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Online running shoe store grows through eco-minded initiative

I f it’s possible to make money and help people and the environment at the same time, doesn’t it make sense to do it?

The management at specialty running shoe store Kindrunner.com thinks so. That’s why they’ve developed a unique community service campaign called Kindness Cash Rewards: Customers who buy a pair of shoes from Kindrunner and donate an old pair earn $10 toward a future Kindrunner purchase.

The program has helped generate significant incremental sales and profits for Millburn, N.J.-based Kindrunner, and Co-founder and President Michael Conforti expects more of the same for the company’s four bricks-and-mortar Sneaker Factory specialty stores.

Both Sneaker Factory and Kindrunner, which launched in June 2013, appeal to customers who are “socially conscious, aware of the big picture of what we are doing and who appreciate the personal care and the experience that we provide in guiding them to shoes that are right for their bodies,” Conforti says.

“Ours is a custom fit process, online as well as in our stores. Our online customers fill out a form that describes what their needs are and when we receive that, we call them and walk them through the choice of shoes.”

More than a box
It can take a long time for an e-commerce startup to break even, but Kindrunner surpassed the sales volume of all four Sneaker Factory stores by its 11th month in business. Conforti estimates that about one-third of the growth is attributable to the Kindness Cash Rewards program, which has made it easier to build brand awareness.

Shoes are delivered in a box that reads “This is not a box. It’s a movement.” It’s more than that, says Conforti. “It’s a marketing tool.” The box also shares the message that the average running shoe lasts for 100 years, with 97 of those years typically spent in a landfill.

Kindrunner’s rewards program helps rescue usable shoes from their typical fate, where they can pollute the environment, and repurposes them to help people. The program would have been too complicated and expensive, though, if Conforti hadn’t found the right logistics partner.

“UPS saw a lot of merit in the Kindness Cash Rewards idea,” he says. “They sent a team to help us work out a customized logistical solution. Plus, they helped us fine-tune our business plan by, among other things, sharing marketing insights about the online segment we are in.”

Their first move was to link UPS WorldShip software to Kindrunner’s online shopping cart. A suite of solutions including UPS WorldShip, UPS Returns and UPS Quantum View Data linked Kindrunner’s inbound, outbound and third-party shipping data to its customer sales database.

Through the customized returns program, Kindrunner customers who donate shoes use a return shipping label included in the new-shoe packaging. That label directs the shoes to the nearest UPS hub where they are sent to the closest distribution center for a participating charity like Soles4Souls.

Customers send their old shoes out in the same box in which they received the new ones. “Because the old shoes go directly to our nonprofit partners,” Conforti says, “we’re not wasting resources, and we’re minimizing the time in transit.”

Stack of Kind Runner Boxes

Data visibility
Quantum View keeps track of data that show Kindrunner when shoes have been sent and when they have been received, both by a customer and by the charity to which they were donated.

Conforti “knows immediately when a customer sends a used pair of shoes to a charity,” says UPS Account Manager Bruce Harris. “He knows as soon as that package is scanned by a driver into the UPS network.”

That visibility allows Kindrunner to issue reward credits to customers even before shoes reach the charity, which “enhances customers’ shopping experience,” Harris says, “and makes it more likely they will tell family and friends about their positive interaction with Kindrunner.”

The quantifiable value of UPS solutions equate to an approximate savings of 500 hours per year in shipping-related labor costs. “They actually helped us reduce our overage return shipment cost at Kindrunner by 30 percent,” Conforti says.

Conforti says he chose UPS’s carbon-neutral shipping option for purposes of environmental sustainability. “Carbon emissions created when packages are shipped are offset by carbon credits, which UPS purchases on our behalf,” he says.

UPS takes care of everything, from calculating the carbon dioxide emissions to purchasing and retiring the carbon offsets. UPS’s carbon offset process has been certified by The CarbonNeutral Company, which operates as a carbon consulting and carbon offsetting company, helping clients measure, reduce and offset carbon dioxide emissions.

Conforti says the benefits to the planet made choosing carbon-neutral shipping worth the effort. “For us, it’s a no-brainer.”

Alert capabilities
The Kindness Cash Rewards program, which includes free shipping to customers and to charities, the $10 incentive and carbon-neutral shipping, does reduce profit margins, but for Kindrunner the benefits outweigh the costs.

“I would say the Kindness Cash Rewards program accounts for more than a third of our growth, so we wouldn’t have been able to grow nearly as fast if we didn’t have it,” Conforti says. “People who care about us and think the Kindness program is a great idea tell their friends.”

The company is working with UPS to develop an alert that would generate an e-mail to customers who have not shipped their old shoes to a charity within 30 days, reminding them of the waiting Kindness Cash Rewards credit. Kindrunner customers currently receive an e-mail notification if previously earned credits have not been cashed in after a specified time.

Kindrunner ships more than 4,200 packages in a busy month, and Conforti estimates he is saving about $1.50 per package by using UPS versus any other carrier. “That’s a savings of over $500 a month,” he says.

And more savings are coming, because the growth rate for Kindrunner is more than 20 percent a month. “I feel good about what we’re doing with Kindrunner and our partnership with UPS,” Conforti says.

“The average adult who wears running shoes only wears them for about three years. So when someone donates their shoes to Kindrunner, the person who receives those shoes typically wears them for another three years. That’s three years those shoes are not in a landfill,” he says.

“So it’s great that we can take these shoes that people would throw in the trash and turn them into a real positive.”

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