footwear reps live in a certain part of Old Town Alexandria, that area has been dubbed, “Rep Row”.

Holmes says his favorite part of the D.C. area is its diversity. “I have a very geographically diverse territory, [which includes the] D.C. metro area out to Blue Ridge mountains. I can go on trail runs and also run through the Mall in D.C.”

But as exciting as the job is, there are many misnomers about the life of a tech rep. The first being that it is not meant to be a long-term position, as many are led to believe.

“Being a tech rep is not a career,” Schwab said. In fact, most people do not maintain the job for more than three or four years. The expectation is that someone will stay in the rep position for a few years, develop in their territory, then evolve onto whatever is next. “The tech rep job is a stepping stone, not a career job.”

“I think a lot of people come in and think this is what they’re going to do now and don’t think about what’s next. You should like the brand you’re working for, not the idea of being a tech rep, because this gets your foot in the door to that brand, but it’s not the job,” says Schwab.

Schwab also says that many people often misunderstand the qualifications for the position and apply with the assumption that a strong running resume can get them the job alone. “It’s a misnomer that if you are working at a running store and you really like to run, you could just be a tech rep and that is enough. But that has changed. More often than not, people are hired for their personality and their ability to sell and teach.”

In fact, many reps who were avid runners prior to taking the job find that it is harder to maintain their regular running schedule as a brand rep. “If you wake up and you’re driving all day and talking about running all day, you will probably get home and not want to run at the end of the day,” Schwab said. “Doing a good job at this doesn’t encourage running as much as one may think.”

Most of that time comes from hours driving in the car.

“One thing about our day to day job that most people don’t realize is a good chunk of our day-to-day hours are not spent in a store. Yesterday for instance, I went to four stores and I spent four and a half hours in stores, but I spent eight hours in the car … Yesterday I drove from Salisbury, then to Glen Burnie, then to Crofton, then to Gaithersburg and then home,” Schwab said.

“If I talk to a young sales associate who says, ‘I want to be a tech rep,’ I say, ‘Well how do you feel about driving?’ and if they say, ‘I hate it,’ then I say, ‘Then you won’t like it.'”

“The best part of the job is also the worst part of the job and that is no day is exactly the same,” Holmes said. “Some days, [I am] done by 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon. Other days, [I am] not done until 9:00 or 10:00 at night. Trying to stick to consistent schedule can be a little difficult.”

Like Schwab, Holmes says he finds it hard to stick to a regular running schedule because of that. During his training for his last half-marathon, Holmes’s highest volume week was only eight miles total.

Sometimes the driving is not always bad. Schwab said one advantage to being a rep in the D.C. region is the close proximity to everything, which sometimes allows him to spend less time in the car. “Fairfax is a perfect example. I can go to Fairfax and there’s a Potomac River Running, a Pacers, an REI, a Dick’s, and a Finish Line. So I can spend an hour in Fairfax and do all my accounts for a week. Whereas if you’re in Kansas City, stores are two hours apart.”

“Those mid-western tech reps, they spend a lot more time in the car.”

Schwab enjoys the flexibility and freedom that comes with the job. “I’ve never had an office job, so I’ve never been tied to a desk … I also like having a flexible schedule. I’ve never been someone who does well with deadlines. Having more freedom to choose what to do is nice.”

“Yesterday I had a plan [of] what I wanted to do, but I woke up an hour early and on the fly, I was able to change my day and was able to add something onto what I planned to do. Yesterday was a very beneficial day because I was able to check off more boxes than what I planned for.”

In the end, the job may not be for everyone, but footwear reps provide a valuable service to the running industry. Holmes, who never expected to work in the industry, having a background in geology instead, now says he would not choose to do anything else.

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