BY NICOLE FORMOSA
PARKER, CO—James Modrell competed in triathlons for three years before he decided to turn his hobby into a full-time career.
After a year of planning, he opened Everything TRI in Parker, Colorado on April 5. He hopes to capitalize on the throng of athletes who come through the area every year to compete in a handful of triathlons held near the small town just south of Denver.
While some of the bike retailers around Parker dabble in triathlon gear, Everything TRI is the first tri-specific shop in the area.
“I’m very, very surprised there’s nothing. For us to be the first ones to go in there, I think we’re just in the right place at the right time,” Modrell said.
As it turns out, the timing couldn’t get much better for Modrell: Triathlon participation has been soaring since the sport’s debut in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and doesn’t show any signs of slowing.
“It’s like it’s the thing to do now. It’s what marathon was 20 years ago,” said Seton Claggett, who, with his wife Debbie, launched Trisports.com nine years ago. Along with the online store, the couple recently opened a 22,000-square-foot brick-and-mortar store by the same name in Tucson, which has turned into a shopping destination for athletes who flock to Arizona’s warm climate for winter training.
USA Triathlon, the sanctioning organization for more than 2,000 triathlon events in the United States, counted 100,674 athletes as full-year members in 2007. That’s about 15,000 more people than in 2006 and represents a leap of nearly 80,000 members since 2000, the year of the Olympic debut.
USA Triathlon handed out another 223,597 single-day licenses for non-member adults participating in events last year (one person may purchase multiple single-day licenses during the year) compared with 198,645 single-day licenses in 2006.
The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association estimates 690,000 athletes participate in the sport in some capacity in the United States.
These statistics convinced Steve Bodnaruk to open a high-end bike and multi-sport shop in Port Orange along Florida’s central coast last April. Before Bodnaruk’s Plan B Cycling opened, the nearest tri-specific shop was west of Orlando, about 80 miles away.
Plan B’s sales have already hit $60,000 a month, a benchmark Bodnaruk said he’s seen other bike shops take more than a decade to reach.
“I’m a good year-and-a-half ahead of where I thought I would be right now. It’s blown up even better than I thought it would,” said Bodnaruk, who has worked as a technical rep for SRAM and a sales rep for Quintana Roo, Litespeed, Zipp, Merlin, Descente and the Hawley Company.
Suppliers are also looking to get in on the boom.
Ritchey, which manufactures a series of time-trial bars used by triathletes, will introduce a full carbon base bar at the Sea Otter Classic this month. Consumer demand has led the company to look at expanding its offering of triathlon components, said Rosy Castañeda, marketing coordinator for Ritchey.
Statistics show most triathletes are 35 to 49, well-educated with plenty of disposable income, so it’s no surprise retailers want to tap into their wallets. A USA Triathlon study from 2000 showed 35 percent of triathletes spent $2,000 to $4,000 on their bikes; 18 percent spent $1,500 to $2,000; and 19 percent spent $300 to $500.
Even though most of the sport’s growth is happening at the entry-level, with sprint distance races—750 meter swim, 20k bike and 5k run—comprising 60 percent of USA Triathlon’s sanctioned events, those sales figures would be about 15 to 20 percent higher in today’s money, said Tim Yount, senior vice president of marketing and communications for USA Triathlon.
USA Triathlon doesn’t keep track of the number of multi-sport retailers in the United States, but Yount said anecdotally he fields numerous calls every month from potential retailers seeking advice about opening a business, or from athletes looking for a quality tri shop in a certain area.
Yount thinks single-sport shops need to start targeting triathletes, or prepare to be left behind while multi-sport stores gobble up the buy.
“In my personal opinion, the run and bike shops are still resistant to the growth numbers. They’re still believing it’s a fad that may not last long. I hate to say it, but we’ve seen double-digit growth in our sport since 2000. If this growth continues we’re going to double our size in five years—that’s 1.2 million athletes,” Yount said.
But retailers can’t simply start carrying a triathlon bike line, order a few wetsuits and expect to reap the financial benefits of the fast-growing sport, said Leanne Charnas, a former triathlete who owns Tri-Tech Multisport in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Christ, who is also a former triathlete.
“It’s just too specific a clientele and too specific a sport to try to do it partway,” said Charnas, whose shop has enjoyed double-digit growth in the last seven years, and has expanded in size three times since it first opened in 1995.
Successful multi-sport retailers like Charnas and Trisports.com’s Claggett say earning a reputation as a high-quality tri shop means employing certified bike fitters and staff that is knowledgeable about the triathlon industry, providing access to coaches and consultants and committing to the inventory, which can cost up to $500,000 for a fully stocked shop.
So far, Charnas said Tri-Tech Multisport remains the only true multi-sport shop in Central Ohio. But as the sport continues to boom, the tri market is bound to get more crowded. Even USA Triathlon is taking advantage of the number of tri-related shops popping up around the country.
Last year, it developed a program that allows retailers to promote their shops as USA Triathlon certified. The shops must meet a series of criteria including employing a certified bike fit specialist to sell bikes, providing at least two beginner clinics per year, having an affiliation with a USA Triathlon certified coach and sponsoring at least one USA Triathlon sanctioned event per year.
Retailers also must stock certain USA Triathlon merchandise on their shelves.
“Right now we have about 40 (shops signed up) but we expect that list to grow to 200 or 250 by the end of the year,” Yount said.