WASHINGTON, D.C. (BRAIN)—From high-end to hardware, stores in the District of Columbia have business practices as polarized as the political views here.
The first stop on the second day of the BRAIN Dealer Tour of DC yesterday, Bicycle Pro Shop is a compact store piled high with parts. “We try to keep this place packed,” said Tony Leongini, manager of its Georgetown location just over the Key Bridge, two doors down from a Revolution Cycles. The shop, which local importer Mel Pinto opened in 1958, sells a ton of 11-speed Campy and a high-end mix of U.S. and European bikes and frames including Time, Look and DeRosa. Leongini said that the leveling of the euro to dollar exchange rate has improved his pricing on European products. Its diversity of European brands and stock of Campy gruppos and wheelsets sets it apart from other stores, he said. “We do more Campy stuff than anyone in the city,” he added.
Another longstanding local retailer, Big Wheel Bikes opened in Georgetown in 1971. Now a five-store chain, its biggest store in a strip mall in Arlington was a former location of the now bankrupt Bikes USA chain. Owner Mike Sendar said he buys differently than most shops, buying up closeouts to maintain margins of 45 percent and sometimes well over 50 percent. “I don’t buy inline; I don’t see how anyone can make any money that way,” said Sendar, a practicing lawyer who maintains a small business law practice while running the bike business full time. Sendar, who claims to be the longest-running Fuji dealer in the country since 1972, said he has always sought out smaller off-beat vendors. “They offer a better opportunity to buy off-price to control my destiny,” he said.
Offering a combined retail space and personal training center, CycleLife USA aims to bring all aspects of cycling fitness under one roof. Converted from a raw two-story space that was previously a restaurant and nightclub, five investors opened it in November 2008. For $180 per month clientele that buy into monthly onsite gym memberships and take advantage of onsite personal training, coaching and massage therapy. “We have several layers of connection for customers,” said general manager Travis Coleman, adding that customers come in regularly and often. Coleman said two-thirds of its business is in retail sales of “better-best products” from Specialized, Look, Parlee, Independent Fabrication and Colnago. He said the business is operating with a three-year plan to offer a return on investment. “That’s when the owners can appreciate owning a business of this size and magnitude,” he said, adding that it has beat its goal to increase revenue by 40 percent each month this year over the previous year.
Family-owned since 1969, District Hardware – The Bike Shop is a combined hardware store and bike shop. In-season, bikes and hardware sales are split 60-40. “When things slow down it goes the other way,” said Neil Conway, who now owns and runs the business with his brother. He said the combination promotes cross-shopping. “The guy that comes in for a bike picks up a plunger because his toilet is plugged at home,” Conway said. He said it also benefits from access to materials, fasteners and tools from the hardware side that can be used to service bikes. It now sells Raleigh, Diamondback and Dahon, the way hardware stores once commonly sold Huffy and Murray bikes. “In a lot of small towns, the only place to buy a bike was the hardware store before there was Wal-Mart and Lowe’s. You don’t see much of that now. We’re unusual in that respect,” Conway said.
Visit the BRAIN Blog for more photos of yesterday’s dealer visits. And check back tomorrow for coverage of the final day of the DC Dealer Tour when BRAIN staff and sponsors Giant Bicycles, Pedro’s and Todson visit four more shops in the District.
Photo: The group heads from Alexandria to Georgetown on the Mt. Vernon Trail, a 18-mile path that follows the Potomac River. Photo by Jake Orness