The open sign of Triathlete Sports in Bangor glowed neon orange last Thursday after lying dormant for two years. The reason: loyal Maine customers.
“Since we’ve opened today, we have had a lot of people come in interested in what’s going on,” said store manager Ronald Lawson last Thursday.
Mannequins, posed mid-stride in the storefront windows, beckon passersby into the brightly lit display room of wet suits, winter running apparel, race shoes, energy food, hydration belts and triathlon books — items to aid people in their swimming, biking and running feats.
Triathlete Sports first opened in 2004 as an online store and retail space on Exchange Street in Bangor.
Lawson, who pitched the idea to his parents, has competed in several triathlons and plans to enter the Pirate Triathlon in Casco and the Lobsterman Triathlon in Freeport next summer.
Today, his mother and stepfather, Candy and Ola Persson, own the business, and Lawson runs it.
“We started both online and physical store right from the get-go with the idea that we’d be doing most of our sales online, which was more than the case,” he said. “As you can imagine, a triathlon store isn’t the best type of business to have in Maine.”
Nevertheless, Lawson has found that there are quite a few triathletes in the Bangor and Portland areas.
“It’s kind of blowing up,” said Lawson. “I compare it to marathoning in the ’70s and ’80s. It was the latest and greatest thing that people wanted to accomplish in their lives.”
In fact, their booming online business forced them to expand their inventory of specialized, high-end sporting goods. In 2008 when they ran out of space, they decided to close their doors and remain online. The display floor turned into warehouse space.
“We don’t know for sure, but we think we might be the No. 2 online triathlon dealer in the country,” he said. “We compete with some pretty big triathlon stores in the little niche of community we serve.”
Lawson pitched the idea to reopen the store about three weeks ago. He knew they would only have time to work on the display floor during their slow season: the fall and winter.
He wanted to reopen for the Maine athletes who have continued to support the business. Although 95 percent of their business comes from online sales at www.triathletesports.com, the physical location would be an option for customers to test out the products before purchasing them.
Athletes from as far as Canada have traveled to Exchange Street assuming they had a retail space because they saw the online store.
“We actually had quite a few loyal local customers that came to try on things and browse products, which was hard to do without a display floor,” said Lawson. “It was worth it to open the store again.”
It didn’t cost the business much to reopen the doors. They already had the display fixtures and six employees working for the online business. The one thing they sacrificed was space to store inventory.
“We’ve managed to find places for things in every nook and cranny,” Lawson said. They have inventory on five floors of the building.
It only took the store’s crew a week to organize the display room again. This time around, things look a little different.
Before, they tried to show all of the products they carried. Now, the store looks more like a boutique shop with specific, popular items on display. To the right of the room is a kiosk with a desktop computer for customers to browse the online store. Employees will take items out of storage for customers to examine or, in the case of clothing or shoes, try on.
The display floor — divided into three sections: swimming, biking and running — is an extension of their business, a re-established link to the Bangor community and Maine athletes.
Triathlete Sports, 186 Exchange St., is open 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. For information, call 990-2013 or visit www.triathletesports.com.