TUSTIN, CA (BRAIN)—Robert Kahler minces no words when he describes himself as a lousy businessman and a reluctant retailer.
Instead this former California master’s champion (1986) has carved out a unique niche in Southern California’s diverse retail culture that combines his love of cycling, bicycles and fitness physiology.
Kahler, a 61-year-old Vietnam veteran, owns Santiago Cycling, a Trek store that features a variety of old framesets hanging from the ceiling. (When’s the last time you’ve seen an old titanium Teledyne?) “I like to collect them when they come in,” he said.
Lined up along side a wall are more than a dozen Monarch exercycles. Nearby is a stack of rollers. And hanging above the exercise area is an array of fans to cool off the riders. This is Kahler’s passion—fitness. And as a national team coach, training, fitness, discipline and a commitment to cycling are what drives his business.
“My profit is far and away in the exercise business,” he said. Kahler runs four fitness classes a year: an 8-week session in the fall; a 9-week class in the winter; a 6-week session in the spring and in late summer an 8-week class for middle age riders 40 years and older. He can manage about 50 people per class, but said the business has fallen off slightly over the last two years.
He typically charges $300 to $400 per person. Each rider’s VO2 max is tested; body fat is logged as well as weight and other physical information. Each participant logs data from every session and Kahler scrutinizes it for improvement.
His wife, Jill Koval, raced with the women’s 7/11 Team and owns a gym. They have two teenage daughters, 17 and 19 years of age.
As for the retail side of his business, he’s been a Trek dealer for years, in part because Treks had been made in the USA. His store sells mostly road bikes and is well-known among local riders.
He acknowledges that Trek’s manufacturing has mostly moved to the Far East, but remains committed to the brand. And Lance Armstrong's return to cycling will be “great for the business and the industry,” he predicts.
Kahler, like others we’ve met on this tour of Southern California dealers, views today’s economy with caution. He has yet to place his pre-season order with Trek and will do so soon. But he takes the long view noting the cyclical nature of the economy.
And as he looks back over his years in the industry, he sums his experience up in a simple phrase: “It’s a good life.”
Photo:Robert Kahler, dressed in his U.S. Air Force jacket to mark Veteran's Day, reflects on his long tenure as a bicycle dealer.