Store Owner, Vendors Partner to Supply Athletes with Free Shoes

As a shoe store owner and Special Olympics Florida coach for more than six years, Richard Wills has regularly given away merchandise from his store to Special Olympics athletes in need.

A Special Olympics Florida athlete shows off her new donated shoes.

In February, he took this practice to a new level by contacting his vendors and securing more than 30 pairs of brand name shoes from Asics, Brooks and Saucony to give away at the Polk County Special Olympics Track & Field Meet. And if Wills has his way, this type of donation will one day be seen at Special Olympics across the country.

“My hope is that we can put something together on a national level to fit athletes with shoes at all state games,” Wills said. “We will find a way to make it a win-win-win for the manufacturers, the retailers, and the athletes.”

With the help of his distributors, Wills was able to get field credits for shoes that had been returned by customers. Often, shoes are returned due to an incorrect fit or simple buyer’s remorse with no defects or other reasons why they can’t be used by athletes. These products would normally be sold at a deep discount or returned to the manufacturer and destroyed. Wills is glad to see them in the hands of Special Olympics athletes instead.

“It’s a nice way to give back to the community,” he said.

Wills is also a member of the Independent Running Retailers Association, a trade group that includes 120 stores. He hopes this group will be able to help him expand the donations beyond his store located in Lakeland, Florida.

“The key is getting the manufacturers’ involvement. We need to sell the idea to them. Maybe there is a marketing return for participation, maybe a tax write-off. Anything we can do to help is awesome in my book.”