Rather deflating the popular image of web companies being brim-full of desk-bound suits is Pop Runner Promotions.
The website is the e-commerce extension of this Auckland-based firm, which offers a range of services for both athletic event organisers and participants.
The company facilitates event management, sports promotion and race-timing services, even down to supplying stopwatches and wide-screen clocks. Among the various events Pop Runner facilitates are marathons, fun-runs, and even the notoriously challenging Sky Tower "Vertical Challenge". The website, however, is focused on registering racing competitors. It offers SSL-secure credit card payment facilities.
Executive director Paul Ryken, himself an athletics buff, says the site allows prospective race participants to find information on upcoming events, browse for contact information, complete registration forms and pay by credit card in one short process. And once they’ve run, competitors can check out their placings and times on the site’s results page.
Modelled to a degree on American sports portal www.active.com, Ryken admits the site is not yet gathering huge numbers of online registrations, though he notes that it has only been online since October 2000. Currently 25 out of 450 listed events have online registration enabled.
But crucially, says Ryken, it is a site that is visited regularly by a hard-core group of athletes, many of whom pay for multiple race-entries simultaneously. Registrations from Australia, Fiji, and the US are also increasingly common.
The company – and its site – acts as a conduit between race-organising clients and race-participating clients. The site is a canny tool for Ryken, as he can place himself at the centre of the athletics management industry, building long-term relationships with various areas of the sector.
Ryken wants to boost the firm’s position within the management and promotion of New Zealand athletics events, rather than in team sports where registrations tend to be discounted block-bookings.
Ryken acknowledges that its focus limits its potential market, as there are limited athletic events in New Zealand. But, the company may expand into other non-team sports such as tennis, squash and surf lifesaving in order to obtain the volume required to be successful.
“We prefer to focus our attentions on a market that we know, ensuring that our marketing dollar is well spent on a niche rather than take the [scattergun] approach,” says Ryken. “It may be that we extend into team sports eventually, but that is not our current focus.”
Ryken aims to emulate the US, where up to 30% to 40% of all sports registration is now online, due to internet-savvy athletes core customers.
What's his advice for other e-commerce operations on how to foster that loyal core clientele?
“Customer focus, first and foremost,” says Ryken. “We have two clients; the event organiser and the participant, and we need to satisfy both parties. We have an internal ‘service level agreement’ that ensures that we return calls, follow up issues and resolve problems within a certain time-frame.
“Also, we listen to our clients, providing them with an easy feedback form to complete to make suggestions - which they do,” he says. “We take calculated risks, and have a strong business and financial plan.”
Ryken’s personal athletics experience certainly doesn’t hurt. And he says the knowledge of the industry and the relationship to sports administrators helps opens doors for his firm. Indeed he’s quick to sum it all up with a sporting metaphor: “The passion comes from wanting to be number one.”