Those new to the bicycle trade might not be aware of the massive revolution that the new sport of triathlon caused to the then staid, ultra-traditional world of road cycling.
It was not unlike the revolution that World Series Cricket caused to the traditional cricket establishment around the same era.
Both new upstarts brought bright and revolutionary new clothing colours and designs. But in the case of triathlon, the impacts went much further. Aero handlebars, aero wheels, carbon fibre wheels and frames, new frame geometry, new forms of energy foods and gels, new hydration systems, Co2 inflators, new shoe designs with Velcro closures… these were just some of the innovations that were either completely driven by triathlon or would have taken years longer to otherwise gain acceptance in the traditional road community.
From the earliest days of triathlon, Australia was one of the leading countries and no hotbed was stronger than the Gold Coast. South East Queensland has remained triathlon heartland ever since.
Gold Coast Triathlete (GCT) was started by Noel and Debbie Phillips in 1987. They based their new store a few blocks inland from the ocean at Miami which is in the centre of the 25 km coastal strip known as the Gold Coast.
GCT has traded from the same premises for 33 years since that date. It’s currently owned by Glenn Forbes, who’s best known as the founder and owner of leading triathlon and cycling apparel brand Cannibal.
Glenn has decided to put GCT on the market and recently took time out at the store to reminisce about the early days and explain the current situation and his reasons for selling.
“The sport of triathlon was just starting to boom in Australia,” Glenn recalled. “I started Cannibal in 1989. I used to come here and sell our Cannibal clothing range to Noel.
We were both fortunate that we started at that early time and we developed a good relationship.
“We used to train a little bit with Col Stewart (a legendary triathlon coach). Col used to have all the Americans and top Australians… over the years there were hundreds who trained with Col. There was Miles Stewart (Col’s son who was World Champion in 1991), Luke Harrop, Greg Brown, (Glenn Magnum (?) Tim Sheepack (?) what is correct spelling Glenn?).
Col would come to the shop and it would be like a hang in the old days. That continued into the 1990’s and in the mid 2000’s before the GFC (global financial crisis) it was still going pretty strong.
“At that time the dollar went up to parity with the US dollar and people thought they could buy more things direct from America. That was the start of changing our retail environment to the way it is now.
“Sure it’s cheaper, but is it really cheaper to buy from the other side of the world? Because the planet is in such a distressed state. I didn’t want to take my Cannibal brand manufacturing to China, use poor people and fly it into Australia.
“We do have a choice of not buying online and supporting local bike shops and helping the environment. In the past 12 years since the GFC, the import of products from overseas… it would be four times more travel for air freight alone and that’s killing the planet.”
Bicycle Store and Events Revival
As all bicycle trade members know, the pandemic has caused an increase in customers visiting bicycle stores including first timers and GCT has been no exception.
“Now (with covid) more people are coming back to bike shops,” Glenn reflected. “People could discover that they love cycling and some could discover that they’re very good at it. They could move on to triathlon, and that’s where we come in, but we’re also a bike store.
“I took over GCT about nine years ago. Noel worked for me for a little while and now he’s living in Coffs Harbour. We’re still great friends.
“We have Cervélo and Focus bikes with a bit of Pinarello here and there. It’s a clean, tidy shop. The fit out was done nine years ago and it still looks new. We’re pretty proud about how the shop looks.
“It’s not all about money. It’s about giving people a service they can talk about and feel good.”
Although covid has caused more general cycling interest, it did cause a dent in the triathlon scene because major events, which drive the sport, had to be cancelled. But early indications are that as restrictions are lifted, there’s a huge pent up demand of people looking to get back into action.
“There’s light at the end of the covid tunnel,” Glenn predicted. “Triathlons are starting again in Australia. We’ve had a few races – a Cannibal athlete won the Sunshine Coast Half Ironman and the Cairns Ironman.
“They just had a running race in Coolangatta, the Gold Coast 50. They had 3,000 people turn up. It was the biggest event in the world since covid.”
Glenn said that it has been challenging running the shop remotely, while his main focus has been on his larger, national Cannibal apparel design, manufacturing business located in Tweed Heads South, about 10 km down the road across the NSW border. This has meant that for most of the time since buying GCT, he’s not been physically present in the store.
“GCT is really an owner operator business,” he said. “We were turning over $400,000 to $500,000 per year having it run by staff. But it’s not the same as when the owner is in there.
“The upside is that we’ve never put GCT online and I think it could go really well online as well as having the physical store.
“If someone was a triathlon coach, handy with the tools and also good at selling, this could be a perfect opportunity. It could be a good sea change. They could build a tri club around the shop.
“We’re asking for $220,000 which includes the stock, fitout, tools. We want to sell to someone at a good price because it’s a good looking shop with huge potential. You’re not buying a job, you’re buying a business that’s been established in the same premises for 33 years, that you can work in and have full control.
“We trade Tuesday to Friday 9am to 5:30pm and Saturdays 9am to 2pm. We’re closed Sunday and Monday.
“You never know, someone might be sick of the cold down south and be looking for a move to the Gold Coast.
“Sooner or later it’s going to resonate with someone. I want GCT to still be around in the years to come.”