Chicago's Fleet Feet Sports expands its business with financing and small business expertise

Jul 20, 2012

Sixteen years ago, entrepreneur David Zimmer opened Fleet Feet Sports Chicago, retail stores for the city’s runners, walkers and fitness enthusiasts of all abilities. Building on the success of the stores, Zimmer needed to find the right financial partner to help him develop a long-term financing plan—and be a sounding board for potential opportunities. While all the Chicago stores were franchises of the national Fleet Feet Sports, Zimmer had a lot of autonomy in deciding how he wanted to grow his business.

While his first two stores were successful, he felt he could still improve the locations to increase visibility and sidewalk traffic. Working with his Bank of America team, Zimmer relocated his stores to newer and bigger facilities in Old Town and Lincoln Square. He also consolidated his headquarters at the new Lincoln Square location. Both transactions were accomplished with financing from the bank. 

Zimmer felt there was an opportunity to create a real community of amateur and recreational runners—already a significant part of his business—encouraging them to “walk, run and be fit.” In 2010, Zimmer purchased a half interest in Chicago Endurance Sports (CES), a company that provides coaching and training for amateur athletes running both 5k and marathon distances. Before he made the acquisition, Zimmer talked to the bank team about sources of funding as well as potential synergies between CES and Fleet Feet, and there was agreement that the deal was a good fit with his strategy. He said, “I thought it was going to be a difficult process in this environment, in this economy, but it was an incredibly seamless transaction.”

Said Bank of America Client Manager Dillon Dalton, “We were able to bring in a client management team to help Dave expand his locations, merge his business office, and consider opportunities to better serve his clients. We have a team that looks at clients’ current financial situation to make sure that they are financially stable enough to achieve their plans.”

For Zimmer, Bank of America was the right partner, because of its financial capabilities, as well as for its presence in Chicago as the lead sponsor of the Chicago Marathon. The strength of the business partnership has led Fleet Feet to increase its support of the Marathon each year. Tim Hadzima, Bank of America’s global sponsorship executive in charge of the Marathon says, “We bring 1.75 million people to the streets of Chicago to watch a race. Fleet Feet Sports is one of our partners in that.”

To date, the two new stores are among the most successful in the national franchise. As Zimmer looks forward, he continues to focus on expanding his business, creating jobs, and helping fuel the local economy. He is working with the bank on a plan to open more stores in Chicago, enabling his team to equip more local athletes for success. According to Zimmer, “Our relationship with Bank of America is amazing. It started out as a way to say thank you for sponsoring the marathon and it’s grown into a relationship that allows us to have the business we have today.” 

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