Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Pacific Latitudes May 2015 - Pacific Sports Newsletter

Picking up from the previous Pacific Latitudes Newsletter, 

I opened Sportech, the first triathlon pro shop, in 1983. Our first shop was in Irvine, California at a very modest 1200 square feet. We quickly outgrew this store and opened another in across from UC Irvine about double the size and later added another store in Dana Point in 1985. My partner (Steve Brugh) and I felt there was a burgeoning market of triathlon and the individual sports of swim, bike, and run. 

After completing the 1982 Ironman (in those days it was in February) we began discussing the void of where to buy gear and importantly having someone who actually knew about the three sports and triathlon. Traditional bike shops were not serving triathletes and the desire for all the latest new bikes (sadly, you can generally still make that argument), equipment, and innovations. Running stores were popular including some top individual shops in major cities with places like Second Sole (who made their mark on the industry by giving you a “second sole” glued on after taking off the old one. It was a success for many years until we started realizing that it was the midsole that needed replacement) and Fleet Feet were just beginning to grow. Swimming really had no competition in retail. We owned it and loved it. We found that to be a pleasant surprise and a good segment of our business every year. And the most fun was always the new stuff that was coming from innovators in the early days of triathlon. DeSoto, Tinley, Garneau, Vitus, Asics (or as we called the brand then “Tiger”), Speedo, Barracuda, Scott, FiBar, magazines like Triathlon and Triathlete, Oakley (a nearby company who has done pretty well since) all of which were new and cutting edge. Even Shimano was new in the U.S. in those days. Traditional bike shops carried virtually nothing but Campagnolo and couple of other French or Italian brands. Having lower cost and in many cases better performing components from Asia was new. Certainly not now.
A couple of individuals and their mark on the industry have memorable stories for me, among many more that could take up a lot of space and time. Let’s go with two. 

I sold Dan Empfield’s first wetsuit. He loves to tell the story of how we got together and he presented the product to me. I have to be honest at this point—I thought no one would buy it. Wearing one was essentially cheating. You could float like a surfboard in one! And, you swam more quickly. Triathlon was all about being an individual sport and this gave someone an advantage. But Dan was way ahead of me. Wetsuits changed the sport permanently and allowed all kinds of people who were not great swimmers compete and it also became a great and safe way to have swims in cooler water temperatures. He likes to also tell people we would only take them on consignment. All true. But we sold them through and people were hooked. The other is about Steve Furniss and TYR. I knew Steve from Arena. We hit it off immediately as both of us can talk for hours. He decided with some partners to launch a new swim line called TYR. That name alone was a conversation and to this day people still pronounce it wrong or just use the letters T-Y-R. (it is pronounced TEER). They had great designs in their new swimsuits for both men and women, great new goggles and innovative swim training gear. Swimmers always like to punish themselves with newfangled kickboards, paddles, draft suits, and various contraptions. We carried pretty much everything they had and it sold really well. Both Steve and Dan are still good friends, I always look forward to seeing them. We can all talk a bunch. 

The stores were always a hub for training and conversation. We had regular training rides, runs, and swims and all kinds of informal workouts. People would meet at the store just to hang out and for the always welcome camaraderie. TEAM Sportech emerged. We sponsored a team of age groupers and budding pros as well. I worked with sponsors and manufacturers to create a team that included over the years Joanne Ernst (IM Champ), Tom Gallagher, Bob Belzer, Matt O’Day, Rick Daniells, Bill & Julie Leach (IM Champ) and some very solid age groupers along the way. We also put on events at the same time including the Human Race Triathlon which later became the Newport Beach Triathlon, Huntington Beach Triathlon and one of the first reverse triathlons—the UCIrvine/Sportech Triathlon which included a bike, run, swim format finishing in UCI’s pool.
In 1989, we made the decision to sell for a couple of reasons. Retail is tough, no question. The first catalog businesses were really having their affect on us (this was pre-internet) on pricing. We could not compete easily with their no-brick-and-mortar and lack of overhead, volume business. I was also a full time faculty member at Chapman University, working as a consultant at IMG and our own event business was beginning to take shape. We got an offer and took it. I still miss parts of it, but it also laid the foundation in merchandising and marketing that helps us at Pacific Sports today. 

Triathlon began to shift in the late 80’s and early 90’s, as did my role. 

More to come later in May,

Jack Caress
President & CEO Pacific Sports, LLC

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