Jenni Peters is a three-time qualifier to the Olympic Trials Marathon. So, it might surprise you to learn that she didn’t get started in the sport until she was in graduate school at LSU.
“Some of my co-ed beer softball league invited me to run in a 5K after practice on Sunday afternoon,” Peters said. “I won a trophy and free beer, so fast forward 30 plus years and here I am.”
While her competitive running career was winding down in 2000, Peters was a full-time professor in the College of Business at LSU. Teaching on a university level gave her the flexibility to consider taking a little house that she owned in a commercially zoned area and turning into a small store, which is now the home of the first Varsity Sports.
“If you come into Varsity Sports Baton Rouge, you'll think it's small but cozy,” she said. “It is hard to believe in the first years that same structure still had the offices of a tee shirt screen print business, art department, office and a full kitchen. Exact same footprint of a store!”
Seven years after opening her first store Peters purchased another house in Mandeville, LA near the lakefront of Lake Pontchartrain. The “house as a store” became a part of the brand identity, so when she looked to open her third store in New Orleans in 2010, it just made sense to purchase a house on iconic Magazine Street.
“By 2000 the dynamic of running had already started to shift to ‘participating in it’ as opposed to ‘racing it’,” Peters said. “From the beginning we offered free training and running group activities that were creative and fun. It has grown immensely!”
Varsity Sports continues to be involved in anything and everything that makes good business and community sense to be involved in. If those opportunities aren’t there - they’ll create them. In 2017, Varsity Sports received Saucony’s “Run for Good” award in recognition for their involvement with the youth of their communities.
“Owning a running store has given me a great platform to be involved in the communities in meaningful ways,” Peters said. “We especially embrace anything that keeps people moving from kids toddling around to seniors staying fit and strong.”
“Philosophically, I never got into this business to make money,” she added. “That sounds like a poor precept coming from a career business professor. But if I and my staff really establish a genuine relationship with our customers, the profitability has typically seemed to take care of itself. We never talk "upsell" or "add on" which will make some of my fellow store owners gasp. Instead we think - is there something else that might help this customer?”
While Peters realizes that online retailers continue to be significant competitors, running stores need to continue to provide the in-store experience that can’t be one-clicked.
“We know that we have to give more back to our customers and our community more than they ever expect in return,” Peters said. “When a customer chooses to shop with us, we know that they have considered numerous options, many easier options, and still took the time to come shop with us. We have a big responsibility to them. One that I take personally.”