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Dealer association buys Barnett mechanics school

Published September 9, 2016

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.—The National Bicycle Dealers Association has agreed to buy the Barnett Bicycle Institute — the 30-year-old professional mechanics school — from its founder, John Barnett.

As service becomes increasingly important to retailers, the purchase will allow the association to offer its members employee training and certification, the NBDA said. The association plans to expand BBI's offerings with online classes, regional classes and certification testing.

The purchase comes at a time when many bike retailers are looking to increase their service business in the face of online competition and omni-channel distribution. For several years, the NBDA had been trying to develop its own online program for entry-level mechanic education and certification.

Development of that program had stalled, and the NBDA's president, Todd Grant, said the BBI purchase creates a clear road map for bringing it to fruition.

"The NBDA's mission is to strengthen the specialty bicycle retailer — education being a key component of the association's vision. We see that improving the service department — where every bike passes through — as natural place for us to make a significant education investment," Grant said.

The purchase price is not being disclosed, but it is the largest transaction in recent NBDA history. The association will pay for BBI from its cash reserves. Grant expects the operation to produce revenue for the association, diversifying its income sources.

"It's a profitable operation, so it will be paying back into the association reserves, and we will determine the appropriate rate of reinvestment," Grant said.

Grant said there are no immediate plans to change the name of the Institute. The operation will remain in Colorado Springs, where it is based in a leased building. Classes will remain open to anyone interested in learning professional mechanic skills.

"We will be able to offer benefits to NBDA members exclusively — an obvious benefit would be tuition discount to NBDA members. But we can also expand the offerings to course work exclusive to NBDA members, such as classes in service writing or even teaching management skills like staff scheduling," Grant said.

John Barnett began teaching off-season classes for professional mechanics in the 1980s, when he was still service manager at Criterium Bike Shop in Colorado Springs. BBI celebrated its 30th anniversary as a full-time operation this year.

Between 250 and 300 students pass through Barnett's classes each year.

Barnett, who turns 65 this year, said he had not been actively trying to sell the business, but had made an effort in recent years to prepare it for sale, in case the right buyer came along. He said the NBDA was very much the kind of buyer he hoped would present itself.

"They understand that the IBD needs to get more sophisticated about the service side of the business, and what they want for BBI is to keep the programs intact and also expand upon them," Barnett told BRAIN.

The purchase had not been completed as of Thursday. Barnett said he planned to remain a full-time consultant to BBI for at least a year.

BBI already offers certification — both class-completion certificates and more rigorous certifications that require hundreds of hours of real-world experience in addition to passing a hands-on test. Grant said the NBDA is considering working with BBI to offer such certification tests and others at regional events such as distributor open houses and trade shows.

Bicycle Retailer & Industry News, owned by Emerald Expositions, is operated under license by NBDA Services Inc., a business owned by the dealer's association.

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