Seton Claggett leans back in his chair. That’s rare. It’s been eleven years and no one I’ve spoken to has seen him do that.
TriSports.com celebrates its eleventh year in business this April. But more than surviving 11 years in one of the most turbulent decades in American business history, the Claggetts, Debbie and Seton, have built a business some acknowledge as an empire. The Claggetts’ TriSports.com is the largest triathlon specialty retailer in the world- on sales, on size. It’s a set of metrics both Claggetts brush off. To the Claggetts the greater achievement is the consistent level of customer satisfaction, current mix of products and the citizenship the business has built.
TriSports.com started in the Claggett’s house after Seton finished Ironman in 1999. He was 24, a student at the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Arizona. Once his Ironman preparation was over he found “20-30 hours” of discretionary time. In Claggett’s typically analytic way of allocating resources he used the time to start TriSports.com. An experienced web developer at 24, he had built a number of websites for clubs at the University of Arizona.
“The web, as we know it today, was emerging” Recalls Claggett. “I knew it would work.” Claggett left little to chance, authoring a detailed business plan with meticulous attention to detail that forecasted TriSports.com’s first year within “1-2% of actual results”.
TriSports.com is a business born from a relationship, and grown on relationships: With customers, with vendors and suppliers referred to internally as “partners” and with the community and environment. The original relationship was the one between the Claggetts, Debbie and Seton. The couple met as Resident Advisors or “RA’s” on a dorm floor at University of Arizona. “We were working together instantly. It’s how we started.” Seton says of how he and Debbie met. Debbie Claggett, driven and efficient in multiple roles from the start, quickly built an encyclopedic memory of TriSports.com customers and products. It has been her sense of diplomacy and community that builds on Seton’s analytical strengths that make the couple an uncanny synergy. Debbie has incredible consistency to her demeanor, the tenor of a moderator. Seton tends to oscillate between information gathering and analysis and focused action. The contrast resonates through the entire company.
TriSports.com has grown and succeeded because of a perfect storm of factors. One of those factors is the employees. With a staff of 47 employees TriSports.com has pulled talent from all over the United States to the “Winter Training Capital” in Tucson, Arizona. It isn’t just the climate that brought in talent. The Claggetts built a corporate community that feeds the endurance lifestyle: health benefits, retirement, free demo bikes, massages, organized training, a commuter rewards program and an extended employee-family that has fostered hard work and rewarded innovation as it leads the industry as a desirable workplace. In 2010 TriSports.com was named to the prestigious Outside Magazine’s “Best Places to Work” list with 49 other top 50 companies including Patagonia, W.L. Gore & Associates (makers of Gore-Tex laminates), Timberland and LIVESTRONG.
A challenge of the online retail industry has been to dispel the sense of anonymity: To do away with a feeling of “bigness”. TriSports.com has done that through an early commitment to bringing the store to the customer with their event expos. Off-site expo sales were built into the original TriSports.com business plan with a 2000 sq. ft. expo space and custom expo/event support trailer and fifth wheel truck. The TriSports.com remote expo operation is bigger than many permanent brick n’ mortar retailers and can be anywhere in the U.S. served by roads in a matter of hours or days. The expo operations project the brand directly to the customers, live and in person, the way no online experience can. The result has been a watershed of customer loyalty to the TriSports.com online store.
Having started in the Claggett’s spare bedroom TriSports.com rapidly outgrew its walls and swelled into a new 4000 square foot location on Coyote Drive in Tucson. That location, a combination of two addresses, expanded into a parking lot filled with shipping containers for storage. Four years after moving into Coyote Drive, TriSports.com moved to their current Coach Drive location on the Southern edge of Tucson next to Davis-Monthan AFB. The current facility is a 22,000 square foot building recently expanded into a 27,000+ square foot facility with the addition of a second floor in the warehouse and expansion of the triathlon retail store to include a state-of-the-art bicycle fit studio and maintenance area. Additional offices for product managers and buyers along with a bank of administrative offices on the main floor were added. The most recent remodel even added a second story outdoor balcony to the back of the complex overlooking the Catalina Mountains and Mt. Lemmon.
While product and partnerships have always been a big part of TriSports.com another critical component is the fulfillment engine. Orders flow internally from the website to the fulfillment center in a matter of minutes. Orders placed before 1:00 PM Arizona Mountain Standard Time or GMT/UTC -7 hours are normally shipped out of Tucson to destinations around the world the very same day. Landed inventories are enormous, with pallets of fresh inventory crossing inbound loading docks on forklifts as packed orders are trucked off neighboring loading docks for transit to ground shipping hubs and Tucson International Airport. TriSports.com has shipped orders to all seven continents, including Scott Base, Antarctica. The fulfillment crew picks from the two level warehouse beginning in the early A.M. with orders “pulled” throughout the day at designated intervals. Inventory management is a massive undertaking executed continuously and to the highest standards of accuracy.
As the company celebrates its 11th Anniversary the growth of the TriSports.com brand continues. Growth and operations are guided by the seven TriSports.com core values, an internal road map for the direction of the company governing decisions from the individual level to the strategic level of future planning. The business remains fresh since the changeover in model years for inventory means marketing and website maintenance are a never ending task. Like painting an enormous bridge, once you reach the end, it’s time to return to the beginning to start again with each new product model year. At the same time the processes are sharpened and improved.
Seton Claggett relates that he “Can’t possibly count the number of 100 hours weeks” he worked starting TriSports.com. In his current role he says he, “Loves watching the process, men and women making the decisions that run the company”. As the Claggetts and the TriSports.com family celebrate the 11th Anniversary of TriSports.com I asked Seton how he maintains the energy to continue the vigor and innovation to remain a leader. He didn’t need to think about an answer: “You can get busy living or you can get busy dying. Our sport attracts people who thrive on living. That’s what we’re doing here.”