Below is a list of the top 50 retailers in the United States who, during 2012, most expertly serviced the sport of triathlon with retail goods, according to their vendors. The suppliers — manufacturers and in some cases their distributors — represented 85 percent of the voting weight. The suppliers who voted included virtually every bicycle manufacturer important in triathlon. In all, 10 of the top 11 companies in the most recent Kona Bike Survey returned ballots, as did 5 leading wheel companies, 4 out of the 5 leading saddle companies, virtually every important wetsuit manufacturer, as well as companies in every other relevant sector: nutritionals, electronics, handlebars, components, accessories and footwear.
Ballots were extended not only to bicycle companies, but to running footwear companies as well. The first 50 brands returning ballots were included in the voting. These manufacturers were presented with a ballot containing the names of 395 specialty retailers in cycling, running, swimming and triathlon. These retailers were separated by region: West Coast, Northwest, Deep South, Northeast, Prairie, 9 regions in all. These manufacturers and distributors were asked to vote for roughly a tenth of all retailers on the ballot. If there were 60 retailers in one region, 6 votes were allowed, if there were 30 retailers in another region, 3 votes were allowed. Voting by region was a motif chosen to ensure that votes were cast for retailers that admirably service smaller populations of triathletes in sparser locales.
This list excludes mail order service, that is, if a retailer that sells mail order is on this top-50 list it’s because of its brick and mortar business arm. Those voting were asked to choose their selections based on the following criteria:
- Superior technical and brand knowledge.
- Broad and deep tri-related inventory in stock.
- Strong service to the local community.
- Specific knowledge of triathlon.
- Strong ability to match the right product, size, and set-up to the customer.
- Strong intangibles (local sponsorship of races, training rides and runs, athletes and clubs, bringing in guest speakers).
Each brand was given one vote, regardless of brand size.
Fifteen percent of the total score accumulated by these retailers was generated by end users, for two reasons: to break ties, and to counteract any tendency a brand had for voting simply for its retailers, regardless of the fitness of those retailers according to the criteria listed above. This 15 percent of a retailer’s score weight is accumulated through the total number of customers choosing that store as their preferred shopping location; the aggregated rating by end-users across 10 criteria; and the breadth of that store’s offerings, brands, brand categories, tools, certifications and accreditations.
The list below is in alphabetical order. The top-10 among these top-50 will be named and honored at the annual conference of Triathlon Business International, held February 10th thru 12th upcoming in Rancho Bernardo, California.
One final note in the list of retailers above. This is the first of what we intend to be an annual listing of the industry's most praiseworthy retailers, and the list above stands up well save for one omission. While the bike industry was eager to return ballots, the running footwear industry was not as enthusiastic.
We're fain to place too much blame on these companies, because our (my) intersection with the bike industry is much closer than are our (my) contacts and associations with technical running. Still, if outstanding footwear retailers should be on this list and are not, note that only Zoot, Pearl Izumi and Hoka One One returned ballots, and no other footwear manufacturer did. One manufacturer closely associated with triathlon was emailed or called 6 times, with never one response or acknowledgment. One hopes that in future editions of this survey technical running shoe makers will more forcefully stand up for the specialty retailers who annually stand up for them.
It must also be acknowledged that two large footwear manufacturers were not contacted at all, because we just did not have any contacts at these companies. Accordingly, they could not have returned ballots they did not receive. Further, some vendors normally sold in tech footwear retail stores — Nathan comes to mind — also were not sent ballots but in retrospect should have been included in our voting. We must do a better job at choosing vendors to which to send ballots in our effort to make sure running specific retailers have a fairer chance of making it on this list.