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Quality closes its Colorado mechanic school

Published June 1, 2023

BROOMFIELD, Colo. (BRAIN) — Quality Bicycle Products has closed its bicycle mechanics school, U of Q, which was previously known as Barnett Bicycle Institute. The Minneapolis-based distributor said its projections pointed toward a decline in enrollment.

"Reverberations of the global pandemic continue to impact the bike industry, including forecasted enrollment for in-depth, classroom-style professional training that is a hallmark of the Institute," said Rich Tauer, the president of QBP. "Ceasing classroom training is a business decision based on the foreseeable demand for this service."

The closure caused QBP to lay off three employees while registered students were refunded. The school was located inside its distribution center in Broomfield.

Retailers say there is increasingly a shortage of qualified bike mechanics and most say they have offered increased pay to retain mechanics in recent years. The industry's two other well-known mechanic schools tell BRAIN they have strong enrollment this year, after a challenging period during the pandemic years.

"We're pretty slammed; we are looking to add people (instructors)," said Ron Sutphin, president of Oregon's United Bicycle Institute. Sutphin said UBI has three instructors and its upcoming classes are at the maximum of 16 students until late this year when there are a few spots open. UBI decided this week to add an extra class in August to take pressure off its waiting lists and to serve any of the students who had been enrolled at U of Q, he said. 

In recent years UBI has graduated about 350 students annually.

At Appalachian Bicycle Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, owner Jenny Kallista said there's a waiting list to get into classes. Kallista is ABI's only instructor and her classes have a maximum of four students.

This article has been corrected. It previously said that ABI had a maximum of five students per class. 

"Demand for mechanic education has always been high. I have not seen this change in the last 25 years," Kallista said. "The lack of opportunities for mechanic education has been a persistent issue in our industry for a very long time."

So why did U of Q see a decline in projected demand while other schools are booked out? QBP spokesman John Sandberg said he wasn't sure. "I would be speculating if I gave you an answer," Sandberg told BRAIN.

One reason for the disparity might be U of Q's focus on educating students who already work in the industry.

At UBI at least 30-40% of students are bicycle enthusiasts with a "casual" interest in learning mechanic skills for personal use, said Sutphin. The remainder of students are either employed in the industry or intend to find jobs in the industry after graduating, he said.

But U of Q limited enrollment to people who are already in the industry, often with their employers footing the bill for tuition, transportation, and lodging. While consumers remain interested in learning mechanic skills as a hobby, cash-challenged retailers often prefer to train their mechanics while also encouraging them to participate in online tech education programs offered by some suppliers. Some suppliers also offer tech clinics at trade events and employ tech reps who conduct clinics in stores or regionally.

QBP's decision to close U of Q may also have been influenced by the distributor's challenges in a year when much of the industry is over-inventoried. The company laid off about 50 employees last September. 

Long history

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 opened as a stand-alone business in 1986.

In 2016 Barnett sold the business to the National Bicycle Dealers Association. Barnett said at the time that BBI graduated 250-300 students per year.

The NBDA operated BBI as a for-profit business; at the time, the trade association also operated Bicycle Retailer & Industry News similarly.

The NBDA had financial issues starting in 2017 and QBP took BBI off the association's hands in 2019 (BRAIN was sold to Pocket Outdoor Media the same year). QBP renamed the institute in 2021. 

QBP's distribution center in Broomfield, where U of Q was housed.
Topics associated with this article: Retailer education

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