WrestlingGear.Com, Ltd. is a family-owned company started by Jeffrey Pape. All members of Jeff’s family work in some capacity for the business, including his wife, Nancy, and stepson Dylan. Even Jackson, 5, and Alec, 4, enjoy working at the store with their Daddy.
WrestlingGear.Com was founded in 1998 to sell adidas wrestling gear via the internet. Initially our website only offered adidas wrestling products and the ordering process lasted about three weeks between an order being placed and our customer receiving the inventory. Now, with our extensive inventory and expedited delivery options, a package can now be received in about 24 hours. Our office is located in Franklin Park, a suburb of Chicago and is located about five minutes from O’Hare airport.
In 1999 we received our first and only source of outside capital. A local entrepreneur provided “angel” investing to allow us to buy our first inventory. This reduced order time significantly and our sales increased over 100% during 1999. That year we had a major update to the website and functionality. As was true in every year, we added new products to the site that our customers asked about. We expanded our offering of wrestling shoes within the adidas brand.
In 2000, we once again experienced over 100% growth and new products and another major website design occurred. In 2001 we brought all credit card processing in house and no longer relied on outsourcing our credit card processing.
During 2001 and 2002 major vendors added included Cliff Keen and Tanita. It was during this time that we were finally were accepted in the wrestling gear industry. Hundreds of thousands of visitors flocked to our website during this time of tremendous growth.
2003 started with Jeff Pape, the owner, starting at a Northwestern’s Kellogg MBA program. Changes included a new strategy for the business along with improved marketing efforts to drive more traffic to the site. During 2003 we once again experienced tremendous growth while many others were satisfied with growth rates in the single digits. The website drew over 100,000 visitors to the site in a month when previously that would be the traffic for 6 months. During 2003 Asics wrestling products were added to the site. Asics was the last major wrestling manufacturer that WrestlingGear.Com did not carry.
In 2004 Jeffrey Pape purchased the remaining shares from the initial investor that had faith way back in 1999. A major initiative that was launched during 2004 was to provide each customer an opportunity to let us know about their shopping experience with WrestlingGear.Com. Insights gained from this feedback have allowed us to improve the customer experience. Site traffic has continued to increase. More print ads were placed in wrestling magazines like USA Wrestler, Wrestling USA, WIN Magazine and Amateur Wrestling News.
In 2005 we continued to expand, hiring another full-time employee, started a blog, sponsored wrestling clinics, and continued to provide action photography for IllinoisWrestling.Com. Jeff finished his MBA from Kellog with majors in Operations and Marketing and saw the birth of his second child, Alec. New products added included DVDs from Championship Productions, t-shirts from ImageSport, and Ivan Ivanov’s Bulgarian throwing dummies. We continued to take care of our customers and they rewarded us with another year of outstanding growth.
In 2006, Jeff was sitting at a session for Alums of Kellogg’s MBA program, and an executive was talking about his company’s mini-grant program and how it had an impact on the grant recipients. That’s the moment when Jeff realized WrestlingGear.Com could have an impact. We started a major program this year that benefited the Smile Train and were a major sponsor at a Breast Cancer Fundraiser along with helping local and national wrestling teams. We also helped raise money and awareness about the dropping of the Fresno State wrestling team. In November, we were mentioned in a Wall Street Journal article based on a speech Jeff gave in early 2004. Based on the success of 2006, Jeff was asked to address University of Maryland and Kellogg MBA students and to talk with Leyden high school students in early 2007.
In 2007, we continued to expand bringing on an additional full-time employee, Dan Jamieson. Along with hiring Dan, we moved to a facility that was more than 3 times our location at that time. We also moved into Elmhurst, IL and currently located at 655 W. Grand Ave Unit 140 (in between Lake St or Route 83 and York Road). New products this year included MMA gear from Clinch gear as we made a small step into the MMA world. We held our 2nd annual wrestling clinic raising several more thousand dollars for The Smile Train. ASICS Wrestling Shoes were the ones to have in 2007 including the Cael Sanderson V 3.0 and Rulon’s. The hot adidas wrestling shoes of 2007 were the Responses. For the first year since we starting selling ASICS, they caught and passed adidas wrestling in sales.
In 2008 we continued to grow, although it was our slowest growth rate since we opened our doors. Jeff started The Pape Foundation and we held our first and second fundraisers. Our golf outing raised money for The Smile Train and The National Wrestling Hall of Fame – Illinois Chapter. Between the golf outing and the wrestling clinic, we raised almost $10,000 for these two organizations. We started the process to sell Nike products and were approved in the beginning of 2009. The hot ASICS wrestling shoes were the Rulons and the Supreme Lyteflex 2. The popular adidas wrestling shoes were the white adiStars. Major press for the year saw us written up in the Chicago Sun Times in a feature article along with being quoted two times in an article appearing in the New York Times.
WrestlingGear.Com, Ltd. is a privately held company whose only investor is Jeffrey Pape.