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Positive Spin: Who owns your bike shop?

Published October 8, 2019

Editor's note: David DeKeyser and his wife Rebecca Cleveland owned and operated The Bike Hub in De Pere, Wisconsin, for nearly 18 years. Last year, they sold the business and real estate to another retailer based in a nearby community. DeKeyser's previous columns are here.

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Regardless of one's current station in life, if you had at one time worked in a bike shop, you most likely remember the time with fondness. I am no different and can remember with vivid clarity learning all the behind the scenes secrets along with the inebriating smell of rubber and Tri-Flow each time I walked in the door.

The romanticism of the bike shop in many cyclists minds eventually turns to thoughts of what it would be like to have their own store. I sure did, and those dreams eventually became reality. My romantic dream of bike store ownership looked something like this: Wake up and go for a ride on beautiful trails and roads, then get to the store a little early putting on a pot of coffee, getting the tunes cranking while sizing up the day's repairs and bikes to be built. The day would float along effortlessly, while making people smile delivering new bikes and perfect repairs. The day would end with a couple beers hanging around the now-empty workstands with staff and maybe a lucky customer with the secret handshake, jaw jacking about a million topics, but all to do with bikes. Oh, and I would make enough money to not worry about money, not necessarily rich, but most importantly enough to ride really nice bikes! Your own dreams may be to become the next multi-store mogul, or to own a simple one man repair shop. Whatever it is, go for it if that's what you are desiring!

Today I want to address something deeper, to get a little touchy feely

The delta between romantic daydreams and reality is typically significant. Anyone who knows, knows. As a store owner, have you taken a step back to reevaluate not just what your goals are, but most importantly, to evaluate whether you are living the life you believed bike shop ownership would give you? If not, what is the issue? Too many bills and not enough money? Well that's something for different columns and honestly where I love to focus — the nuts and bolts of bicycle retail finances and how to make the most of them. However, today I want to address something deeper, to get a little touchy feely if you will: Your happiness and satisfaction as a bicycle retailer. As a retailer, you are bombarded with ideas of things you are supposed to do to improve and grow your business. But many things may not be in direct alignment with what store ownership looked like as you daydreamed of the "life."

I know that we struggled with our own store to keep our dreams in alignment with reality often. I had some heated conversations over the years, particularly with those trying to persuade me to order and stock more bikes, increase our allegiance to particular brands, or even to expand our business to include more locations, which ultimately wasn't what our goals of store ownership looked like. The general push usually boiled down to if "you are not growing, you are dying.''

One of my favorite business quotes came from Edward Abbey of all people: "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." That made sense to my wife and I as we wanted to have a business that we not only enjoyed owning, but served our needs as well, and if we pushed for constant growth the store would quickly become the owner of us.

Are you served or the servant of your business? Think about that for a minute. While it's noble to serve, by the simple act of running a brick-and-mortar business, you are really serving many in your community ecosystem, from employees to vendors, the local bank and all the local companies you do business with, not to mention the customers you serve. Be proud of that fact everyday and don't fall into the trap of thinking "being a member of the community" means giving discounts to folks who like to ride bikes and can afford to race them in your shop jersey.

You are serving many in your community: from employees to vendors, the local bank and local companies you do business with

Find a way for you personally feel you are serving. For many, in order to live your life as you desire, owning your business may be enough. There are store owners who love to sag rides, do bike roadeos, build trails, or serve on committees, but if that is not in your wheelhouse, don't do it. We slowly removed ourselves from many of the typical shop ownership "must do's" and focused heavily on running a great store that customers could count on to find a bike that fit their needs, or have repairs done when we said and properly.

"Minding your own business," literally is the most basic thing you can do to improve your business. That's really what the lion's share of your customers are looking for, don't lose sight of that fact. If you are run too ragged serving outside of your business something is wrong. We also ran our store to serve our needs, by concentrating on things that could make us happier. We valued time off so our store was never open Sundays, for example. We concentrated heavily on profits, as we wanted more money ... but not so badly we would live miserable lives to get it. Conversely, perhaps you are really enjoying the game of bicycle retail to the point that opening another shop would feed your need for challenge and provide the spark you need to maintain your excitement. Don't think I am saying your goals should be the same as mine. There's a current catch phrase right now: "you do you," and it applies to your business as well.

Never lose sight that your store is yours.

So how do you get back to your dream scenario? It is pretty simple, but note I do not say it's easy. What is your chief complaint? Too many hours? Not enough riding, or free time with family? Not feeling in control of your inventory due to onerous demands from vendors? Too much drama and hand-holding of employees? Perhaps you are simply bored or don't feel challenged enough? Any store owner has experienced these more subtle issues and they can be more corrosive to your mental and business's health than missed payments or other financial problems. Many stores have been destroyed that were or could be doing great financially when the owner lost interest, the vendors oversold the store, or the employees became a negative force.

Lastly do not ever lose sight that your store is yours. Not brand X's, not your employees, and not your customers. Own it the way you want to and smile, you are living your dreams. Remember every day that it's you who signed the personal guarantees, not the salesperson. You signed the lease and write the checks, not your customers and employees. Don't let those facts harden you, but let them embolden you to realize the business is yours. If you are successful, everyone around you is too. Don't lose sight of your entrepreneurial side and know you can change your business to align with your dreams. Now go ride one of those fancy bikes you sell!

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