NEW YORK, NY (BRAIN) Wednesday July 18 2012 8:13 AM MT—The BRAIN Dealer Tour hit the Big Apple Tuesday, racking up nearly 40 miles of riding around Manhattan and over the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey to visit a shop in New Jersey. Along the way the crew visited a wide variety of retailers, including a multi-sport shop just off of Central Park, a tiny but very active seller of electric and folding bikes, a roadie destination in New Jersey and finally a new commuter-oriented shop in a gentrifying area of Harlem.
The tour continues for two more days. Please check back for more reports and watch the August 15 issue of BRAIN for full profiles of the retailers we are visiting.
Swim Bike Run NYC
Clad in a nicely pressed two-piece suit Tuesday during BRAIN’s visit to his shop, Christophe Vandaele looked very much like the customers his shop caters to: bankers and workers in the financial services sector.
The Belgium-born former crit racer took over ownership of Swim Bike Run NYC back in 2003 as part of a private investment partnership buyout. His company, HI7E, buys distressed businesses and nurses them back to profitability. In addition to retail, his company also invests in sports, real estate, print and social media and entertainment properties.
The 4,200-square-foot store—just a block away from Central Park—carries everything from Speedo swim goggles and caps to Tyr wetsuits to Zoot running shoes and the latest tri and road bikes from Trek and Cervélo, but Vandaele will be the first to say his store isn’t a “triathlon” store. “We sell running, biking and swimming as separate sports, equally,” Vandaele said. “Swimming, biking and running are way bigger individually than triathlon is alone.”
And his product offering skews to the higher end, with his lowest-priced bike retailing for $2,300. “We try to focus on quality gear. Most of our customers work in finance and their lifestyle is high quality—from what they do to what they drive, wear, etc.,” he said.
This approach also applies to coaching—with top athletes in each sport leading the store’s coaching services. Aside from a separate bike fitting area, the shop has an indoor current pool.
Its name brings to mind the 1960s TV series, but MODSquad is actually derived from the first initials of the names of its owners, husband and wife Oye Carr and Danielle Tully, and their two children, Sekai and Mahdia.
Tully and Carr opened the shop in November 2008 in South Harlem, becoming the community’s first bicycle store. Tully was a practicing civil and human rights lawyer before deciding to manage the shop full time a few months ago. Her husband, who has a PhD in modern comparative African politics, worked at several bike shops on summers and weekends while getting his doctorate.
“We always thought this would be a second career once our kids were all grown up,” Tully said. But that plan took speed during a ride when one of their kids flatted and they found it hard to find a 12-inch replacement tube.
Carr and Tully take a homegrown approach to business and cater to all types of cyclists but families and kids are a big customer base. Its bread and butter is commuter and urban bikes and accessories. And its product selection is a reflection of its efforts to appeal to women and new riders.
Tully put her touch on the store’s interior—with warm colors, pegboards she and her dad built and a small track painted on the showroom floor.
Despite launching the business at the start of the recession, Tully said the shop has seen sales grow every year. “It’s so great, two other shops are opening,” she said.
This shop on Manhattan’s Upper East Side devoted to electric and folding bikes—as well as electric folding bikes—is all about arming its customers with information. NYCeWheels produces its own product description pamphlets for the major bike models it carries for customers to come in and browse. And the shop’s website lets visitors build their own custom folders from Brompton, its most popular brand, and is rich with detailed product descriptions and video bike reviews produced by founder and owner Bert Cebular and his staff.
“When people come in, they know what they want,” said manager Peter Yusauskas.
That’s a good thing, since NYCeWheels only has room for about 25 to 30 assembled bikes in the narrow showroom of the 250-square-foot store.
But that showroom belies the depth of inventory at the store, with bikes from such brands as Dahon, Pacific, Tern and Stromer. Tents on the back patio cover a few dozen assembled and ready-to-assemble bikes, and the shop’s basement, as well as two other nearby basements and a warehouse space, keep the shop at the ready to fill customers’ needs.
Once an order comes in, a service manager pulls the correct model, moves it to the shop and gets it assembled and ready for shipping or in-store pickup (online orders account for about 60 percent of business).
Especially quick turnaround on a Brompton is no problem, according to Yusauskas, due to the quality of their construction. “It takes only about 20 minutes to make it perfect,” he said.
On weekend mornings, New York roadies by the droves head over the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey, then up the river toward Bear Mountain. And soon after they get over the river, they encounter Strictly Bicycles in Fort Lee. And they visit the shop, in droves.
Strictly Bicycles has just 3,000 square feet for showroom space on two levels, but the shop is packed with bikes and gear, mostly high-end road and triathlon equipment. Even more noticeable than the high-end goodies are the mountains of accessories, sunglasses and nutritionals packed near the entry and along the route to the mens and womens bathrooms. On weekends there is often a long line of cyclists waiting to use the facilities, and while they are waiting they can inspect the high-margin inventory.
Owners Nelson and Joanna Gutieriez have been in business nearly 20 years, but only moved into the current location four years ago. Previously they were in an even smaller location that was a bit off the beaten path in Fort Lee.
The new location is gold for the store, the owners said. And they pay back their visitors by welcoming them with outdoor seating and bike parking and an indoor espresso bar. If loyal customers break down on the road, they know they can call the store for a free pick up.