Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

A Franchise Built for Endurance Athletes

This story appears in the June 2014 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Jamie and Tara Osborn were already experienced athletes when they began competing in triathlons in the late 1990s, but they soon learned that spending 10 to 15 hours on the course was different from taking a jog around the block. The couple suffered from blisters, injuries, poorly fitted bikes and even hyponatremia, a problem in which electrolytes get out of whack.

The Osborns aren't alone in tackling the learning curve of endurance . According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, nearly 1.7 million Americans raced in triathlon events in 2012 (the most recent numbers available). Additionally, USA reports that more than 500,000 participants completed marathons in 2013, and nearly 2 million finished half marathons.

The Osborns, both of whom worked selling specialty running shoes, recognized that there was a retail niche for triathletes, who require specialized footwear, wetsuits, time-trial bikes, nutrition products, accessories and mentoring and guidance to get them across the finish line. The couple opened Endurance House in 2007 in Middleton, Wis.; in 2011 they began , and there are now five stores open in Wisconsin, Colorado, California and Georgia, catering to triathletes, marathoners and all stripes of endurance athletes. With four more units opening soon, Endurance House is helping franchisees and athletes improve their lives.

We caught up with Jamie between wind sprints to find out how.

Do enough people compete in endurance sports to support a national franchise?
We're riding a wave that is far from cresting. People are finding more and more novel events to engage in, from adventure races to triathlons to glow runs, mud runs or color runs. It's all about people getting out, having fun and having a healthy, active lifestyle. When you're younger, it's easy to stay active with things like team sports. But when people get into their working lives, it's all about practicality. It's easy to put on shoes and run, or to swim or cycle. Anyone can do it, and it's accessible. It gives people a high self-worth when they can call themselves a triathlete.

Can this work anywhere?
Our mantra is "People, not places." The first thing we look for is the right people, with a passion for endurance sports and great business acumen. We feel we can be successful anywhere, provided there's enough population; it doesn't have to be a supremely healthy lifestyle area like Denver. We want people to get engaged in something healthy for themselves and their families and get on the road to something positive. It's as much about that as selling gear. In this age of big-box retail and huge, huge inventories, the way for us to be competitive is through that kind of grassroots community involvement, where big boxes can't compete.

Your franchisees and employees must be total badasses.
We award franchises to people who can be strong leaders in the category, but they don't have to be superstuds, just credible as leaders. They play quarterback, and the staff is the rest of the team, so they have to hire staff with the right experience that can execute our coaching style. They really need to have a much broader knowledge base than, say, someone who works at Dick's Sporting Goods. They need to be endurance consultants who know how to run properly and also know how to sell socks.

What we've found is that when we put up a new store, we don't have to recruit a single employee. As soon as people hear the store is coming, it gets flooded with applications. What a job--you get to lead bike rides and runs and do what you love.

What programs do you offer?
We have casual Tuesday-night run clubs, where everyone is invited, and we have several different pathways. The first one is the Permission to Move Club. We try to approach people who want to do an event at a basic level, like helping them do a 5K or 10K. From there, they can join a team and plug into different training pathways targeting events like marathons or half or full Ironman events. We've transformed hundreds of people with no experience into doing a full Ironman event.

Entrepreneur Editors' Picks