What do Tim Don, Bradley Wiggins and current WorldTour pro, Ryan Mullen have in common? They have all been supported by Sigma Sports.
From humble beginnings in Jason's bedroom to a store boasting 6,000 sq ft of retail space, one of the leading eCommerce websites and a place as one of the cycling industry’s most respected retailers. Over the last 25 years, Sigma Sports has welcomed in some of the sport’s biggest stars, has led the way in the triathlon market and has showcased some of the hottest products on the market. With Sigma Sport becoming Sigma Sports on 16th January 2018, we take a moment to sit down with the founders, Ian Whittingham and Jason Turner, to look back on what has been a truly memorable 25 years.
From humble beginnings, Ian left school to become an estate agent, while Jason began schooling as an architectural technician. Although two reputable professions, the pair decided they wanted to run their own business. After trying to launch a number of tech products, including having some success selling a phone dialler via the Daily Mail's Innovations supplement, the duo decided to venture into selling cycling products. Ian was a passionate racing cyclist and saw a gap in the market when it came to selling heart rate monitors to his club mates.
Soon the two became one of the first in the UK to sell heart rate monitors to cyclists. Keen to pursue the cycling market, they set up a desk and some shelving in Jason’s parent’s spare room and began advertising their wares in Cycling Weekly magazine. Waiting on orders via phone or post, the business soon took off.
Early successes included stocking clothing brand Descente and selling Scott Lemond Aero Bars, which Greg Lemond had made popular during his Tour victory in 1989. With a favourable exchange rate, attractive pricing and a desire to grow their product offering, Jason and Ian’s sights were set on Belgium. Too young to hire a car, the pair commandeered the help of an older friend and headed across to the continent.
Belgium was a treasure trove and visiting the famous cycling store, Plums, in Ghent, on regular occasions, meant they were able to make contacts and begin working directly with suppliers. The pair managed to get their foot in the door of a couple of suppliers and were soon making regular trips to Belgium to top up stock which was selling well through their Cycling Weekly adverts. By this time they were now being leant the use of Jason’s parent’s Vauxhall Nova, which saved on rental car costs. It was not the biggest of cars and it soon proved a challenge fitting all of the stock in, especially as now the bank was lending them money, so they could afford to buy quite a lot of stock.
Setting up shop in Jason’s bedroom, they went several months before the number of cyclists turning up at the house to buy stuff was enough of an argument to warrant looking for proper retail premises. Esher was their first choice, as even back then it was considered the cyclist's gateway out to Surrey. Put off by the costs of rent and rates they settled for the village of Hinchley Wood, a mile or so from Esher, and found an empty greengrocer shop at a reasonable cost. Ian's dad was kind enough to help renovate the dilapidated store and they called in favours and used tradesmen who were friends, as well as doing a lot of the work themselves.
The pair advertised their new store in the cycling press and after a few weeks of hard work, including working right through the night to open in time, they opened the doors to the first Sigma Sports store at 8.30am Saturday 4th July 1992. Getting the Sigma Sports name out there and supporting local athletes were two key considerations for the duo. Sponsoring cyclists such as Milk Race winner and national champion, Chris Lillywhite, and Gary Dodd as well as the Army Cycling Union Cyclocross Team, soon some of the sport’s biggest homegrown talents were on the pairs’ radar.
"Graeme Obree was referred to us to by Specialized (his wheel sponsor) to buy a handlebar and stem - he had no idea what size he wanted so let me choose!"
- Jason Turner
The first steps into the world of triathlon happened by chance, when Ian and Jason met Spencer Smith and his dad. Soon after they were stocking some of the hottest triathlon products of the time and making a name for themselves in the sector. Sponsoring Spencer was just the first affiliation, which saw Sigma Sports supporting a triathlon specific team, which went onto Spencer, Michelle Dillon, Stuart Hayes, Andrew Johns and Tim Don.
As one of the biggest British teams of the decade, Sigma Sports were involved in the early stages of setting up the Linda McCartney Team, which boasted a roster that included riders such as Chris Lillywhite, Russell Downing, Matthew Stephens, Max Sciandri and Bradley Wiggins. Managed by Sean Yates, the team went on to be awarded UCI status and were the first British team to ride the Giro d’Italia. When the team, unfortunately, folded, out of a contract, Jason and Ian lent a bike to Bradley Wiggins.
After the collapse of Linda McCartney and keen to continue supporting the local cycling scene, Ian and Jason sponsored a Surrey League team, which was headed up by Gary Dodd and Matthew Stephens. This went on to become Sigma Sports - Specialized and then IG Sigma Sports in the 2000s.
The nineties also saw the first Sigma frames to be produced and they proved to be an instant success. Sigma Sports was established and flying high.
Want to know what happened next? Read part 2 of our history of Sigma Sport series.