Working couple tap endurance to set up triathlon shop

Article courtesy of Business Lexington, by Kathie Stamps

Lexington, KY - Is it possible to open a storefront business and keep your day job? Sure. On February 1, Sam and Noelle Dick opened Swim Bike Run of Kentucky, a 2,700-square-foot retail store and training facility for triathletes. He is a news anchor at WKYT-TV and she is in sales at WTVQ-TV.

"We are not big on debt," said Noelle Dick. "We wanted to make sure we have two incomes to support the business." She is expecting it to take three years to break even with the business.

Sam Dick has competed in 17 triathlons (swimming, followed by biking, followed by running). He will be in Budapest this September, competing in the triathlon world championships. In June 2009, he started thinking about opening a "tri shop," after realizing he couldn't find everything he needed in one place and even had to buy a tri suit online, sight unseen. He has a passion for the sport, but passion alone doesn't make a great business plan. The husband-and-wife team (Noelle also competes in all three sports) found out there are quite a few triathletes in central Kentucky.

"We looked at the numbers," said Noelle Dick. "We saw growth." Organizers of triathlon races are having to cap the number of participants, as there are more people who want to compete than the events can handle. By October '09, the Dicks were serious about opening a one-stop shop in Lexington. They talked to every business owner they knew to pick their brains.

"It was a huge education," said Noelle Dick. "We got cold water thrown on us."

She gives a lot of credit to Luther Deaton and Paul Thornsberry at Central Bank for their advice and support.

"We couldn't have done it without them," she said. "They put us through the ringer, but their approach to small business was 'How can we say yes?' instead of 'How can we say no?'"

It was important to Sam Dick to reach out to existing fitness business owners early on.

"We're not trying to go head-to-head with you," he explained. "We can send customers each other's way. We want to be a good neighbor."

The couple knew one of the keys to success hinged on finding a director of operations they could trust. Eric Atnip, Sam Dick's personal triathlete coach, agreed to take the job. A certified race director and coach, he is the only full-time employee at Swim Bike Run of Kentucky; there are six part-time employees, including Atnip's wife, Beth, all of whom have competed in triathlons.

"Whether you are a beginner or advanced, you're talking to someone who can help you," said Noelle Dick.

Summer is typically big for retail, but Swim Bike Run of Kentucky needed a plan to sustain the business year-round. They offer five levels of monthly training memberships, ranging from $50 to $150, that can be purchased in 6- or 12-month increments.

"We found a need for a bike-fitting station and bike maintenance," said Noelle Dick. "We came up with scenarios for training."

With the CompuTrainer system, cyclists ride a stationary tri-bike and watch a screen with a virtual course on it. In the Endless Pools® counter-current pool, an indoor 18-foot-by-six-foot structure, people can set the speed of the water and swim in place. It also has a coaching platform with videotaping capabilities.

Given a triathlete's height, weight and racing style, and using measurements, lasers and his knowledge, Atnip fits people to a particular bike.

"This is a service very few facilities offer in the state," said Sam Dick. He and his wife both started off with used road bikes, which is common for beginner triathletes. Tri-specific bikes range from $1,000 to $10,000. They're extremely lightweight.

"People see the Ironman race in Kona, Hawaii," said Sam Dick. "Most triathletes don't do Ironman. They start with sprint triathlons, which is eight laps in the pool, 15 miles on the bike and a three-mile run."

"Any personal trainer will tell you people will stick with fitness if there's a goal," said Noelle Dick. "Triathletes work out for 12 weeks to compete in a triathlon, and you see every body type, every age."

Most of the couple's marketing dollars are being spent on race sponsorships, including the April 17 Heart & Sole triathlon in Versailles, the July 31 Lame Duck Try-Athlon at Mallard Point in Georgetown and the September 5 Susan Bradley-Cox Tri for Sight Du/Triathlon at UK.

"It shows people we are serious about the sport," said Sam Dick. "It's important we're at the races and supporting them."

The learning process of owning a business is fun and exciting for the couple. "I hope we never say we're doing everything perfectly," said Noelle Dick. "When you get too confident, something isn't going to work."

To learn more about Swim Bike Run of Kentucky, visit

Kathie Stamps is the co-founder of, an online directory of independent/small business owners.

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