Interview with Kevin Wallace Founder of Gears Bike Shops

Founder of Gears Bike Shop

Pedal Magazine - - Contents - by Tim Le­feb­vre

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.gears­ 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

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