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James Stanfill: The Insanity of Today, Reaping the Rewards for Tomorrow

Published May 26, 2020

By James Stanfill

We have read plenty of articles now about this "bike boom." We still have no idea when it will end, if it will end and what the end even looks like. If this is the new normal, even for a while, I'll take it.

I have a small shop, primarily service-focused. Up until a month or two ago I didn't even keep a bike on the floor for someone to buy; I would simply order it for them on demand. It's an easier business model to keep my overhead down, after all I am typically traveling a few weeks out of nearly any given month.

That all changed on March 14th. That morning I woke up in Hawaii (rough I know) and was informed by the Cycling Canada that we would be returning home, two full weeks early from a training camp. I guess a little background is relevant, besides my small shop, and the daily diligences of the PBMA (with all that encompasses), I also work as the Head Mechanic for the Canadian Para-Olympic Cycling Team.

So, I returned home to Austin, and left again to retrieve my Ford Transit that was full of PBMA's CABDA Expo and Bicycle Mechanic Certification gear and then went on to my typical light shop schedule, working mostly by appointment and catering to a few regular locals. I was sort of in limbo, waiting to see what would happen next, wondering when I'd go anywhere again.

I was at Walmart, a while ago (this must have been towards the end of March)... I needed potting soil and groceries. Normally I don't shop at Walmart, so to understand the situation you should know that for 2 or 3 weeks here in this area you had to wait in a line to enter the grocery store to then discover that a bunch of panic-stricken assholes had purchased nearly everything you might have wanted.

While at the local Walmart I happened past the bicycle section ... EMPTY, completely EMPTY! I had noticed an uptick in people calling to ask if I had bicycles. So I got some bicycles for the shop; it was a real debate and became a reality thanks to Mike at KHS requesting terms for my little operation.

Flash-forward to now, I am nearly out of bicycles, including a large lot of used bikes I hunted down, fixed up and turned around. All the while, service has exploded. As you read this and nod your head because you can't find a 7-speed chain or a cheap derailleur... our suppliers are simply running out of everything. Go and reference some supply chain articles like I have and realize the insanity of what we are dealing with.

My shop wasn't meant to be a true full-time thing until after this year's Olympics, it's now twice as big and pulling numbers that I wouldn't have expected to see for at least a year ... service is busy as can be and I still get my customers turned around in 24-hours or less (with some exceptions). I get calls from far away because elsewhere in this area the wait time is 2 or 3-weeks... I rarely say no because a customer through my door is a customer for life, those are skills I've learned over the last 30 years, mostly not from this industry.

If you want to know the secret to keeping people happy ... LISTEN to them; if you want to know how I am keeping a 24-hour turnaround for service, I work, a lot. My background as a race mechanic and my personal work ethic drives me to be here at 6 and 7 in the morning and work until it's done, all the while taking in the next day's haul of repair and occasionally sitting down to rest my feet, drink some water or just relax.

I'd like to point out all those who have lived in fear of the Internet, losing a sale to REI or Walmart or whatever giant sporting goods retailer lives in your backyard... those places, like us, have sold bikes, as noted like Walmart, to the point of depletion, Yet here we all still are, surviving and actually doing quite well in most instances. I think we can all rest assured now, the big box stores and the Internet are not harming our business.

We should all focus on what we can control, that's what matters and that is what will get you through the good times and the bad. I don't turn people away and other shops for some reason or another have started sending people here, thank you by the way!

If I had employees it would be no different. I'd be paying them well and overtime if they wanted it, I'd be right here grinding alongside them, celebrating the victories big and small along the way. I also wouldn't force them to work if they didn't feel comfortable.

I imagine if you are open, you are busy. Think about making sure you are taking care of your employees, listening to their needs ... have you asked if they want to work more? Think about what could be accomplished in your turnaround time if you had two or three people willing to come in earlier or stay later... it'll cost you more but you'll also be able to do more and ultimately make more.

I know it won't be like this forever and I plan to work as much as I can, as long as I can to reap all the benefits this strange period in time is providing. I am tired but I am also paying the bills, saving money and looking forward to what the future brings.

Financial, Growth, Customer Base, Community Standing.

Stanfill is the president of the Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association and owner of Kyle Cyclery in Austin, Texas.


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