Located in Baton Rouge’s Garden District on Perkins Road, Varsity Sports opened the doors of its first of four locations back in 2000. With a long history of community involvement, this local running essentials store regularly partners with running clubs and community service organizations. Through these partnerships, Varsity works to improve the health and quality of life in the community. Owner Jenni Peters’ love for this city and its success was very evident when the Visit Baton Rouge team got some quality time to talk about all things Varsity Sports.
Visit Baton Rouge: The motto that you see on every Varsity Sports t-shirt is “Run Hard, Live Easy.” How did this iconic line come to be?
Jenni Peters: We were thinking about t-shirts and graphic designs… “What's our logo for the front, and what can we say on the back?” This was when I was still teaching, and I was a big fan of the Nike “Just Do It” campaign—something simple and compelling that had a lot of versatility. We took one of the typical yellow notepads like we all use and just wrote down a bunch of ideas—everything that we'd ever heard or seen. And [Run Hard, Live Easy] is the one that rose to the top!
VBR: What is your goal for customers when they enter your stores?
JP: It's evolved into a kind of a home-like feeling, where people are not intimidated to come in. If you walked in today, there's probably not a lot of the typical customers that somebody would think are in a running store… I think this is more comforting to people… they stay longer or they visit more often. There's a lot more interaction, and we took that model to all of our other stores.
VBR: This season, what are some shoes or running essentials that you see becoming popular?
JP: The HOKA® brand, which is a really cushy, stacked brand, has jumped. It is our number two brand. Brooks® Run is still number one, but HOKA® just really is a close second for that real maximal push of applications. But then On Cloud, which is a Swiss company, also has done really well. It's more casual leisure. Everyone’s feet are different though. When you come in, I’ll have you try all the brands and let you decide!
VBR: How does it feel to be a local retail store founded in Baton Rouge?
JP: I absolutely love it. You know, I'm one of Baton Rouge's biggest fans. The neat thing about [Varsity Sports] is that it started as just a little running store and a little house, but it's evolved into a really nice platform for me to be able to do good things for the community, with the community and through partnerships. I love the opportunity to make Baton Rouge a better place! Who would think a little running store would allow that? But it really has been that platform for me.
VBR: What clubs or partnerships are you all a part of?
JP: We partner with businesses of all kinds. Happy's [Irish Pub] has a race running club we sponsor; it is held once a week [on Tuesdays] Downtown. We're getting ready to start fall training, so that probably will get about a hundred people to come out. We try to keep running fun, so every Thursday we also partner with different businesses. We meet [at that business’s location] and drink beer or wine… It's good for the business because it brings an extra 50 or 60 people and it's fun for the runners. On Saturdays, we meet at breakfast places like Brew HaHa or French Truck Coffee or the Starbucks by LSU. We meet at Tin Roof Brewing Co. a lot also. But the other element that we try to do is help raise money where there's money that needs to be raised. Like this past month, we did a run with Companion Animal Alliance. For every mile run for CAA, we donated a dollar to CAA. And we asked that the runners matched that with a dollar, so we raised about $2,000 for CAA.
VBR: What do you love about Baton Rouge?
JP: I think it's a really cool southern city, and I love the South. Baton Rouge has a sense of community like nowhere else, and I want people to realize that. In just this one community, there is so much entrepreneurship, and the community really supports that. Baton Rouge is a rare blend of people with unique talents and a community that wants to support those talents. We really take our community service seriously [at Varsity Sports], because I love Baton Rouge.
Stay tuned to the Varsity Sports website for information on upcoming running club events and to find a location near you.