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Road Runner Helps Athletes With Disabilities

Running shoe cataloger Road Runner Sports wants its customers to know that finding the perfect sports shoe isn't the only challenge some runners face, so the cataloger is offering its customers an opportunity to help athletes with disabilities.

In partnership with the Challenged Athletes Foundation, Del Mar, CA, the company raises funds for physically challenged athletes through the Athletes Helping Athletes marathon training program. Road Runner customers who participate can help buy a wheelchair, hand cycle or artificial limb for athletes with disabilities.

So far, 131 runners have signed up to train for the cause. Members of Athletes Helping Athletes receive a customized training kit and software and guidance from a group of professional trainers on the cataloger's staff. They can choose to train for the Portland Marathon this fall or another marathon of their choice.

Last summer, Road Runner sent a test mailing with a cover featuring 12-year-old Rudy Garcia-Tolson, a tri-athlete with two prosthetic legs and spokesman for the nonprofit foundation.

The February/March catalog featured Rudy and other athletes with disabilities on the cover and a bound insert with information about the program and how to register online at www.athleteshelpathletes.org or via a toll-free telephone number.

The mercha1nt, which raised almost $100,000 for the foundation in response to last summer's test mailing, offered customers who donate any amount of money a $10 gift certificate to be used for their next purchase, “and that's when it just kind of exploded,” said Carol Jansen D'Agnese, public relations manager at Road Runner Sports, San Diego.

“We were involved in the organization and thought, 'I wonder if our customers would like it.' The response has been incredible,” said D'Agnese, who added that Road Runner has not been tracking whether the initiative has been an effective customer acquisition tool.

The test was sent to 1.3 million customers and prospects, but a breakdown of customers vs. prospects was not readily available. The cataloger uses multiple list brokers but declined to name them.

At this point, the cataloger does not plan to partner with any other nonprofit organizations, D'Agnese said.

Road Runner plans to increase its circulation from 16 million catalogs to 18 million this year. It drops seven major catalogs: three in the spring and four in the fall. Its largest drop reaches 3 million mailboxes. Last year, the company generated $90 million in sales compared with $75 million in 1998. Olson & Kotowski & Co., Los Angeles, designs its catalog. World Color Press, Greenwich, CT, handles printing and production of the book.

Meanwhile, Road Runner isn't just targeting runners anymore. Last month, the 17-year-old cataloger launched a Web site for fitness walkers, walkingshop.com, in conjunction with Walking magazine, which is owned by the Reader's Digest Association. Road Runner will consider producing a separate print book for fitness walkers, but it's too early to say, according to D'Agnese, who said the company may produce a catalog insert with walking products.

Walking magazine's Web site, walkingmag.com, offers a link to Road Runner's new e-commerce site that offers $20 off when customers purchase their first pair of walking shoes. Walking's print publication also is promoting the site.

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