The bike biz is as it always has been – fun, but littered with broken dreams. Every year many shops start, many fail, and the rest struggle along in an often crowded market where no one makes much money. Many mainstream bike shops still avoid recumbents, citing the complexity of the product and wide-ranging peculiarity of the clientele. But this complexity insulates ‘bent specialists from the competition with online sales and the “commoditization of the product.” Yes, you can often buy popular parts and accessories from England for less than I pay my distributors for them. I’ll bet some of you already do. Fortunately for me, it takes some creativity to get some stuff to work on these wacky frames. So the geeky recumbent specialist remains more essential than the iconic bike shop bro’.
I’ll grant that Easy Street and I had it fairly easy for a while. 1996 – 2007, the really early years, was a lot of sleepy part-time dilettantism. 2008-2015 saw steady growth of sales and paid down a big chunk of my mortgage on my tiny central Austin house. I’ve seen other regional ‘bent specialists come and go. But since 2016 the Texas market has become more crowded. One recent competitor flared and waned, but three other specialists now operate in Texas. Some of these are better built to survive than others, but that depends on how quickly they adapt, or can adapt, to realities of space, staff, and inventory. The same goes for me. I’ve had to run leaner this year, reduce space, squeeze staff, and spend more time in the trenches than, say, writing newsletters, if you hadn’t noticed.
Some years back I took some personality assessment for managers, which clarified something I already knew. I’m not a leader type with a defined vision and a ruthless will to realize it. I’m more inclined to develop those around me while cementing their loyalty through nurture. This is how I managed to spawn the Fort Worth shop and set Micah working on a long leash. Micah started with strong technical skills and enthusiasm for the product, greater than mine, and is growing his organizational skills. My Austin sales manager, Ron Blackman, whom many of you now know, came in with a good grasp of, and background in, retail management, but only passing involvement with the product. Now he sounds increasingly like the recumbent wizard that a shop needs to anchor its bona fides.
The long term goal is a mutually-supporting network of experts levering the buying power of several local and regional markets to keep product and support in reasonable range of more Texans. Shops will be no bigger or lavish than they need, and product selection will stay focused. It is hard to say how long this process will take. Opening the Fort Worth store took more out of my spiritual and financial marrow than I let on. I still have more experience than the people I work with, but I don’t expect that to last. This isn’t “Mike’s Trikes,” after all, but Easy Street, a brand that represents stable consistent service, built to last.