For Brent Barrett of Start2Finish Events, small-business ownership is a marathon, not a sprint.
The racing events management and production service, begun in 2004, has grown out of Barrett’s custom-printed apparel business, Bluff City Sports, and RacesOnline.com, the events calendar and registration portal of the footrace world.
The Start2Finish staff includes, from left, Daniel Shaffer, James Adrian, Matt West, Brent Barrett, Wyndell Robertson, Ryne Lamm and Adam Shelton.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
“We’ve kind of created this one-stop shop for events to come in here and we’re able to build their website, do their online registration, help them market, help promote, print their T-shirts, do their awards,” Barrett said.
Having worked with screen print during college and after, Barrett moved back to Memphis and opened his own apparel shop in 1991. He’d begun participating in triathlons as a hobby several years earlier and found it was difficult to find information on upcoming events.
A niche made itself apparent, and in the nascent World Wide Web of 1994, RacesOnline became the fill for that niche as a simple cyber calendar of events.
They made cards with a logo and website address, and put them into every race shirt they printed. “So we were putting those in probably 300,000 or 400,000 shirts a year and they were going all throughout the Mid-South,” Barrett said.
It was not meant to be a revenue generator in the beginning, but a “sales tool,” Barrett said, opening a door for Bluff City Sports to contact the race directors and bid on their shirt production.
This pulled them ahead of the competition, and Barrett added a partner and functionality to the site to allow for online registration. The site has about 12,000 active events listed at any given time and is free for race directors with revenue now coming from a service fee when a participant registers for a race.
“It is self-supporting, actually a very good, solid business,” he said. “We do probably close to 300,000 transactions a year with that now.”
The most recent part of the puzzle within the building at Cooper Street and York Avenue – the starting line for the Cooper-Young 4-miler every year – is Start2Finish.
The race management and production company has grown from managing five events nine years ago to 180 events throughout the Mid-South with offices in Nashville and Charlotte, N.C. An office in Little Rock will open soon.
In addition to the management and production of others’ races, Start2Finish owns events such as the Memphis In May Triathlon, the Germantown Half Marathon and 5K, Dragonfly Triathlon and the upcoming Turkey Trot, which now boasts around 3,000 participants.
While racing itself may be linear, Barrett’s enterprise with its 32 employees is vertical, offering race registration, T-shirt and bib (a runner’s number worn while racing) printing, and full management of the race. There is very little waste or surprise when it comes to number of shirts, amount of food or portable toilets needed with the team keeping up-to-the-minute tallies on registrants.
The amount of work that goes into a single 5K race is difficult for many to imagine. The majority of clients – Barrett estimates it at 99 percent – are nonprofits looking to raise money or awareness.
Start2Finish gets calls regularly from someone who ran a race the weekend before and decided it would be good for their nonprofit. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, and Start2Finish helps them determine which by laying out the cost of permits, police, registration, promotion, goodie bags, timing, etc.
“Outside of them raising sponsor dollars, we pretty much handle everything for them,” Barrett said.
Barrett says there are as many races in the month of October now as there were total yearly races when he first got into the business. As the number of races grows and nonprofits bring in supporters from their organization, there may be a few hardcore runners, but, Barrett said, “we’ve seen this huge increase in population at races, but the good thing about it is that they’re bringing 500 to 600 people to an event who probably hadn’t planned to do another event, and hopefully they get the bug.”
Whether the number of people wanting to get healthier and more active has increased the participation in races or vice versa is an unknown. It’s the chicken-and-egg conundrum. Either way Barrett and Start2Finish are far ahead of the pack, and he sees the upsurge and amenities such as the Shelby Farms Greenline and citywide bike lanes, as well as a collective consciousness in the city regarding runners and other pedestrians, as a plus.
“It’s great,” he said. “The direction we need our populace to go in is more healthy than where we’ve been, obviously.”