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Events drive Rocktown Bicycles' success, owner says

Published February 4, 2020

HARRISONBURG, Va. (BRAIN) — There are many ways to end up owning a bike shop. Ken Bell started Rocktown Bicycles in 2013 after a successful career as a video producer and owner of a trade show display company. "I'd always wanted to own a shop," Bell said. "Decades of racing definitely fueled my passion for it."

Because of Bell's experience in the business world in general and events and visual arts specifically, he took a different approach to the standard "open a shop" process of focusing on product lines.

"Learning to deal with the business back-end slows other shop owners down," said Bell. "I came in really comfortable with balance sheets, P&L, QuickBooks, which makes it easier to make money in this tough business."

In a two-horse college town of 50,000, (Rocktown is the Specialized dealer, Shenandoah Bicycle three blocks away carries Trek), Bell started off with the look and feel of the shop as his number-one priority.

"Having my sister company produce high-quality signage and banners was a huge step toward giving the shop a welcoming, upscale look," Bell noted. "I think we have a better-looking and more effective website too, which comes from my experience with the trade show company, which is pretty much all online."

Bell had already been producing a cyclocross race before the shop opened. He quickly followed suit with wintertime Roller-Rama races at a local brewery in the Winter. And he's holding the first-ever Rocktown Rambler gravel race in May.

"We got the roller races going in our first or second year," Bell recalls. "They're held at the Three Notch brewery a block from the bike shop. We don't have to provide refreshments, we don't have to pay for the space, we bring 150 thirsty people and the bartenders make great tips!"

Starting events and helping them grow takes patience, Bell told us. "For years, our events lost money, but I justified the cost as a marketing expense. We do however expect to make a profit on all of our events this year even after accounting for our time to produce each event."

Bell's tip for shops looking to do events: "Hiring a photographer to shoot your events is super-important. If you market events well, you'll see social media explosions that make it all worth the effort."

In summary, Bell is both happy about owning a bike shop and not sure he would do it all over again. "Bike retail is both really hard and a realization of my dream," concluded Bell. "The best part, I have top level mechanics working on my personal bikes!"


 Rocktown Bicycles manager Kelly Paduch going all out at Roller-Rama.

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