Small Biz Spotlight: Big Dog Fleet Feet Celebrates a Decade

Updated: Nov 2, 2020

Story by Charlotte Gallagher

Images courtesy of Big Dog Fleet Feet

“…running was mankind's first fine art, our original act of inspired creation. Way before we were scratching pictures on caves or beating rhythms on hollow trees, we were perfecting the art of combining our breath and mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain. And when our ancestors finally did make their first cave paintings, what were the first designs? A downward slash, lightning bolts through the bottom and middle--behold, the Running Man. Distance running was revered because it was indispensable; it was the way we survived and thrived and spread across the planet. You ran to eat and to avoid being eaten; you ran to find a mate and impress her, and with her you ran off to start a new life together. You had to love running, or you wouldn't live to love anything else.”
-Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

It all started 10 years ago with two business partners – John Teeples and Reggie Luther. Both avid runners, they agreed one day that Columbus needed a running store….and then they “ran” with it.

The original name was Big Dog Running Company, named after Teeples’ dog at the time “Big Dog.” Then in 2017 they partnered with a running franchise called Fleet Feet and combined the names. Fleet Feet is the largest franchisor of locally owned and operated running stores in the country.

Big Dog has been in the heart of Uptown Columbus for 10 years now providing a welcoming and motivating outlet for many runners and non-runners. They have had six store locations, two free weekly group runs, 9+races throughout the year, a monthly Good Form Running Clinic, a Porch Dog Program for beginners, a partnership with the Columbus Roadrunners and Project 42 Running, and have sold over 100,000 pairs of shoes.

“We set out to build a running community, and I feel like we have been relatively successful in doing it," said Luther. "I think we have helped change some lives through running and that makes owning a small business worth the effort. Personally, I always feel better after a run and it has helped me stay positive and optimistic.”

The first Big Dog opened in 2010 on Broadway in what is now the Salt Life store. The other store locations were in Auburn in 2011, Fort Benning and North Columbus in 2013, and 12th and Broadway in 2016.

Teeples and Luther eventually downsized to just two stores – North Columbus and 12th Street – until they decided to consolidate to just one location in 2018. Teeples also has his own construction company here in Columbus and has been the man behind the scenes reconstructing all of the Big Dog locations plus many of the buildings you walk into every day on Broadway such as Iron Bank Coffee and the Simple Greek. In Fall 2018, Teeples and his team began construction on Big Dog’s newest and 6th location on 12 W 11th Street that is now connected to Iron Bank. A year later in the Fall of 2019, they opened its doors to the public.

“I’m always trying to push the ball forward and make a difference," Teeples explained. "Helping people improve their lifestyle by getting into exercise, spaces like coffee shop where people can eat, relax, enjoy, and build community and create buildings that will help grow and develop Columbus. If Columbus isn’t growing and improving then we aren’t doing the right thing.”

Also an entrepreneur, Luther owns multiple small businesses including TracSoft and Lightning Sports Racing, which works out well for providing the timing equipment for all the Big Dog races.

Before his timing business, they used to manually write down the runners’ BIB number as they crossed the finish line!

Because of the need to get outside and exercise after months of being cooped up, Big Dog is surviving the pandemic. All year, memes such as Running is Never Canceled were being thrown around the running community. Early on in the pandemic, gyms were closed and people needed to socially distance, but still stay healthy. Answer: RUNNING. Simply grab a pair of shoes (and a mask) and out the door you go.

It is no surprise anymore that exercise such as running is beneficial to our health. This past year has shown that more and more people are retreating to the outdoors as running shoes, bikes, kayaks, and RVs are being sold out non-stop. Running has been shown to help people lose weight, build lower body strength, boost the immune system and increase lung capacity (hint, hint), boost confidence, reduce blood pressure, and increase an overall sense of well-being by completing goals like running up hills, crossing finish lines, and making a PR (personal best).

“Perhaps all our troubles - all the violence, obesity, illness, depression, and greed we can't overcome - began when we stopped living as Running People. Deny your nature, and it will erupt in some other, uglier way.” -Born to Run

Free group runs have taken place every Wednesday evening and Saturday morning throughout the lifespan of Big Dog. That’s a lot of running and probably thousands of conversations between humans that will stay between those runners. The stories of running in the heat of summer, in storms, in the cold, in the early, dark mornings, the secrets that have been told – only the runners will know. When the pandemic hit, Teeples and Luther reluctantly canceled them to ensure the safety of everyone. Once the restrictions started to lift, appointment slots started filling up because non-runners were getting antsy sitting at home all day and looking for something to do. Realizing, “oh, I have time now. I have the time I’ve always wanted to finally take care of myself.” People started realized that while running, you’re outside and can easily social distance yourself, and it’s good for your health and overall well-being. Why WOULDN’T you keep running?

You’ve probably tried to walk by Big Dog on a Wednesday evening or early Saturday morning and the sidewalk is filled with runners antsy to start their run. If you’re an early riser, you might have caught glimpses of runners gliding across the streets and sidewalks of Columbus like ninjas between the hours of 5 and 6am. They call themselves the “Awesome Runners of Columbus.” Any day of the week, you can always count on a group be with you as you get in your miles.

When asked about the changes that occurred during COVID-19, the manager of Big Dog, Cheyenne Greenside, responded, “As a small business, surviving a pandemic has been both a challenge and a miracle. From the start it was very confusing, and hectic, but Teeples and Luther really supported the team and made sure we were all comfortable. From our point of view, things have definitely gotten easier as we have figured out how to navigate social distancing, new levels of cleaning, and ensuring the safety of both our team and our customers. As of right now we are not requiring appointments and we are accepting all walk-ins. Masks are suggested, but not required for customers.”

Other ways they’re taking precaution during this year are an outdoor fitting area for those who are uncomfortable walking into the store, curbside pick-up, and by spacing out the runners in waves during races.