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During a time of increased consolidation among multisport brands, Zoot bucks the trend and sets back out on its own.
When skiing brand K2 purchased Zoot Sports back in 2009, it was a sign of things to come for the triathlon and cycling industries. In the years that followed, core endurance sports brands were swept up by larger corporations at a remarkable rate. Pon Holdings acquired Cervélo in 2011 to add to its cycling division that included Santa Cruz, Raleigh, and Focus. In keeping with the theme of winter sports brands dipping their toes in the cycling market, Rossignol scooped up both Time and Felt in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
On the surface, these kinds of deals make perfect sense for an established triathlon brand to grow its business. Large corporations like K2 and Rossignol have massive distribution channels in places where smaller companies like Zoot or Felt weren’t previously able to penetrate the market. But consolidation doesn’t always mean a boon for business, especially when the new ownership tries to change the core focus of a brand, as was the case with Zoot.
Like many companies before them, K2, which was owned by mega-conglomerate Jarden, saw triathlon as a means of spring-boarding into larger endurance sports markets like running. Running shoes became Zoot’s primary focus for a five-year stretch, and they produced an innovative product for a company with zero experience designing footwear. But while Zoot was busy making shoes that it hoped would propel them into becoming a player in the running space, they were losing market share in the tri apparel and wetsuit segments they had previously dominated. Realizing that custom apparel would be crucial to future success, Zoot acquired Squadra in 2014, giving them the ability to quickly turnaround custom orders for age-group athletes and teams.
Things changed for both Zoot and Squadra early last year, when Jarden underwent a $15 billion merger with Newell Brands, and the management of the new super-company began selling off the smaller businesses in its portfolio, which included Zoot and Squadra. Zoot General Manager Shawn O’Shea and Squadra President Dan Weatherford saw the opportunity to bring their companies under their own management, and the pair negotiated a successful buyout a few months ago to form Zoot Squad Inc. Zoot and Squadra will remain separate businesses, with Zoot focusing solely on triathlon going forward.
“The biggest thing for 2018 is that we want to put our unwavering focus on triathletes,” O’Shea says. “We now own our design, our production, and the go-to-market strategy, which means we can react much quicker to the demands of our consumer.”
While spring boarding into the running space will no longer be a focus for Zoot, O’Shea still sees a place for footwear in the company’s future. They realize that there’s still a demand for a race-day specific shoe with features like quick laces, sockless wear and superior drainage, but the key will be finding a way to produce such a specific shoe in a way that makes sense for business.
“Footwear is a challenging market for a small brand,” O’Shea says. “The new Zoot is realizing that we have to make smart decisions to be around for a long time. We’re looking at possibly licensing footwear right now, because we talk to athletes and we know there’s a demand there. The goal is finding a partner who can create that niche shoe that triathletes are looking for.”
O’Shea expressed his commitment to supporting professional triathletes going forward, but noted that Zoot will look to have a close relationship with a small number of pros instead of trying to slap their brand on as many athletes as possible. Kona contender Ben Hoffman has been with Zoot longer than any other athlete, and he’s looking forward to a renewed commitment to Zoot’s triathlon roots.
“Zoot has been one of my longest-standing and biggest supporters during my career, and I’m excited for this new chapter,” Hoffman says. “A triathlon company from the beginning, Zoot has always kept their eye on quality and innovation, and I know that Shawn and the crew will continue to push hard in the pursuit of excellence. They truly know what matters, and I’m confident that their core values will guide them to success going forward.”
Zoot’s production and core staff of nine employees will remain at their headquarters in Carlsbad, Calif. While O’Shea didn’t share too many specifics of what product changes we’ll see in 2018, he did say that growing their Team Zoot age-group team would be a major focus going forward. The team currently has 300 members representing the brand around the world. While the footwear division won’t disappear, the brand will refocus on it’s original mission, which was creating technical apparel inspired by the company’s Hawaiian roots.
“We’re a small company full of triathletes,” O’Shea says. “When you call our customer service, the person picking up the phone has done an Ironman. We know our consumer and we want every aspect of our business to create a great product and experience for triathletes.”