Finding the right fit

Fit Right Northwest is a retail business, but customer health is as important to its owners as sales, they said.

“Our goal is to get people off the couch and moving,” said Co-owner Dave Sobolik. “We want to educate them.”

The company’s two stores sell running and walking shoes, apparel and accessories while promoting health and fitness. This year, it introduced the Get Fit, Live Fit program, with custom 12-week training programs for $90. About 300 people have participated so far.

Inside the stores, a sales pitch is made only after a free videotaped gait analysis, during which a customer is taped walking or jogging. The video allows employees, who have 30 hours of training on the process, to determine the support a customer’s feet need. Then shoe selection and an extensive fitting process begin.

Sobolik started the business in Portland in 2000 with Sean Coster and expanded to Vancouver in 2003. Today Sobolik is a co-owner with Robb Finegan. Sobolik was 26 when he took on the venture, with 12 years of retail experience and a degree in exercise and physiology.

The business was profitable from its first year and has had double-digit annual growth since then. Growth in 2007 was at 24 percent, allowing the owners to boost payroll 70 percent. Sobolik projects growth of at least 16 percent for 2008.

Combined, the stores have 20 employees, 10 of which are full-time with paid vacation, 401(k) plans and health insurance reimbursements.

The business has never been in the red, but hit hard times in 2003, when the Vancouver store opened and three competitors came to Portland.

“It was tight, but we picked up and kept going,” Sobolik said. “I learned about timing the opening of an additional store. … Every time you open a store it spreads you thinner.”

At least 25 percent of customers come from referrals by medical professionals, Sobolik said.

“They refer their patients to us and it speaks volumes,” he said.

Others are drawn in through events such as Ask the Expert nights, when health professionals give free consultations.

Ahead, Sobolik said he would like to fine-tune and expand event activity, adding a sportswear fashion show and marathon training. Now, the business hosts events such as the Lacamas Lake walk and run and sponsors more than 50 events each year.

He is also interested in expanding the company’s footprint.

“We have our eye on additional doors, but I won’t say where,” Sobolik said.

Fit Right Northwest

Dave Sobolik, Robb Finegan, owners

700 S.E. 160th Ave., Suite 111, Vancouver

www.fitrightnw.com

360-885-4556

Charity Thompson can be reached at cthompson@vbjusa.com.

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