BRADENTON -- A father and son who share a love of racing Ironman triathlons are turning their passion for the sport into a business unique to the Manatee-Sarasota area.
In early January, Dan and Jerry Johnson will open the first Florida franchise location of Endurance House, a triathlon equipment retail chain that got its start in 2007 in Middleton, Wis. Riding the popularity of a sport that is booming on the Gulf Coast, the local Endurance House is designed to be a place that attracts both seasoned triathletes and novices who are learning to combine swimming, bicycling and running into a single competitive discipline.
The Johnsons, including Jerry Johnson's wife, Amy, are opening their store just as Nathan Benderson Park at University Town Center ramps up its profile as a triathlon and endurance sport venue. Endurance House will be centrally located for the area's triathletes and competitors. The store is scheduled to take up more than half of a new, 7,500-square foot retail building completed this summer at the Lockwood Commons shopping center at the corner of Lockwood Ridge Road and State Road 70.
Dan Johnson, a Lakewood Ranch resident who recently sold an industrial manufacturing business he co-owned in Illinois, said he's looking forward to running what he called the area's only triathlon shop. While the Johnsons originally considered opening their store near the new Mall at University Town Center, they chose the Lockwood Ridge area to put themselves at some distance from competing bicycle and running shops and to avoid the traffic snarl they see coming with the mall opening.
"I love the location," Johnson said. "It's cool to be able to bring this to the area."
Rachel Varn, Endurance House's director of franchise development, said the stores bring a relaxed feel to equipment shopping for one of the world's most physically demanding sports. Endurance House sells a range of swimming, cycling and running gear, from sports nutrition bars that cost a couple dollars to bicycles that run in excess of $4,000.
Startup costs for Endurance House franchisees range between $450,000 and $550,000, she said.
The company began selling franchises in markets around the U.S. in 2010. The company has stores in Wisconsin, Georgia, California, Colorado and Indiana. Five more Endurance Houses will open by the end of 2014, bringing the total to 10.
Jamie Osborne, CEO and co-founder of Endurance House, said he is looking forward to his company's move into the Florida market. With the expansion of the chain, he said franchisees will benefit from the company's overall buying power and from exclusive agreements with suppliers such as swimming wetsuit maker Orca and bicycle manufacturer Orbea.
The Johnsons, he said, have the exact franchisee profile his company wants. Dan Johnson, now
67, has founded and sold three companies, while son Jerry, 47, comes to the retail triathlon business after 20 years with IBM. Both have competed in triathlons for years, even racing together in 2012 at the 141-mile Ironman world championship in Kona, Hawaii.
"In the case of Jerry and Dan, those guys have done Ironman triathlons and are really passionate about the sport," Osborne said. "They're also really solid business professionals."
The Bradenton Endurance House will be similar in appearance to those in other states. Varn said the stores have a "coffeehouse feel" that include a brick-walled shoe area, polished concrete floors and exposed duct work. To create a community of customers and athletes around the stores, Endurance House sponsors cycling, running, and triathlon and marathon training groups that meet on a regular basis.
The Johnsons are still in the early stages of organizing their store at Lockwood Commons. They are choosing which brands of bikes, shoes, swimming equipment and other gear to carry as they make last minute changes to architectural plans. Construction is expected to start in about six weeks.
Dan Johnson said he doesn't know how many sales associates the store will employ, but staffers will be well versed in the equipment they sell. They hope their franchise will be prevalent in bicycle fitting, a process by which bicycles are adjusted to individual body mechanics.
Looking toward the future, the Johnsons are counting on the growth of triathlon events at Nathan Benderson Park to help boost their revenues. Johnson said Endurance House will look for opportunities to get involved in events at the park.
"I think it's really a good synergy between the kinds of things we're going to offer," he said.
When Endurance House opens, Jerry Johnson will take the lead in running business, his father said. Dan Johnson said he, too, is excited to work at the store because it will be "a lot of fun."
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.