In 2012, Maine Running Co. owner John Rogers saw where his industry was going and knew he needed to make a change. He also knew that by changing, he would be taking a risk.

Rogers, who had spent nine years building the Maine Running brand with locally owned stores in Brunswick and Portland, determined that the best way to remain competitive in the rapidly consolidating market for running shoes and accessories would be to join a franchise that would offer resources such as employee training and allow him to purchase wholesale items at a lower cost.

After shopping around, Rogers discovered Fleet Feet Sports, an upstart franchiser of running shoes and accessories in North Carolina that promised franchisees all the benefits of belonging to a large organization without forcing them to relinquish control over decisions such as the choice of inventory.

Rogers was still worried about the move: He would have to change the name of his stores and could lose many loyal customers in the process. They might assume he had been bought out and replaced by some large, out-of-state corporation.

He was especially concerned about the Portland store, which he was relocating at about the same time from Forest Avenue to Marginal Way. Would customers think Maine Running had shut down, and that a new chain store around the corner had driven it out of business?

“That created an identity problem,” he said. “My major concern was the brand that we had spent all those years building.”

Rogers knew that many consumers in Maine prefer to buy from locally owned merchants. The local connection is especially important for stores that cater to hobbyists such as avid runners.

Running stores aren’t just places to buy shoes. They are centers of gravity for the running community. They provide training and advice to beginners, while serving as friendly meeting places for experienced runners. Many lifelong friendships are formed at such stores.

They also host group runs and other events that encourage people to get in better shape while providing benefits to the community such as fundraising.

“We’re the hub of the running community,” Rogers said.

Understanding the importance of his business’ strong connection to the community, he took steps to preserve it.

The first thing Rogers did was decide not to abandon the old name, Maine Running. Instead, he combined it with the franchise name and came up with Fleet Feet Sports/Maine Running. Rogers said combining the names was a way to let customers know the business had not changed in any fundamental way.

However, Rogers said he did go “all in,” in terms of changing the store’s logo to the new brand.

The next thing he did was reach out to customers and referral partners such as doctors offices, to tell them Fleet Feet/Maine Running was still locally owned but even better than before.

“We just went out again to communicate our story,” Rogers said. “That creates advocates out in the marketplace.”

Through word of mouth, advertising, public relations and social media including Facebook, Rogers said he was able to spread the news about his new business arrangement and why it was good for customers.

Those efforts seem to have paid off. Rogers said he has not lost any business, and changing to a franchise model did not lower the store’s standing as one of the top 50 running stores in the nation, an accolade it has received each year for the past five years from Competitor magazine. The annual list is based on customer surveys.

Rogers said if he had to do it over again, he would not change his strategy.

“It’s been extremely successful once we got the word out and told our story,” he said.