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Wheeling and dealing (or not) in the Kansas City retail scene

Published May 23, 2018

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (BRAIN) — In 25 BRAIN Dealer Tours, it's rare we've toured four such different stores on the same day with such diverse approaches and personalities as we did on Wednesday as we pedaled around the Overland Park and Lenexa area, south of Kansas City, Kansas.

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We rode only 27 miles, mostly through middle-class neighborhoods in full early-summer bloom. The demographics and terrain didn't vary much on our loop, but the atmosphere and business approaches in the stores showed every color in the rainbow. 

We first visited a very modern, attractive and energetic new store run by industry veteran Marco DeAngelis (Velo+, in Lenexa). Next we stopped by a lovely former Schwinn dealership, where a focus on families, service and careful, conservative business practices has kept the lights on for nearly 60 years (Turner's Cycling & Fitness in Overland Park).

After a BBQ lunch we hit Bike America, a large, scrappy operation whose co-owner, Nick Alberts, lives to bargain, wheel and deal with customers and suppliers, but who also thrives on seeing customer excitement about a new bike. Finally we stopped by Elite Cycling in Leawood, Kansas, an upscale Trek dealer that serves triathletes, roadies and, increasingly, gravel racers and riders.

Thursday is the third and final day of our Kansas City Dealer Tour, and we'll ride a total of nearly 50 miles, some of it on gravel roads, as we visit Frontier Bikes, in Eudora, and Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop, in Lawrence.

Watch for full reports in the June 15 issue of Bicycle Retailer. In the meantime, here are a few observations from our visits Wednesday.

Velo+

Velo+ was founded by Vincent Rodriguez almost five years ago, and started by offering locally roasted coffee along with bikes. Last year Rodriguez decided to focus on the coffee business (Maps Coffee Roasters) and sold the store to DeAngelis and two other partners. They moved the store to a new location and put the focus back on bikes.

Marco DeAngelis at Velo+

DeAngelis has worked at stores in the region for 20 years, but this is the first store he has owned, and he said his focus is on being welcoming, non-elitist and fun. The store motto is "Get lost on a bike."

Velo+ offers Kona, Salsa and Orbea and is one of the hubs of the very active gravel racing scene in the Kansas City area. Many of the store's customers will be racing in this year's Dirty Kanza 200 race, and the store will be out at the race supporting many of them.

DeAngelis is looking to round out the store's offerings, however, to build business in road and mountain bikes. The store offers a membership program to build community and loyalty. An $80 purchase of a store jersey includes a year's membership, which includes discounts, group rides and other fun. The store is building out a grassy backyard area as a customer hangout, offering tables, music, refreshments and more for pre- and post-ride relaxation.

Turner's Cycling & Fitness

Anyone who has been exposed to American bicycle retailing for more than a week could recognize Turner's Cycling & Fitness as a former Schwinn dealer from a block away. Inside, the store still includes some cabinets and other hints of the old Schwinn glory days, although it hasn't carried the brand since the mid-1990s.

Owner Charley Puhr said he regularly hears customers refer to his store as "the Schwinn place."

Puhr’s father started the business in 1960 in Mission, Kansas, and moved to Overland Park in 1974. Charley has worked at the store since 1970.

He said he began stocking Giant as soon as the brand hit the U.S. market, several years before Schwinn's bankruptcy. Now the store's inventory is about 90 percent from Giant.

"I carry as many kids bikes as I can, and I carry as many bikes in the $400-to-$700 range as I can," he said. "We'll stock up to the $3,000 bikes, but we focus on the fun stuff."

The Turner's crew, with owner Charley at left.

The store has several employees who've been there for decades, and Charley's son and daughter have each worked there, although he said he has encouraged them to get good educations (they each have master's degrees) and explore other career options.

Turner's is known for taking care of families, and offers free 30-day tuneups and free adjustments for two years on new bike sales. One thing Puhr won't do is bargain. He sets bike prices to hit the margin he needs, generally a bit above Giant's advertised prices, and won't dicker.

In the store's early days, customers would rarely ask for a discount, but he said it's now a regular occurrence and he rarely budges. If customers insist on the price on the Giant website, he tells them to order the bike from Giant and have it delivered to his store.

Bike America

Bike America has been around for 32 years and has two locations. The Overland Park store is giant — 27,000 square feet — with a full basement full of repair bikes and bargain used bikes and parts. Upstairs, the store stocks new bikes from Cannondale, Fuji, Haro, Niner and other brands, including TerraTrike recumbent tricycles.

Bike America's Nick Alberts

Bike America is not going to win any retail merchandising awards, and Nick Alberts, who owns the business 50/50 with his father, Jerome, cheerfully said his business approach has not been compatible with all the brands on the market. Bike America was a big Trek dealer for years, but parted ways with the Wisconsin brand several years ago.

"We do business differently, most people would say. I bend over backwards for my customers. And I also negotiate. I bargain. I do a lot of things that others don't do," he said.

That includes helping customers get the right bike that they can afford. It also means Bike America will work on any bike that comes in, including department store bikes.

"The important thing is to make the bike safe. Sometimes the repairs cost more than the bike did, and we make sure the customer knows that. But what are you going to do? We have to make sure they are riding a safe bike."

Alberts is still the store's lead salesman and he loves spending time on the sales floor. After 32 years, he doesn't expect to stop any time soon.

"I love it. I want to do my whole life here. I mean, you could be digging ditches. This is fun. You see the people coming in here — they are happy."

Unlike Charley Puhr, Albert loves to bargain, and seems disappointed when the customer doesn't ask for a discount. "You'd be surprised how people like to bargain. But sometimes they don't and I'll offer them something even if they don't ask. I'll throw in a free bottle and cage or an accessory discount. ... If I wasn't doing this, maybe I'd own a pawnshop," he said.

Elite Cycling

Elite Cycling's new manager, Scott Stevens, has been on the job for just a few months, after a career that has included management roles at Trek

Scott Stevens

stores and Scheels, the North Dakota-based sporting goods chain that is one of Trek's largest retailers. 

Elite is best known as a triathlon store, and still does about 40 percent of its business in that market. But increasingly the store serves the road and gravel market and as with many folks in the Kansas City cycling community, the Dirty Kanza is rarely far from Steven's thoughts these days.

The store holds clinics on the race for newbies and is supporting many customers who are headed out to the race on the first weekend in June. Stevens said many triathletes are giving gravel racing a try for variety and because they feel safer training and racing away from auto traffic. And although the DK is on everyone's lips this week, Stevens said there are now gravel races in the region almost every weekend during the season.

 

Topics associated with this article: BRAIN News, BRAIN Dealer Tour

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