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Reborn is born in Richland, Washington from Conte family DNA

Published December 23, 2020

A version of this article ran in the November issue of BRAIN.

RICHLAND, Wash. (BRAIN) — Charles Conte has the bike business in his family tree. His father Charles Sr. opened a small neighborhood shop in Newport News, Virginia, in 1957. Charles started working there at age 12, cleaning, servicing, and selling the shop's trade-ins.

The Conte's chain has grown to a 14-store East Coast powerhouse. It sells Specialized, Cannondale, and Orbea through shops in Virginia, Florida, and the DC Metro area under the current leadership of David Conte, Charles Jr.'s brother, and David's partner, Wayne Souza.

After 43 years in the family business, Charles and family moved to the tri-city area of Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco, Washington, in January 2020 to be closer to his kids' grandparents. Charles had a job lined up with a local non-profit that fell through. So he decided to open a bike shop.

With all those family connections with vendors, and Charles' continuing passion for the industry, sounds natural enough. The surprising part? The shop, christened Reborn after its primary purpose, sells almost all used, reconditioned bikes and almost no new product.

A big factor in rebirthing bikes rather than selling new was the local competition. "There are seven or eight really strong competitors in a market area of 400,000," Charles said. "There's a Trek concept store in town, an REI, top-notch Specialized, and Giant dealers. I wanted to address a completely different need here."

So in late February 2020, Conte leased a 2,000-square-foot space in a Richland retail center across the street from the Colombia River. He knew from experience that a huge parking lot, and as he put it, "one of the most beautiful bike and run trails along in the state" 1,000 yards from the store would pay dividends.

The store opened mid-pandemic in late May. He's tried to keep a broad mix of 200 bikes in stock. Conte is projecting sales volume of around 2,200 units for the year, with a total dollar volume of $625,000.

This with Conte and two other staff members, including 42-year industry veteran mechanic "Doctor" Tony Tran. "Tony went to Schwinn school in 1976, and he is such a valuable resource; he trains my other mechanics and the customers trust him like no other," Conte said.

More impressive than volume for a start-up is Reborn's average gross margin of 63%-70% on bikes. Conte described a typical transaction: "Someone brings in a Trek 720 hybrid. I show them Bicycle Blue Book that says it's worth between $90 and $120. I'll clean it, tune it and sell it for $390." Conte said the one-year warranty and 90-day "buyer's remorse" full-price exchange he offers help close sales.

The risk of buying possibly stolen bikes is a potential downside. "We're really careful," Conte said. "We require a form of government ID with a driver's license number. Sellers sign a statement that the bike is their property and free of all liens. Plus, I always pay by check, never cash.

"It's a careful conversation when you're buying a bike that may have emotional attachment for the owner. Bicycle Blue Book is a strong help because it validates a third-party standard."

Conte always seeks a win-win agreement. "We have a 4.9 rating on Yelp and Google, where people mention that I've been more than fair."

Conte sees buying and re-selling used bikes as a lasting trend. "It's really hard to track used sales, and they have clearly grown even more during the short supply of new product in the pandemic," Conte said. " Plus, REI is test-marketing the concept, so you know it's real."

Reborn also does strong service and repair business in addition to used accessory sales. "When I get a trade-in, there are often cool things on the bike like nicer pedals, computers or racks," Conte said. "I strip them down to their original state and each thing is priced and sold separately. People love buying pre-owned accessories."

Parts shortages during the pandemic have motivated Conte to strip down some of the bikes he buys to sell the parts. "We use every crumb," Conte said. "RapidFire, GripShift, six- and seven-speed, I have it pre-owned when other shops can't get them new."

Conte is working hard and loving it. "I own all my bikes, and I don't owe anyone a penny. I'm not signing any dealer agreements and my balance sheet looks great. 'How have you done so well,' people ask me. If you work 16 hours a day, you are bound to get lucky!"

When Conte decided to open a shop in Richland, his major concern was, "What makes me happy? I have so much love for the industry. Plus, this is my way to honor my father who gave me my start way back when. Every satisfied customer is my way to remember him and feel closer to him."

Topics associated with this article: From the Magazine

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