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The Evolution of a Business

Posted by rfulton on November 10, 2017

Vacation Sports

The Evolution of a Business

What to expect at FrontRunner in 2018

I was talking to a friend this past weekend, who had just sold his business. I brought up the subject of how FrontRunner/Vacation Sports, Inc. had changed over the past 25 years. His comment was not how the business had changed but how the bank account had changed. As I reflect of how FrontRunner has changed of the years, I must also admit that the checkbook balance has also.

I started Vacation Sports in 1994 and looking back at that year’s tax return I had a total income of $650. Renting bikes and canoes didn’t make me much money.

Run for the Apples was our first event, starting back in 1986. Our first triathlon was in 2001 with the creation of the Square Lake Triathlon. Events grew in numbers and in size over the first 10 years. During the mid 2000’s, Vacation Sports had more than 40 events and was managing another dozen races for local groups. Our triathlons were filling with over 500 participants. Those were the days when only a handful of triathlons were held every summer. Now there are that many on any given weekend.

At one point in the late 1990’s, I looked at the numbers of t-shirts we were purchasing and decided we could print our own shirts for less money. The intention of starting a screen printing business was not as part of the business plan but soon a local church mission trip asked if we could print some shirts for them. Another school group asked and then a large race asked the same thing. Before you knew it, we had a successful screen printing business. I sold the screen printing business to an employee a year ago and he and his wife are doing great. They would love your shirt business.

Next – in the fall of 2008, right as the economy was tanking, Vacation Sports purchased Midwest Events, a company that was an early entry into the online registration business and a local magazine that was a strong promoter of multi sport events in the Midwest.  In the overall plan, Midwest Events was a great addition to our business. I soon discovered that I had bitten off more that I could chew and ended up selling Midwest Events to Brigid and Terry Thompson a few years later. Midwest Events couldn’t have landed in better hands.

We made a name change somewhere in those years to FrontRunner to better reflect all the varied services we provided.

There were other business activities added over the years. We had our own timing equipment and still provide timing/result services for many area races. We discovered how much we could save if you produced our own medals and awards so we bought the equipment and saved thousands each year. We still produce medals and awards for a number of local events. We entered the promotional event business after some screen printing customers asked about putting their logos on a pen or coffee cup but discovered that we just didn’t do enough to justify the additional expense it took.

Back to the bank account. As I said, that first year a total of $650 went into that account. During the peak years, it was about a million. Not a huge business but respectable. 

This next year, FrontRunner will produce 2 events. The Jump to it 5K/10K May 4th in White Bear Lake and the Run for the Apples 5 Mile on October 20 at Pine Tree Apple Orchard. We will also be providing timing/result services for about 25 other events. It is a far cry from the hay days but still enjoyable and will help pay some bills.

People have asked why I have cut back. They ask about their favorite event that I no longer put on. What I can tell them is that I loved what I did and did well with my business over the years. It was hard work and involved most weekends. It was time for me to make a life change. Other people have picked up many of the events we no longer do and I will post information on them in the future.

Besides the FrontRunner activities, I am selling residential real estate for Edina Realty here in White Bear Lake. I would love your help and referrals making this new venture work. 

Both my friend and I were correct after owning a business that lasts more than a couple years. Things change and a business evolves to grow and stay alive. If you do it right, so does the bank account.

Thanks for reading.



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The History of the Square Lake Triathlon

Posted by rfulton on June 14, 2017

This year marks the 18 annual Square Lake Triathlon. This was FrontRunner’s first multisport event and continues to be our flagship multisport event.

Back in 1999, there were very few multisport events. Throughout the entire summer there were probably no more that 8 – 10. Turtleman , Timberman, Manitou Sprint, Heart of the Lakes and Brewhouse are a few that existed back then.

The Turtleman Triathlon was always mid August and the last triathlon of the season. If you were going to compete at the Ironman Championships in Hawaii, you still had the few months to train and prepare.

Mo and Suzanne Mouw were two local White Bear Lake athletes who competed at Ironman Hawaii and wanted one more opportunity to compete before the Minnesota summer was over. They approached me and asked if I would consider putting on a late season triathlon. They used the Square Lake area for training and suggested Square Lake Park as the venue for the event. We weren’t new to putting on events but we had never organized a multisport event.

And so it began. Washing ton County Parks would not allow events between Memorial Day and Labor Day so we chose the week after Labor Day. It’s a beautiful time of year and although the water is cooling off, it was still swimable.

The first year we only put on the short course. ½ mile swim, 17 mile bike, and 5 mile run. Everyone loved the Square Lake venue.

Chip timing wasn’t available yet so there were just 3 transition time given – swim, bike and run, all timed with a manual device. I’m sure we missed a number of transition times but we did what we could. Probable wasn’t until the 4th or 5th year that we started using chips for timing.

The second year we added the long course. Back then there wasn’t a triathlon of this distance in Minnesota. The only one in the Midwest was Pigman in Iowa . We created the course – 1.2 mile swim, 54 mile bike and 13 mile run. The bike was 2 mile short of the actual Ironman distance. We used a circle course for the run the first year but switched to an out and back the second year so runners would have some company as they passed each other.

Over the years thing got twecked and changed. I remember one night before the start and we were setting up bike racks, someone asked if it wouldn’t be easier to come in and out of the park if we switched the transition area to from the lower parking lot to the upper lot. We tried it and it worked so much better.

We use to have the finish line up by the entrance of the park and someone suggested moving it to the beach. That change made such a difference.

The long course was on Saturday and the Short course on Sunday. The City of Scandia began Taco Days and holds it on Saturday, and since all our bikes went through Scandia twice, they asked us if we would move the long course to Sunday.

We only do the short course now. The two long days just took too much out of me. Ironman Wisconsin is always that weekend and there are always so many local triathletes spending their weekend in Madison. People have so many options now if they want to do a long course triathlon – one of those options has become finding an event in some beautiful place in the world, and travel to it. Hard to compete!

I still think the Square Triathlon has one of the most beautiful venues with the cleanest water to swim in, the best road to bike on and a country run course that is stunning. There are a few athletes that have never missed a year. This years Square Lake Triathlon is Saturday, September 9. Hope to see you there!

Here is additional information on this year’s event


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Posted by rfulton on March 2, 2017

On Saturday, March 25, there will be a 5K run and walk to raise money to help Paul Auger. Paul has been diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome.  Guillain-Barre syndrom is a condition in which the immune system attacks the nerves.

Paul is completely paralyzed from the neck down.  

Paul has been the only income earner in his family.  His return to work will be many months out and the doctor indicated possibly up to a year for him to regain the skills necessary for his job. His family has set up a GoFundMe page and FrontRunner would like help contribute to that fund


Here are the details.

The start and finish will be in the marina area of Boatworks Commons.  Race Day Registration and packet pickup will be in at same area.

Run and walk will start at 9:00 A.M.

Wear one of your favorite t shirts and bring something for the White Bear Food Shelf.  Hope to see you there.  Online registration is available at Midwest Events until Wednesday, March 22.  You will find a paper entry at the FrontRunner’s website

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