The History of Athletic Annex
The origin of Athletic Annex began at the 1980 New York City Marathon when two Indianapolis runners in their late 30’s met in the lobby of the Sheraton Center. Attorney Bob Weddle and Nelson Steele, a marketing manager for an engineering firm, became running buddies. Within a year, they were entertaining the idea of opening a running store on the North side of Indianapolis. At that time, there was only one other running store in town on the South side in Greenwood.
On Labor Day, 1982, after a downtown run and breakfast at IHOP, Bob and Nelson decided to go for it! Realizing that neither of them had experience in running a retail store,they purchased an Athletic Annex franchise to get them off on the right foot. Financing was secured and a lease was signed for a small retail space on the Southwest corner of 86th and Ditch. In September 1983, Athletic Annex Running Centre officially opened its doors to the community! While the original Franchisor floundered and went bankrupt shortly after, Bob Weddle was able to secure the rights of the Athletic Annex name. Bob, Nelson and the shop on the corner of 86th and Ditch carried on.
Despite all their good intentions, an attorney and a marketing manager working evenings and weekends made it hard for the business to stay on pace. By the end of 1985, invoices were mounting, inventory was dwindling, and it was obvious that Bob and Nelson needed to add to their team. Bob had met Thom Burleson, an excellent runner who had run at Butler and with Nike in Eugene. Thom had returned to Indianapolis and was managing the Athlete’s Foot on the Circle downtown, but Bob and Nelson were able to convince him to join Athletic Annex as a co-owner. An infusion of capital was needed to pay the outstanding bills and was raised from selling shares to their running friends: Duane, Craig and Steve.
Thom’s passion for running coupled with his tremendous experience in customer service was exactly what Athletic Annex needed. Each year the sales and profits increased. There were three expansions of the store and by 1999, Athletic Annex had the whole corner of the shopping center. Nelson was a natural for business development and he and Bob became race directors of events such as the Isometric, Diet Pepsi Series, and the Indianapolis Marathon. They were both Presidents of Indy Runners and active in the community. Thom coached the store’s training groups as well as some individual athletes. The Indianapolis running community and Athletic Annex were thriving.
After 31 years in business, Athletic Annex found its next phase of growth when industry veteran Bob Kennedy joined the ownership team in 2014. Kennedy, a former Olympic runner, and owner of the Indianapolis multi-location running store, BlueMile, took on the task of planning for Athletic Annex’s future. For starters, Bob knew a location change was imminent. Though their existing location had served the community well for three decades, Marsh Supermarket (the anchor tenant) closed in 2017. While the team waited for the right space to become available, they stayed hard at work refreshing their store fixtures and product offerings and leaning into continuous education for their employees.
With Bob Kennedy comfortably settling into the role of decision maker over day-to-day operations, Bob Weddle and Thom Burleson decided to retire in 2019 with Bob Weddle retaining a small equity stake. Kennedy acquired a majority of the Company’s shares and brought on long time Blue Mile colleagues, Justin Porter and Gareth Wilford as equity partners. With the injection of energy from these industry veterans, Bob Kennedy told the team in a staff meeting, “Buckle Up...we’re going to hit the gas pedal hard!”
That’s exactly what they did. In June 2019 Athletic Annex relocated two miles East on 86th Street to Nora Plaza. Revenue immediately grew by 30%. In January 2021, in the middle of the pandemic they opened a 2nd location in Fishers and in June 2023 a 3rd in Carmel.
There has been one common theme throughout the entire 40-year Athletic Annex history that has served as the magic ingredient for success. Each owner and every single Athletic Annex team member over the last 40 years has come to work every day with a passion to empower and inspire our Central Indiana community to live happier and healthier lives through running and walking. Tomorrow’s success is not possible without the countless contributions from so many people over the last 40 years.
Keep your seat belts fastened as Athletic Annex accelerates into the next 40 years!