Nathan Leehman, 42, has the 12th fastest time in the United States for the 100-mile run – 14 hours and 55 minutes.
In 2013, Leehman knew he needed to make a change after 16 years in the corporate world. “I could either quit my job and just train and become a much better athlete. Or I could build something that would allow other people to learn from what I have learned,” he said.
Leehman did not choose one or the other. He opened Ultra Running Company (URC), retail stores in Charlotte. They carry trail, road and mixed-use shoes and running clothes. He incorporated his knowledge for running into his business, and continued to develop his skills as a runner.
(Note: Ultra Running implies a distance longer than a marathon.)
Leehman gives running tips and he or one of his staff offers free clinics every Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the corner of Camden Road and West Blvd.
Leehman is next up on C5’s Small Business series:
(1) What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
Choose how you will add value to your customers – and stick with it, relentlessly. Know your business – passion is fine, but it only takes you so far. Define your value: what are you doing differently, and why will people value what you are doing. Love what you do – because you’ll be doing it a lot. …
And a bonus: It will never be perfect. Get it 90 percent right and get going. If you wait until you’re 100 percent ready and 100 percent sure it will work, you’ll never start.
(2) What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made?
We named the store the Ultra Running Company. It reflects who we are, and the type of approach we take to running, and we didn’t think anyone would know what Ultra Running was. We thought it would be a clear message to other long distance runners they were welcomed and they would find the array of products they needed, and everyone else would just think it was the “Best” Running Company. …
We allowed our competitors to define who we are in the market. So there’s an impression in the market that we aren’t appropriate for “average” folks – that we’re exclusive, that our prices are too high. We’ve even been called a cult! And the fact is, we’ve never fought back against this perception because, frankly, we were more focused on serving our customers.
(3) What kind of culture exists in your organization? How did you establish this tone and why did you institute this particular type of culture?
Bottom line: We’re runners. We love this stuff. Everything else is secondary. We don’t hire salespeople. We hire folks who are very knowledgeable and who care – about running, about people, and about sharing what they know. …
This is a judgment-free zone. Our employees don’t have to win or even care about winning a race in order to be hired; our customers don’t have to be champions either. If you’re willing to get up off the couch, you’re welcome here and we want to help you run in a healthy manner.
(4) What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever done as an entrepreneur?
Did I mention I run 100-mile races?
(5) If you had to battle a giant, what weapon would you use?
A pair of running shoes and a challenge to run. Because no one can be THAT grumpy while on a run…and if things went terribly wrong, it’s a safe bet I could outrun him.
Ultra Running Company: 1750 Camden Road, 1027 Providence Road
Family history and my own fascination with people and their motivations prompted me to begin this series about Charlotte’s small business owners. Industry, situation and questions will vary. Have a suggestion for a small business owner or entrepreneur to interview? Email it to email@example.com with the subject line “Small Business Series.”
Photos: Ultra Running Company