Business Profile | Kris Hartner

June 2017 View more

Kris Hartner’s lifelong dedication to running began with his struggle through a physical fitness test back in sixth grade that inspired his journey to improve. His drive led to a spot on the junior high cross-country team, a job at the local running store in high school, career stops with Reebok and Adidas, and the eventual opening of his downtown Naperville Running Company in 2000 (additional outposts have since been added in south Naperville and Wheaton).

These days, Hartner is indeed defined by his dedication to running with a store that has long been the nexus of the Naperville fitness scene and—thanks to its subterranean New Balance-affiliated training space, The Underground (shown left)—a haven for the next generation of runners. That dedication extends to the homefront as well, where the team includes his wife and daily runner Susanna; his son Paul, a senior at the Chicago Academy for the Arts and junior state champion cyclist; and Kate, a sophomore at Naperville North and employee at the shop. He’s still not a big fan of those hard training runs or the pain that often follows them, but he’s definitely proud of his status as a local ambassador for the sport.

Runners have a lot of places to get gear these days. What’s different about a visit to your shop?

The number-one thing is the human interaction that our customers get. There are a lot of different things that go into what we do—an amazing selection of product, a huge range of sizes, an energetic and upbeat atmosphere—but at the core of it all is our staff. That’s why I love where we’re headed for the long term. Retail is tougher than it’s ever been—if you don’t stand for something, you just won’t survive. But people still value interaction and character and uniqueness, and we offer that. We’re proud to be a local and independent option for people who are looking for that kind of experience.

Why is Naperville such a good fit for you?

It’s kind of cliché to say it this way, but Naperville really is a big town with a small-town feel. The physical downtown area is the foundation of that—it’s been able to retain its character over the years, even as it’s grown and there’s been more and more activity and energy coming in. There’s a pride here, and a large population of people who like to be active. I think it’s just the perfect place for us to be.

Why do you feel mentoring local junior high and high school athletes is so important?

From a logical perspective, that’s the foundation for the future of our customer base. If they have a great experience and the community continues to grow, that’s a great investment in the future. The other aspect is that those youth runners are the heart and soul of our staff. Almost all of us were that junior high or high school runner at one point, and we definitely could have used better help on getting the right shoes and training. With so much focus on big-money sports like basketball and football, for a non-revenue-generating sport to get the attention that New Balance and the Naperville Running Company give them down there in The Underground, it’s pretty cool. I wish we had something like that when I was a kid.

What are you most proud of about the Running Company?

The thing I’m probably most proud of is how important we’ve come to be in this community—and I think that’s all around, not just among runners. When we started we had a little bit of involvement with other organizations and groups and businesses throughout Naperville, but it’s been great to see how much that’s really grown over the years.

What would you say to someone who has never tried running as a hobby or sport?

A lot of people will tell me how hard running is or give other reasons for why they don’t like it, and I totally get that. I’ve been running for over thirty-five years, and I still don’t really like the pain of running or the hard training. So I think it’s the motivational aspect for a lot of people—they need something to get them out the door. But a lot more people can probably do it than realize, and that’s something that’s really changed over the years. These days that perception of needing to be a runner in order to run is gone, which is cool.

The great thing about running is that you’re doing something good for yourself, and it’s very measureable. Most people like to be able to see improvement when they do something, and that’s definitely a part of running. Even as people get older, if you put the time in, you can see the improvement. You can keep getting better.

Naperville Running Co.
34 West Jefferson Avenue | 630.357.1900
3416 South Route 59 | 630.445.8285
131 West Front Street, Wheaton | Opening soon