LAGUNA NIGUEL, CA (BRAIN)—Rock N’ Road Cyclery founder Matt Ford views the current economic slump not as an obstacle, but an opportunity.
“I get two or three phone calls a week from brokers saying, ‘I’ve got this space [to lease],'” Ford said, standing in his Laguna Niguel store, which has been remodeled with hardwood floors, custom merchandising displays and Specialized graphics. A three-tier rack system built along the walls on either side of the store holds hundreds of road and mountain bikes.
BRAIN editors spoke with Ford as part of the magazine's Orange County dealer tour last week.
Ford and his three partners own four Specialized concept stores in Orange County that employ about 50 people. While he’s in no rush to expand his company, new stores are in the future plans thanks to the security he enjoys because of his alignment with Specialized.
“We’re able to weather the storm pretty well,” he said. “Some companies who aren’t partnered with a Specialized or Trek won’t weather the storm as well.”
Not to say there hasn’t been tough times. Last year, the company experienced its first down month in 17 years as wildfires closed popular trails and clogged the air, right around the same time as the Orange County housing bubble began to burst.
This year, business has rebounded, although it still hasn’t surpassed 2006 numbers. September and October were up and November is tracking up as well, but Ford has noticed changes in how customers are shopping. Sales under $1,000 and over $6,000 are strong, but the mid-range has suffered as middle-income consumers are holding onto their money.
“They’re playing it safe,” he said, which has caused his sales staff to be more aggressive, selling the shop’s financing program and pushing layaway around the holidays.
Ford opened his first Rock N’ Road in Mission Viejo in 1991 when he was 22 with a loan from his father. Seventeen years later, he and his partners have expanded to include locations in Irvine, Laguna Niguel and Anaheim Hills, which was the first Specialized concept store to open in the U.S.
The Irvine and Laguna Niguel stores have been renovated to reflect the concept model, and Ford will also remodel the Mission Viejo shop after the New Year.
For Ford, a former Trek dealer, partnering with a strong supplier like Specialized was strictly a business decision.
“We were interested in making a big operation, moving inventory and obviously making as much money as possible,” he said.
Along with Specialized, Rock N' Road carries Look, Nirve and Haro bikes.
Photo: Rock N' Road Cyclery founder Matt Ford talks to BRAIN editors at his Laguna Niguel store