BY JASON NORMAN
DENVER, CO—Ken Gart’s formula for turning around Colorado’s Bicycle Village stores nine years ago was simple.
“Same-day bike tunes,” Gart said. “Just like same-day ski mount, ski tune.” What Gart did was awaken the “sleepy little bike shop. We started with nothing. We made it visually exciting.”
Thanks to Gart, Bicycle Village’s five locations are thriving. They are now being handed over to Vail Resorts, Inc. as part of a $31 million buy-out of the family’s 30 percent share in Specialty Sports Venture (SSV), and its 145 sports retail outlets. Gart started SSV in 1994, with the focus on ski retail.
The Garts had management control after the family and Vail Resorts merged their retail holdings in 1998. But the Garts had been slowly selling off portions of their equity the past several years, with the original agreement stating that eventually Vail Resorts would purchase all the equity.
Gart’s grandfather started the business in the late 1920s when he opened an Army surplus store. But it wasn’t a given that Ken Gart would jump into the family business as he attended school on both coasts. Colorado and the lure of sports retail drew him back into the fold.
Gart said the sports retail business has changed substantially since he first got involved. “Bigger, bigger, bigger,” Gart said. “Smaller is done. You have to be well capitalized. The strong survive.”
He used Wal-Mart as an example of success, citing how well it’s done since it began creating an IBD feel at many of its bike departments.
Gart said passion alone isn’t enough to start a bike shop. “You have to be capitalized,” Gart said. “We could put out a tent sale with 3,000 bikes. You have to have a reason to do it better.”
While Wheat Ridge Cyclery owner Ron Kiefel didn’t personally know Gart, he knew him as a competitor—a strong one in the Colorado market. “He understood merchandising and purchasing,” Kiefel said. “You always had to be concerned with what (Bicycle Village) was doing.”
Kat Jobanputra, a 20-year veteran of SSV and current executive vice president and chief operating officer, hopes to keep doing it better. “It’s business as usual here,” Jobanputra said of the Bicycle Village stores. “We’re going to do more of the same.”
Because Vail Resorts is publicly traded, Jobanputra declined to provide specifics on recent sales, but confirmed that sales have been good.
Jobanputra said Bicycle Village will continue to stay the course. “We’re going to grow the stores,” Jobanputra said. “We think we have a formula for success long-term.”
Jobanputra and 52 other corporate retail employees will relocate from current headquarters in Denver to Vail Resorts’ headquarters in Broomfield, Colorado, this fall. The Gart family retains ownership of Gart Properties and Gart Capital Partners, owner of the Denver Pavilions retail center and several other commercial properties.
In a letter to employees Ken Gart said that SSV is in capable hands with Jobanputra at the helm and Vail Resorts in control.
“Kat will develop a new structure of leadership which will continue the high standards we’ve enjoyed for 16 years,” Gart said. “Vail Resorts and its leadership will bring a wealth of expertise and resources to continue to grow the retail and rental business.”
Gart also described stepping away from sports retail as “bittersweet.”
“Working with everyone at SSV, sharing my passion for the company and for skiing and biking, along with other gear we sell, has been one of the most gratifying things in my life,” he added.
Although he’s retiring from retail Gart will remain involved in cycling. He’s the chair of B-Cycle, Denver’s bike-sharing program, which launched in April with 500 bikes. Gart hopes to expand the scheme.
“We’d like to grow it to 1,000 bikes,” Gart said.