Interview with
Joel Feinberg

Joel Feinberg | Owner
Universal Sole


Q: Why did you start your business?

A: I loved running from a very early age. I never thought I would own a running store. I was a competitive runner but always loved how running brought everyone together. To me it has never been just about racing and retail, but creating a community where everyone can all come out, do something very healthy, have fun, and enjoy themselves. The store has the retail side, but also has the social side and races side as well. We love involving the entire run community in Chicago and enjoy being a small mom & pop shop doing our thing (among the giants of chain stores and corporate stores). My buddy started the store and I loved what he started. When I came on as the owner, I wanted to continue the grass roots tradition while growing the social side to the entire Chicago running community.

Q: What are some key factors or decisions that contributed to the success of your business?

A: Our people make the difference! Our staff take what they do very seriously and we are known as the store that puts people in the right shoes. We also don’t take ourselves very seriously and like to have a ton of fun! It translates over not only to our service, but our interactions as well. There’s no need to be scary and overwhelming, especially to new run customers.

We do very well in creating a community that is more than just a retail store. Our patrons see a place to come out, hang out, and have some fun while running. We also work very closely with new runners, training clubs, charity partners, and high school runners to give support through fun runs, seminars, talks, social activities, races, and of course, a full service run shop where runners can get properly fit in the latest gear!

Q: What are some challenging aspects of your business?

A: Online shops will always be the biggest challenge! These stores continue to grow and take huge bites out of our business. Our competition, especially chain stores and big box stores also present a challenge as we work to continue to offer the best to our customers from running shoes/gear, in-store activity, and race offerings. Our biggest challenge is online, but keeping our community engaged in all the programming we do keeps our customers engaged. The importance of mom & pop run shops keeps us afloat, along with getting new customers through our community offerings.

Q: Do you feel you made any serious mistakes as you were starting or growing your business? Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?

A: I think I would have stayed FAR AWAY from those online quick loans for business lending...Banks and traditional lenders are very frustrating and never going to understand your business, but going after avenues such as SBA and non-profit small business lending is a better way to get funding. The process takes longer, but you will end up paying less money in interest or other charges and set-up the business to succeed.

Q: What other advice or words of inspiration would you like to share?

A: Be true to yourself and do what you do best. Never try to copy the competition or do things that are not your strengths. Customers can pick up on things like that so it is important to make them see why you love to do it and bring them into your world. That will always be unique to you and your customers will see and want to be part of it because you are unique.

About Universal Sole

At Universal Sole, we help runners, walkers, and fitness enthusiasts reach their goals. We have a great selection of apparel and accessories, but our passion is helping you find the best fitting footwear. Our trained and experienced staff will assess and analyze your gait to make the best shoe recommendations for you. Come out and join for a fun run, a race, or a brew! Let’s have some fun and enjoy ourselves!

"We do very well in creating a community that is more than just a retail store. Our patrons see a place to come out, hang out, and have some fun while running."—Joel Feinberg