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One huge triumph (and two that faded away)
Over the past four years, the Triathlete staff has gotten giddy about all sorts of tri-related ventures, from a 1,100-acre playground for triathletes to an office full of CompuTrainers and dedicated space at a local lap pool. We covered these exciting ideas when they were just promises—promises we so badly wanted to come true. So we followed up to see which ideas soared, and which kicked the bucket. The best part: even when things didn’t work out, each venture gave us reason to stay stoked about the future.
Promoted on their website as the “world’s first and only self-contained endurance sports racing and training venue,” Tri Habitat was going to be a triathlon mecca set inside 1,100 acres just outside of Wilmington, N.C. Boasting a lake, a pavilion, a full race course, five “stadiums” and a lodge, Tri Habitat looked to be the model for a training center that would outshine even the United States’ Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista.
After having two separate facility proposals denied due to significant community pushback, according to a local news story, organizers were finally granted a special use permit to begin construction in October of 2014. Immediately, the triathlon community was abuzz with excitement—we ran a story about the venture in Triathlete, and the local mainstream media covered Tri Habitat’s plans as well. The facility was slated to be finished in 2016, and developers were looking to lure big-name investors into the fold.
According to the same local story, when developers applied for the facility in October 2014, they planned to raise the necessary funds without local assistance. “This is a significant capital investment being made and guess what? They didn’t come asking for any incentives to do it,” Pender County Commission Chairman David Williams said in the piece. Coming at a time when many big corporations were dialing back their spending in the sport (for example, Lifetime Fitness ended their long-standing pro series in early 2015), Tri Habitat’s lack of local support— both financially and in spirit—appeared to stall the project.
According to a piece in the Wilmington StarNews, on Feb. 9 of this year, Bill Scott, CEO of Tri Habitat and owner of N.C.-based Setup Events, sent an email to Pender County Planning Director Kyle Breuer with some bad news:
“I wanted to let you know that we have officially ceased plans to build Tri Habitat in this area,” he said. “It had always been my hope that we would be able to secure the necessary financial support to build Tri Habitat in the Wilmington area, but after a few years of ‘no luck’ on the investment side of things coupled with some recent developments, we have changed our direction.”
In the story, Scott went on to say that Tri Habitat was hoping to restart the project in Florida, with the encouragement of a large investor in Orlando. Tri Habitat did not respond to Triathlete’s request for comment.
Hybris’ Endurance Crew
CompuTrainers, treadmills, locker rooms, weight training and rented lanes at a nearby pool—sounds like a triathlete’s dream work environment, right? This was the e-commerce software company’s pitch to lure potential job candidates to their new Boulder office in 2013 as a part of their Endurance Crew. Marc Graveline, a triathlete and the company’s VP of R&D, came up with the idea after consulting with pro triathlete Jordan Rapp. Hybris hoped that by attracting triathletes, their new office would be stacked with highly motivated—and highly fit—employees.
If Hybris wanted athletes’ attention, they got it. In early 2013, Triathlete, BikeRadar.com and Slowtwitch.com, among many other endurance sports outlets, covered the plan. Internet message boards were ablaze with interested sporty candidates.
Almost immediately after Hybris’ Endurance Crew announcement in early 2013, the company was coincidentally acquired by SAP, a gigantic enterprise application software conglomerate.
“Hybris was a ‘smaller’ company and we had the idea,” says Graveline. “It was in full implementation (signed lease and all), and we were acquired by SAP, the German multinational.” Graveline says that due to awkward timing, the entire proposal had to be redone with new management and, after delays, they were finally given the go ahead.
“Then we had the Boulder floods of 2013,” he says. “More delays. With the floods and all, it dragged on too long for me, so I did not actually see the move in.” Graveline retired later that same year.
“It ended up being a very “health conscious” office, but not a tri-specific office,” says Graveline. “The philosophy appealed to many, and we ended up getting people, but we didn’t get the critical mass of triathletes. Several rock climbers, skiers, runner, cyclists, hardcore yoga people. All very fit, all doing things together. But for example, we were supposed to get lanes for masters swimming, and we never had enough people. This created challenges. How could we justify paying for lanes for swimming and not rock climbing gyms?”
Founded in 2007 by husband and wife triathlete team Jamie and Tara Osborn, Endurance House is a specialty retailer focused on triathlon, running and walking. Their first shop in the Middleton, Wisc. area was a huge success due to Endurance House’s impeccable branding, community involvement (think: group training and triathlon clinics), and focus on customer service that targets beginner triathletes.
After four years and an expansion at the original shop, Endurance House licensed its brand for the first time and opened a branch in Madison, Wisc. From there, the franchise model became so successful that the Osborns decided to sell the shop they had owned in 2012 to a former employee and focus solely on building the brand. Two years later, the Osborns’ brainchild was featured as one of Entrepreneur Magazine’s 100 brilliant companies.
What rub? At about the same time Tri Habitat was struggling to find investors, Endurance House almost had to fight them off with a stick. At the beginning of 2014, four Endurance House franchises opened; two years later, there were twelve. Yet the Osborns aren’t calling it a victory yet. “Even still today, we’re a young franchise company,” says Jamie who adds that many of the stores are still in their first year or two of business. “For any business, that first year, that’s a crucial time.”
With consistent, killer branding and a business model that seems to fit triathlon’s latest phase perfectly, Endurance House is making a strong case for itself as the tri retailer of the future. The fact that each store is locally owned and operated means that, by definition, it is a part of the community in which it does business. “We provide a place for resources, advocacy, and training points,” says Osborn. “[Owners] basically create their own club or team. All of the kinds of things a club would do are provided within Endurance House’s walls.” With 16 stores open currently—and not a single closing yet—Endurance House is setting itself up to become the Jimmy John’s of triathlon.