San Diegan Meb Keflezighi’s stunning victory at the Boston Marathon last month was sweet on many levels, including a boost the achievement gave to one of his sponsors, ElliptiGO Inc.
The Solana Beach maker of the hybrid device — combining a bicycle and an elliptical trainer — saw a surge in customers at outlets where it’s sold, which the company’s owners attributed to publicity from Keflezighi
using it in his training regimen.
“We saw a lot more traffic at those stores that carry our product, more people coming in and asking to see an ElliptiGO,” said Bryan Pate, who co-founded the business in 2005 with Brent Teal.
The partners formed the business in 2005, though the company didn’t start selling the product until 2009. Last year, revenue hit nearly $5 million, and in January, the business sold its 10,000th ElliptiGO.
Keflezighi, who just turned 39, is ElliptiGO’s sole paid sponsored athlete, although the business has arrangements with about 100 professional runners including Julie Culley,
Alysia Montano and Shannon Rowbury. Keflezighi gets a low-five-figure stipend, while the rest receive either a free or deeply discounted ElliptiGO, Pate said.
Working in a Good Workout
Keflezighi’s brother, Merhawi
Keflezighi, who acts as his manager, said the Eritrean-born and San Diego-raised athlete has been using ElliptiGOs since 2012. Last year, leading up to the Boston race, Meb Keflezighi replaced his afternoon, shorter run with ElliptiGO rides that gave him a similar cardio workout without taking a toll on his legs.
“He just wanted to get to the starting line healthy,” Merhawi said. “Meb intentionally under-trained, but he was 100 percent healthy on race day.”
On Patriots’ Day, April 21, a holiday in Boston, Meb set out to break his personal best in the marathon, and did so going away, finishing first in 2 hours, 8 minutes and 37 seconds.
“The fact that [the race] happened one year after the bombings last year really touched Meb’s heart. He wanted this victory so badly, not just for him but for the city of Boston,” Merhawi said.
Thanks to the win in Boston, where he collected $150,000, Meb’s earnings this year will also likely be a personal best for his 16-year running career, Merhawi said. His biggest sponsor, Sketchers, pays a decent annual stipend, reported to be in the mid-six figures. Merhawi declined to reveal the amount.
Meb continues training and is aiming at making the U.S. marathon team for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, to be held in Rio de Janeiro, Merhawi said.
Despite the nice press ElliptiGO got from Meb’s Boston performance, creating awareness is still an uphill battle, said Pate, a former Marine Corps officer.
“For runners who can’t run anymore because of injuries or have to cut back on training, we’ve developed a solution that is better than anything else out there,” Pate said.
The Price Hurdle
But it’s a solution that doesn’t come cheaply. Entry-level ElliptiGOs start at $1,800, while the most popular model retails for $2,500.
“It’s a big price for someone who is coming into a store and probably never touched one before,” he said. The company lets buyers return it, no questions asked, in 30 days if they aren’t satisfied, but very few do, Pate said.
Jana Clark — who owns Street Fit 360 Bicycle and Fitness in Tampa, Florida, and is one of the largest sellers of ElliptiGOs — is a big believer in the product.
“I ride it every day, and my husband [and store co-owner] rides when he can,” Clark said. “ElliptiGO is one of those companies that not only do they have a great product, they stand behind that product.”
Last year, Clark’s store sold 60 units.
ElliptiGO was profitable in 2012 and unprofitable last year, with sales so far this year trending upward, Pate said.
“Right now, we’re going sideways,” he said. “But Meb’s win definitely has helped.”
This year, ElliptiGO’s total staff has increased to 17, with 14 working at the North County office and the remainder being outside salespeople. That’s up from 10 employees three years ago. Manufacturing is done mainly in Taiwan, which is the global center for the bicycle industry.
Although sales haven’t grown at the rate Pate initially anticipated, he takes pride in having created a business that’s provided some amazing life experiences.
“We’re heading in the right direction and have a product that a lot of people love,” he said.