LeftLane Sports, based in San Luis Obispo, builds strong following

jlynem@thetribunenews.comJanuary 10, 2012 

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of LeftLane Sports CEO Helio Fialho.

Helio Fialho learned an important lesson years ago while serving as chief operating officer for the now-defunct Copeland’s Sports: If you meet a consumer’s demands early on, that consumer will be loyal for life.

As chief executive officer of San Luis Obispo-based LeftLane Sports, an e-commerce members-only flash sale site he started with friends in 2009, his goal is to continue building a strong following among consumers who look to the site for outdoor recreation and fitness gear.

With a focus on the 25- to 55-year-old active sports enthusiast, LeftLane Sports offers sales on sporting goods and apparel to LeftLane members.

During sales, which are launched every few days and last for about 72 hours to a week, members, who sign up for free using a name and email address, can buy products at up to 70 percent off retail prices.

Fialho said LeftLane’s business model is based on repeat customers who think of the site as a community, one in which consumers spread the word about sales to friends and family, and then are rewarded with discounts.

The company also emphasizes protecting its brands and prices, and depends on its “direct relationships” with the 253 brands it sells.

“We buy everything first hand from the brand, everything from Adidas to Kelty and Mountain Hardware,” he said.

As for competition, Fialho said what differentiates LeftLane from other such sites is its ability to buy product and store it in San Luis Obispo, and to ship within one business day.

“The active individual wants immediate gratification,” he said.

Another tool LeftLane has is it controls its entire operation through Auspient, an outsourced service provider that he started after Copeland’s sold for the first time in 2002.

Auspient, based in San Luis Obispo, helps other companies with their operations, ranging from Web design and customer service support to direct email marketing, among other services.

While he declined to disclose LeftLane’s financials, he said it has experienced double-digit increases in sales month-over-month for the past two years.

Last year, Fialho said the business began a marketing relationship with 118Boardshop.com, a private sale site focusing on action sports, and in 2011, LeftLane acquired it for an undisclosed sum.

Fialho credits the growth of the business to the quality of LeftLane’s service and San Luis Obispo’s “tremendous Internet connectivity.”

“The county is a great place to have an online business,” he said. “Greater connectivity allows companies like LeftLane to have a fast global reach. As a result of that, we can ship to 57 countries worldwide from (San Luis Obispo).”

“If you know how to do business and understand what’s available, it’s pretty astonishing,” Fiahlo said.

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