When the housing market collapsed, Lloyd Taylor, a former professional triathlete, decided to expand his Redondo Beach swim/bike/run shop by opening a second in Santa Monica.
“Commercial real estate in west L.A., which previous to (the housing collapse) was very expensive, had come down as well,” said Taylor, 44, adding that the Santa Monica store will celebrate its third anniversary next month.
The original , located on the corner of Catalina Avenue and Beryl Street in South Redondo Beach, was “a quaint little gas station space” that Taylor and his wife Teresa “fell in love with nine years ago,” he said.
When the business “really started growing" after the fifth or sixth year, Taylor, who hawks racing with the enthusiasm of a carnival barker, knew he would have to relocate.
The move to a much larger facility on Aviation Boulevard in North Redondo finally took place last month, a feat accomplished in 15 days.
“This (building) is over 6,000 square feet,” Taylor said during an interview at the new shop—a striking mix of lipstick-red walls and black-and-white checkered floors. The retail area is zoned according to merchandise: bikes (some costing as much as $15,000), wetsuits (a whole wall of them), running shoes and all manner of triathlon equipment and resources.
Along with office space and plenty of room for shipping and handling, there’s even a Bike Fit Studio, where racers can test, customize and upgrade bikes.
Outfitting racers for triathlons (a race combining swimming, biking and running) “is a business, yes,” Taylor said. “But it’s also a passion. You wake up every day and say, ‘Wow, I feel like I’m working in a candy shop.’”
Painted charcoal black with red trim on the outside, the store’s colorful interior was designed by Taylor, a onetime urban planner, to express the "fun lifestyle" of the triple-barrell race.
“I like the indoor/outdoor feel of it,” he said. “At least we aren’t bumping elbows like we used to.” His old store, he said, had only about 900 square feet of retail area.
Taylor, who has lived “75 steps away” from the current location for 20 years, noticed that the building that had been was vacant while walking his dog last December. “I looked in and thought, ‘This might be just the space we’re looking for.’”
It turns out the former professional triathlete does a lot more than sell bikes and wetsuits at Triathlon Lab. Due to the shop’s sponsorship of athletes and races, including the Redondo Beach Triathlon on Sunday, the business may just be a boon to the local economy.
With a huge following on Facebook, Twitter and on the Tri Lab website, Taylor works in tandem with race organizers like Rick Crump, the PE teacher who ran Sunday’s race, to bring triathletes to Redondo Beach from all over California and elsewhere.
Crump, 47, helping to set up a race sign-in and expo in the Triathlon Lab parking lot on Saturday, called Taylor “a visionary.” The PE teacher, a fervent Ironman competitor who finds it hard to retire despite sore knees and elbows, said he had serious doubts Triathlon Lab would be a success nine years ago.
“I’ve been doing triathlons for a long time,” he announced with a salty grin. "And I was wrong."
Since those fledgling days, the store has become nationally known and won awards, Crump said.
"Lesson learned,” Crump said. “Don’t stop a visionary. Let ‘em go.”
Of the 650 or so who participated in Sunday's triathlon, many picked up their race packets at Saturday’s expo and participated in race clinics taught by triathletes, some of whom work for Tri Lab.
Taylor’s 25-member staff—all triathlon-savvy—are trained in selling the specialized merchandise, especially the Triathlon Lab Starter Kit, a package aimed at beginning racers.
The kit, which costs $999.98, is composed of a road bike, wetsuit, triathlon top and shorts, race bag, helmet, goggles, swim cap—“everything you need to do your first triathlon, except a pair of running shoes,” Taylor said. “But we sell those, too,” he added, indicating racks of shoes, many in multi-fluorescent colors, some built to accommodate a certain stride.
As far as buying a bike is concerned, he said, “You don’t go into a triathlon store and ask for a triathlon bike. You can do (the race) on a road bike, on a mountain bike, on a beach cruiser or a hybrid bike.” (The starter kit offers an entry-level Scott S50 road bike that sells separately for about $780.)
Despite inflation and cost increases, Taylor said, “The price of the starter kit has stayed the same for six or seven years.”
His primary objective, he said, is to encourage people to participate in triathlons. “It’s very easy to get into, whether you are a soccer mom or dad, or just getting out of school, it’s a fun, affordable, attainable sport.”
Unlike tennis or golf, where everything from equipment to club fees can be exorbitant, riding a bike on a sidewalk is free, he said. Same for running. Swim lessons are necessary—ocean swims are the “hardest part of the race for most,” he said—but race fees tend to be modest, around $75-$150.
“It can get expensive if you’re traveling to exotic locales,” said Taylor, who competed in Japan, Europe, Hawaii and Canada during his pro career in the mid-'90s. “But it is an absolutely addictive thing to do, a blast.”
Competing in a triathlon is often “a milestone” in people’s lives, he said. “It’s like having children, or buying a house, or getting that career. People define themselves by what they love to do, not what they have to do to live.”
Taylor admits that relinquishing his pro career, all the training and traveling, was best for his family, which includes 11-year-old twin boys August and Dawson, sixth graders at Adams Middle School.
Teresa Taylor, born and raised in Manhattan Beach, quit her job as an engineer at Raytheon about six years ago to become CFO and manage the website.
One thing Mrs. Taylor does not do is race.
Her husband jokes about it: “I say ‘I never like to mix my pleasures and neither does she.’ Having two people in one household that race and train and compete doesn’t work.”
He’s just as apt to joke about his retirement from racing: “I either say I don’t have time or I have exorcised all of those demons.”
Taylor still rides his bike, however, a handmade Italian Carrera Carbon Fibre racer, the first of its kind in this country when he purchased it four years ago.
“The frame alone, without the wheels or anything, cost $5,000,” he said, caressing the handlebars. “It’s a labor of love, a really neat bike. And if you’re an enthusiast like I am, there’s no limit to what you’ll spend to ride a beautiful, wonderful piece of artwork like that.”
Custom painted, the light-as-a-feather red, white and black bike has “the latest, greatest of everything,” he said, including a computer that acts like an iPhone, registers GPS, and tracks speed, mileage and heart rate.
Not coincidently, the Tri Lab owner wears a black carbon wedding band he made himself from a bicycle part.
Along with custom helmets designed for Triathlon Lab teams and athletes, the shop offers everything from water bottles to books to sunglasses to specialty items such as hats and T-shirts, including one that lists the personal traits of a triathlete: adrenalin, mental toughness, obsessive/compulsive and a Type-A personality.
All of it has won Taylor awards, as mentioned before. Voted "Best Tri Shop" in Southern California 2009, '10 and '11 by Competitor Magazine, the store was awarded "Top USA Triathlon Retailer" in 2010 & 2011 by Triathlon America, an organization devoted to promoting and regulating the sport, Taylor said. “And then we are on the back of the Wheaties box.”
Two-time Ironman Champion Chris McCormack, a Triathlon Lab athlete shown on the front and back of the cereal box, “is one of our pro-athletes who races for our racing development program,” Taylor said. “We have a whole team, athletes across the country (who) race professionally at an elite level.”
Tri Lab also offers a junior amateur program and hopes soon to offer one at the high school and middle school level.
Grateful for the “wonderful tremendous luck” he and his family enjoy due to Tri Lab, Taylor said recognition on the Wheaties box was a special thrill.
“I wouldn’t have imagined when I was a kid growing up that one day I would own a company that would sponsor a world-champion athlete (who) would wind up on the cover of the Wheaties box, or that my company would be on the back or anywhere on the Wheaties box," he said.