Interview with Kevin Wallace Founder of Gears Bike Shops
Founder of Gears Bike Shop
From “the Shack” to four prominent Greater Toronto Area, Ont. stores, what has changed and what has remained the same between 1988 to 2017 for Gears?
Kevin Wallace: I opened Gears with my mother Betty’s support in 1988. The original shack had dirt floors beneath the bike storage, little to no heat in the winter, no plumbing and totalled 800 square feet. It was just big enough for myself and one or two employees to service bikes.
My business partner, Ira Kargel, joined me two years after opening. My mother’s cancer took over in 1993, when she passed, but by that time, Ira had taken on the responsibility of the bookkeeping, while also spending time with me on the retail floor. Those years were the foundation of what Gears is today.
Twenty-eight years later, the combined space of our stores is 50,000 square feet, with our Oakville, Ont. store being the largest at 23,000 square feet. We employ 30 year-round employees, which grows to 60 when the season is in full swing. We have certainly survived through a great deal of change over the past 30 years, but believe our values have remained the same. We opened Gears to create a happy, respectful, fun family environment and are surrounded by an abundance of amazing product associated with an incredible group of talented professional staff. It’s all about people, and we know that if our staff is happy, this translates into strong customer relationships
Tell us a little of your enduring partnership with Ira and how it has evolved within the operation of Gears?
KW: Ira and I are two entirely different people with the same values and a great deal of respect for each other. Maybe that’s why our unique partnership has lasted for 26 years. Ira manages most of the daily operations, which allows me to consider next steps and future opportunities for Gears. We are both very grateful that a very unique and intelligent management team surrounds us. We are also very fortunate to have established strong marriages in our personal lives and were lucky enough to meet our spouses Kate and Mitch through the shop
You have seen the bicycle world change over these past three decades. Does the innovation continue to surprise you?
KW: Gears has been around long enough to witness two large transformations in the bike industry. The first was mountain bikes in the early 1980’s to late 1990’s. In 1996, the mountain-bike scene began to wane and we began to introduce road and triathlon bikes while continuing to service the regular recreational family needs of the community. The boom of road bikes began, fuelled by Trek’s alignment with Lance Armstrong. Gears was primarily a Specialized dealer, and it wasn’t long before all the other brands caught up. Now we’re seeing e-bikes on the verge of a third transformation.
RAAM 2006 in 10 days – there has to be one special memory from that special feat. KW: As I reflect on that race, it was certainly a special 10 days. It was anything but a solo ride, going non-stop, 5,000 kilometres in 10 days, three hours, 57 minutes (an average of 500 kilometres a day with 10 hours of sleep for the entire ride). I could not have achieved that without an amazing 12-person support team and the community back home. I am most proud of the $250,000 we raised for the Betty Wallace Women’s Health Centre. I drew great strength from people sharing their personal stories with us during the ride. RAAM was as humbling as much of life can be, and the secret is to just keep pedaling or, as in life, to simply keep moving forward.
With four kids, has it been tough to balance your work and home life?
KW: Haha. Yes, four kids and a beautiful positive wife, wanting everyone to be happy and balancing it with bicycle retail. Great question.
My survival strategy is to try to keep my schedule clear to be available for staff and my family and to take it ONE day at a time! I have to trust that there is a greater plan for us and “To let go of the life that I planned, to live the life that was meant for us.” – a Joseph Campbell quote that has help me navigate through many of life’s challenges.
There have been hundreds of riders who have donned a Gears jersey in both road and MTB. How satisfying is it to have helped so many young racers over the years?
KW: We have been blessed to support bike racing at a very high level for many years. At one time, Gears-sponsored riders made up 60% of the National mountain-bike team. Many of the racers who compete today on the different Pro circuits have all been directly associated or supported by Gears racing program in one way or another. None of it would have happened though without generous
people like Mark Bonham or Paul Devries. These guys each gave millions of dollars to our sport, and it was all because they had huge hearts and lots of passion.
The charities and different causes that your stores have helped from your inception is truly an inspiration. How are you able to facilitate all of these requests?
KW: We are very proud to have raised $5 million over the years which founded the Betty Wallace Women’s Health Centre at Trillium Hospital. We are always conscious of the need to give back, and we never stop donating to schools, sports associations, communities and mental-health programs.
We partnered with Morning Glory Cycling Club five years ago to refurbish bikes and get them in the hands of less fortunate locals of various ages. This is a program that is very inspiring for us because it is directly related to our business. We feel it makes a difference.
Spinning has always been a mainstay at Gears. Captive audience, mentoring, training, advice – why has this concept and studio done so well?
KW: Three of our four stores have an indoor winter-training experience. The best part of our spinning program is that we get to stay connected with our core customer and keep the energy levels up during the slow winter months.
Gears has continued to expand, innovate and excel in a difficult market. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
KW: Myself, I’ll likely be involved with bikes associated with some kind of technology, as mobility combined with technology is definitely the future. Europe has experienced year-over-year double-digit growth. It will not surprise us if electric becomes the largest growth segment of our industry.
We recently launched our new online webstore www.gearsbikeshop.com in response to a growing availability of online bicycles, cycling-related products and services. In two years, we have seen that segment of our business grow very positively.
We are also very inspired by investing in a better service experience and are currently creating a bicycle-service model that will provide service to everyone in the GTA. Our “vision statement” is to create a bike shop and community that makes cycling accessible to all Canadians.
Gears Bike Shop in Port Credit, Ont. Kevin Wallace was a mere 18 years of age when he jumped into the bicycle retail world. From a small shack of a store in 1988 to four present-day locations, Gears Bike Shops have become a trusted household name in the GTA.
Pedal Magazine’s Tim Lefebvre caught up with
Wallace to find out more about the man behind the Gears logo.
Gears founder Kevin Wallace:
man on a mission at RAAM
Gears and Morning Glory Cycling Club bike giveaway.
The original Gears “shack” in 1988