February 21, 2011 | last updated June 1, 2012 9:45 am
2011 STRATEG-E AWARDS WINNER: BEST WEBSITE DESIGN

www.SwapMeSports.com | Easy to use sports equipment website encourages community re-use

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Tara Griggs of SwapMeSports drew up plans on a napkin for her easy to navigate site that offers used sports equipment.

Tara Griggs of Glastonbury, a mother of two, was getting tired of constantly buying new sports equipment as her daughters hit growth spurts. When one daughter's feet grew three or four sizes in one year, she was buying new soccer cleats every three months.

"I was looking at her cleats, and they looked new," Griggs said. "I could get a dollar or two at Play It Again Sports, or use a site like Craigslist or eBay to recoup a little more of my investment."

But Griggs said eBay and Craigslist can be cumbersome, and there are listing fees and shipping costs to deal with on eBay.

"I thought, the industry is large enough with all of us having our children engaging in some kind of sport to have people buy, sell or trade equipment within our own communities," she said.

Griggs, who has a full-time job in advertising and marketing, launched www.SwapMeSports.com last May as a way to provide a free community resource to bring sports-minded people together to trade their gear. SwapMeSports has been named the winner in the Hartford Business Journal's "Best Website Design" Award.

SwapMeSports allows users to sign up for free with a simple e-mail address. Once registration is complete, they can use any of the site's services — buy, sell, swap, donate or find, to either get rid of their own outgrown items or to search for needed items.

"There are steps that walk them through listing whatever item they want to list," Griggs said. "They can upload up to five photos for each listing."

Items listed on the site include individual pieces of sports equipment, gear and clothing, and sometimes an entire set of team jerseys. The items are not limited to organized sports or team sports.

"We've had bicycles, a couple of scooters, kayaks and special needs equipment," Griggs said. "I got a request for martial arts apparel, so we added a category for that. We are listening to the community and what they're looking for."

After clicking on the icon for buy, sell, trade, donate or find, the user can type in their zip code and designate how far away they're willing to travel for an item. While the site was intended to keep exchanges local, Griggs said it's not unheard of for people from across the country to exchange items such as sports memorabilia.

"We're simply the conduit for people to find things," she said. "That transaction will take place between the individuals."

The site also allows users to donate items to worthy organizations with which Griggs has relationships. SwapMeSports has a post office box in Simsbury, where items to be donated can be shipped or dropped off.

Griggs said she knows her website is user-friendly because her mother, who became her partner, has had an integral role in helping to design the site.

"She's probably the least tech-savvy person I know," Griggs said. "I put sketches down on paper and aligned myself with web designers, and built the site the way I had envisioned. It only took a few weeks, and my mom could use it."

Griggs worked with both creative/design agency Pettus Creative of Farmington and George Roberts of Crucial Networking to create the site.

"Part of the brand identity was the color palette, easy to read fonts and typography and we applied all of that to the website look and feel," said James Pettus, owner of Pettus Creative. "We used color-coded sections to make sections easy to remember; we used big, easy-to-read type, and big buttons to click on to catch your attention."

Pettus said they have already gone through several rounds of enhancements as more people use the site, to simplify it and incorporate their suggestions.

Griggs said she may get one or two requests for help from users each month, but they most often concern questions about how to list an item, rather than technical questions. The website features Google ads at the bottom, but Griggs plans to begin securing advertisers who target the site's primary users: mothers of children engaged in sports.

Tracy Agreda, a West Hartford mother of three athletic children, said she has used SwapMeSports several times to clean out her garage, selling and donating items. One of her daughters is a competitive figure skater, and the associated costs can be prohibitive.

"I could go on the site and see if there's a (competitive skating) dress," she said. "Sometimes those dresses sell for $200. If I can find one for $20, that's a great savings."

The word has gotten out quickly about SwapMeSports. Within two months of the site's launch, it had seen 20,000 visits.

"A lot of bloggers have been blogging about us," Griggs said. "Daily, we're increasing our numbers, not just in inventory, but in membership as well."

The website has caught the attention of the Special Olympics, which recently featured an article on SwapMeSports as a key way to get much needed specialized equipment to people with disabilities.

SwapMeSports also teamed up with bleach maker Clorox and Phoenix Suns basketball player Grant Hill last fall to launch "Equip Them Well," a public service announcement to educate the public about MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant staph infection, and the need to disinfect sports equipment. Part of the campaign also allows SwapMeSports users to donate used sports equipment to children in underserved communities.

Griggs said she has received lots of positive feedback from users.

"Everyone can relate to the fact that they have growing children, and overflowing garages and basements," she said. "They enjoy the fact that it's free and easy and they can make that transaction within a day or two."

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