As a leadership studies minor, Jennifer Johnson, ’97, had no idea that one day she would be leading an award-winning company. But as the president and owner of 3Sports and 3Sports Running Company, specialty stores in the Richmond area that cater to runners, cyclists and triathletes, Johnson has found that her leadership studies classes have come in handy.

“My leadership classes helped me experiment with different solutions and to look at things from different angles,” she said. “I loved two classes in particular – critical thinking and conflict resolution. Both of these promote the idea of looking at issues from different angles and uncovering what is really there.”

It is precisely these abilities that have helped Johnson build 3Sports into the sort of company that is always trying new approaches and that draws customers from all across the East Coast and the United States and even as far away as Germany.

Johnson – who is also a triathlete – opened the original 3Sports location in 2001. In 2005, she opened her second store: 3Sports Running Company in Short Pump. Customers can also shop online for running shoes, triathlon gear and road, mountain and time trial bikes, plus all of the apparel and accessories that go along with these sports.

Because of her determination to keep looking at her business from different angles to “keep it fresh,” in 2006 the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Business Council awarded Johnson and her husband Ben with a trophy at the Muse Awards for their “creative approach to retail and for creatively meeting the needs of a specialized target audience.”

“We are constantly questioning the way we do things, and how we could do better,” she said. “It is easy when you’ve been in business for awhile to get too comfortable. But that leads to stale and boring real fast."

One way Johnson and her employees cater to customers is by custom fitting them for the right bike and right shoes.

“We have them test ride all of the different types of frame options that we have based on the style of riding and racing they are doing. From there, we help them build up their specific bike,” she said. “For shoes, we watch our customers walk and run in order to analyze their gait. It is a very personal approach.”

In a tough economy service like this, she says, is what helps her company stand out.

Johnson’s dedication and leadership is the other reason 3Sports stands apart from the competition. As a hands-on leader, she likes to be involved in all aspects of the business. Before she had twins recently, in addition to guiding the vision for the company, she also worked with customers and even worked on the bikes. Now most of her work is behind-the-scenes.

Despite the long hours, Johnson says she couldn’t be happier that she left a cushy job at an advertising agency to start her own business – and that it was well worth the risk.  

She also has a bit of advice for those who want to start their own business someday: “If it is something that you love and that you are passionate about, then follow through with it. Make sure you do all of your research, talk with other business owners and even try to work in a similar business first.

"If you have done all of this and you believe in what you are doing, you’re going to succeed.”