Seton Claggett began selling to triathletes online in 2000, just as triathlon was starting its second surge. Right place, right time.
His brand, Trisports.com, became the preeminent seller of triathlon goods and while I don’t know, my guess is that it approached $20 million in annual sales at its height. More recently, decisions by its bank left the much-loved owners of Trisports.com, Seton and Debbie Claggett, no way to move forward.
What happened? Amazon, UK mail order, downturn in North American tri, decisions by Trisports’ lender. (I wonder if that lender could today roll back the clock and take a different approach, would it?) It was a cascade of bad luck all hitting concurrently. After starting and running several businesses (Quintana Roo, Slowtwitch and others) I now know that every business of every size is in imminent peril if bad luck strikes on several fronts concurrently.
Still, I didn’t feel that this business deserved to breathe its last. It was still healthy. It just couldn’t outrun the debt it acquired to fuel growth.
I didn’t (and don’t!) want or intend to own a retail store, not least because it would be pretty uncomfortable teaching bike fit to retail bike fitters every year if I was their competition. Just, I felt there was still gas in this business’s tank.
I asked Mark Montgomery (Monty on the Slowtwitch Reader Forum) what he thought and he was game. So we bought it. The actual acquiring entity was New Dog, LLC. This is the company Monty and I co-own to sell fit bikes and other fit tools to your LBS and to bike fitters. New Dog didn’t have all the money it needed, so Monty and I dug into our personal savings.
Let me be clear: Monty and I are simply the temporary custodians of Trisports.com! This venerable brand will pass through our hands, and to a strong and experienced online seller who’ll do the brand justice. Seton has already been consulting with this company to ensure a smooth translation of the brand. When this company’s pedigree in both online selling and in triathlon becomes known, it should be clear this is a proper new home for Trisports.
The grand repoening will take some few weeks to prepare, so, if you’re a Trisports customer hang in there!
In the meantime, I’m just back from Kona and am returning to Tucson with the Slowtwitch truck and trailer for our second load of inventory (the inventory did not pass across to the eventual owner of the Trisports online business). Monty will caravan with me, in the Trisports rig you see above.
As a result of this purchase I now probably own more Park tools than anyone but Park. The tools, and almost $200,000 of leftover Trisports inventory (wetsuits, speed laces, apparel, you name it) is all going up on the Slowtwitch Classifieds Forum.
On a more personal note…
Our culture rewards the intrepid who are more ambitious than timid, but only if they prevail. Spending the last two weeks taking an in-person look at this brand, I saw what seemed to me an infrastructure geared to scale up as revenues increased, less to scale down if revenues diminish. Chapeau to the effort! What every successful business needs is knowledge, judgment, effort, determination and luck. For a dozen years Trisports had the luck every business needs. Over the last 5 years the skill and ambition remained, but the luck evaporated.
Throughout the past couple of weeks I’ve seen what the Trisports brand has meant to folks near and far. I sent a note to all Trisports customers apprising them of what had happened and I got 60 or 70 replies from well wishers who love the brand (not one reply was brand-negative). When Seton and Debbie Claggett tearfully informed their employees that they could no longer afford to pay them – that the business would shut down that afternoon – the Claggetts showed up the next morning to find all their employees, to a person, back to work, for no pay. I got to know them all and it’s clear Seton Claggett and I do share this: We both know how to hire well.
I can’t always empathize. I must turn away from things that are for me too difficult to contemplate. This is one such case. I feel so very bad for the hand dealt Seton and Debbie. But I won’t in 2 or 3 years, because I know how full of skill, knowledge and determination they are. One big reason I decided to insert myself was to learn from the knowledge of these folks, to see what they had that I didn’t. To sit at the feet of experts to gain knowledge I don’t have. Speaking selfishly, that alone was worth the investment. I promise you, the Claggetts will rise again.
In the meantime, the Slowtwitch Classifieds forum is about to become a busy marketplace! And soon thereafter the great brand the Claggetts built will rise again. I've been commenting to those on our reader forum that, just as a consumer, my sport-related purchases from Amazon have fallen to almost nothing, simply because there are better places to buy. Let's see if the new Trisports will become one of them.