Ben Walker and James Walgrove turned their hobby into their business when they set up Tri Harder, a company selling triathlon wear and equipment in 2011, and moved into their current premises on the outskirts of Dereham in June 2012.
Ben said: “James and I were friends who trained and competed in triathlons together, and there was nowhere locally for triathlon-specific kit – the closest was probably Nottingham or London. Triathlon was becoming more mainstream back then and we had some stars in the sport with Alistair and Jonny Brownlee winning medals at the Olympics in 2012. So we thought, maybe there’s an opportunity to do something, and we made some enquiries and it went from there.”
Ben grew up in Norfolk and lives in Dereham, so when a unit in Yaxham Industrial Estate became available, this together with the town’s location in the centre of the county made it the obvious choice.
In the five years since it was established, Tri Harder has grown a great deal, with more stock, an expanded range of products and additional services such as specialist bike fitting and maintenance.
Ben credits the internet as one of the main reasons the business has been a success. Tri Harder’s premises has benefited from Norfolk County Council’s and BT’s Better Broadband for Norfolk programme, and Ben and James upgraded their broadband package to take advantage of the superfast download speeds.
Ben said: “The internet is very important. It’s the shop window, whether it’s through social media or the website, both of which we manage ourselves. We’re online all the time, so if we didn’t have that reliable, fast speed it would be very frustrating, particularly with changing products on our website. An e-commerce site is quite a big system, if we were trying to change lots of products and it was slow it would drive me barmy.
“Online sales probably account for about 15% of our turnover, but this is an area that we want to grow. The sales on the website are from anywhere in the UK, with the odd international sale too.
“The website is important even when it’s not generating a direct sale, people are looking at what’s in store before deciding to make the journey over. We were Norfolk’s first triathlon store and we’re still Norfolk’s only triathlon store and people visit from as far as Ipswich, Peterborough and Wisbech.”
The Tri Harder shop can receive download speeds in excess of 37 Megabits per second (Mbps) – anything above 24Mbps is classified as superfast. Fast, reliable broadband has enabled them to be more efficient as well as given them greater flexibility in marketing and managing the company.
Earlier this year, Ben and James decided to move the system that manages their stock and till onto cloud-based storage, which means it can be accessed remotely, including from events they attend. Video is also becoming a much more important way of increasing awareness of the shop and its products, and their broadband connection allows them to upload videos and stream them from YouTube on a screen in the shop with no delays or buffering.
Ben said: “The broadband speeds we get can cope with all these things. If you want to do more than one thing at the same time, especially uploading a file, it’s much faster now. We can Facetime people and send them a file at the same time and it works fine, whereas before it could be a problem.”
Ben has big plans to continue to grow Tri Harder, expanding its reach and doing more to cater to female triathletes, who he believes are sometimes overlooked in terms of the range of products that are available. Having superfast broadband means that he can do all these things from the business’ current Dereham base.