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Successful Kansas retailer to shutter by the end of the year

Published November 6, 2015

MANHATTAN, Kan. (BRAIN) — Big Poppi Bicycle Company owners Aaron Apel and Jeff Koenig have announced plans to close the store at the end of December. After serving Manhattan and surrounding rural communities for seven years, the partners decided it was time to switch gears.

"Retailers often get forced out financially, but that's not the case with Big Poppi. It was a seven-year success story," said Koenig, who also works as a small-business consultant and sits on the NBDA board of directors. "Hopefully our successful history can be used to the benefit of other small-business owners, in the bike and other industries."

Apel and Koenig considered selling the store and had several parties interested in purchasing the business. "But we just couldn't find the right fit, and we weren't willing to sell it to just anyone," Koenig said.

Big Poppi opened in 2009 as a full-service, full-line store that catered to new cyclists. It currently sells Fuji, Scott, Cannondale, Liv and Giant. Apel's wife, Melanie, was one of the first Liv ambassadors and has worked to build a sizable female clientele through clinics and other women's events.

Koenig said Big Poppi spent around $300,000 over the years marketing to non-enthusiasts and beginners in order to build the cycling communities in the 10 counties the shop serves.

"We've sold a lot of bikes and gotten people passionate about cycling," said Apel, who ran the business day-to-day. "We've helped people graduate from big-box bikes to shop-quality products and have gotten them into a new lifestyle."

Apel said he and his wife plan to stay in Manhattan and that he hopes to continue his work with area land managers to develop safe cycling infrastructure and trails on public land.

"I'm ready for a new direction and to have more time to dig deeper into trail development here," he said. "We're a little behind the times in Manhattan from a trail standpoint, and if someone doesn't step up now we might lose what we have developed."

Koenig said he also hopes to stay involved in the industry and will continue his work as a business consultant and with the National Small Business Association.

Big Poppi's closure will leave the town of Manahattan without a dedicated bike shop. However, specialty outdoor retailer The Pathfinder, which was recently acquired by St. Louis, Missouri-based Alpine Shop, has a bike department and carries Specialized and Salsa. But the news that Big Poppi is closing isn't going over well with the cycling community Big Poppi has cultivated over the years.

"We've had a lot of people coming in here in tears," Koenig said. "They're saying they don't want to shop anywhere else."

Big Poppi consistently employed about 12 people, many of them college students. Apel said that the decision to close the store was well thought out and coincided with the season's slowing in order to minimize impacts on staff.

"We waited for the timing to be right. Part of the way we made the decision was based on some natural attrition. We were in a place where we wouldn't affect too many employees," he said.

"In the end, everyone will land on their feet and this may push a couple of our guys to venture out on their own with a service-only shop. I'm excited to see what comes of that," Apel added.

Big Poppi has liquidated the majority of its inventory but will remain open for service and special order through the end of the year.

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