One could look at the story of Forerunners North Vancouver’s co-owners Ken Greenaway and Jerry Ziak as a bit of serendipity, or one could look at it as a fate that was always meant to be. Either way, the runners on the North Shore of Vancouver are the lucky ones, to have these two stars at the heart of their community.
Like a winning game of chess, it all began with a strong first move.
When looking for a place to live in Vancouver, Ken came across an ad that had a familiar address on 4th Avenue. “I said, ‘That sounds like that’s close to Forerunner’s.’ Turns out it was the very same building.” He was already a loyal customer (he bought his first pair of running shoes there) and he’d gotten to know the team through years of Forerunners-sponsored races, as well as directing a clinic out of the local Y that Forerunners sponsored. The signs were too big to ignore.
Soon, Ken was lacing up in his living room and heading downstairs every week to lead run groups that Jerry was coaching out of the store. The two would meet and spark up a fateful friendship.
In 2011, Ken was coming to the end of 25+ years in the IT industry. “I had kind of timed out,” he recalls. “I wasn’t enjoying it anymore, and, after a couple of frustrating projects, I decided I wanted to spend the rest of my working life doing something that I love to do.” At the same time, an opportunity came up to work in the North Vancouver Forerunners. Having fallen in love with trail running, a chance to work in the mecca for Canadian trail runners was another of those too-perfect-to-pass-up opportunities.
As soon as he got there, talks began between Ken and the previous owners about one day taking over the store. “I think they saw me as their retirement succession plan,” he laughs. Not unlike the projects he once managed in his IT days, or the clinics he directed, Ken knew that the key to success is having the right people in the right places. And Ken immediately knew who that person was.
“I know what I’m good at, and I know my limitations,” Ken says. “And I knew we needed somebody to be the competitive face and to bring the coaching. I admired what Jerry was doing for a long time, and I said, ‘That’s the guy I want to work with.’” Ken and Jerry purchased the store in 2013.
Jerry agrees that the distinct background each partner brings perfectly complements the other’s. “Ken is the businessman,” Jerry says. “He keeps the store in good working order. I’m more of the front of the show, if you will, working with the customers and the clinics.”
Now when those customers come in to Forerunners, they can expect more than their typical experience in retail. “We sit down with each person,” Jerry says. “We spend real time treating each customer as an individual, to find out what their specific needs are. It’s not about selling a product, it’s about selling a service. It’s an ongoing process.”
And those mountains that beckon so close? Ken and Jerry make sure they get some love, too. Their 10-week trail running clinics offer training to all levels, and their annual Foretrails Run Series includes four multi-distance races in the spring and fall that take runners up into some of the most beautiful and challenging terrain in the country.
“We’re doing something good for people,” Ken says. “We give them the comfort and the ability to something that they haven’t been able to do before. And that’s a great feeling.”