Bike shop races to the top
Fixed-gear bikes, service are specialty of Ferndale store
Ferndale — Jon Hughes, 28, has traveled all over the world racing bicycles and building bike racing tracks with his father in China, Sri Lanka, Qatar and Italy. So when he decided to settle down and open his own shop here, he hired fellow cycling enthusiasts but took a different, hands-on marketing approach than traditional stores.
He organized races on stationary rollers at hip bars. He hosted in-store cycling trick sessions. And he set up group cycling rides on FourSquare.com and posted YouTube videos of the activities on Facebook.
“My niche is to go after a market the others aren’t feasting over — we specialize in fixedgear bikes. We ride in all the rides. We’re visible,” said Hughes, who reports he generated $200,000 in sales last year and is projecting to more than double that amount this year. “We don’t hire anyone that doesn’t ride bikes. Everywhere.”
“I’m driven by my passion for bikes,” said Hughes. “I hope to share it, spread it, nurture it in a place that already feels like home.”
More than 38 million people ride bikes in the United States, according to Jay Townley, coowner of Gluskin Townley Group LLC, a leading bicycle consulting company that pegs the sales of the U.S. bicycle industry at $6 billion in 2010, up from $5.6 billion in 2009.
Bicycle boutiques with a niche, such as “fixties” or fixedgear bikes, are one of the fastest growing segments of the 4,200 specialty bike stores, he added.
Hughes is a third-generation cycle shop owner and enthusiast who rode his first two-wheeler at age 3 during the World Cycling Championships in Colorado Springs, Colo.
His grandfather, Mike Walden, owned numerous bike stores around Metro Detroit and coached Olympic hopefuls. His father, Dale Hughes, ran WaHu bike store in Rochester and built velodromes — bike racing tracks.
The young Hughes, who has a political science degree from Michigan State University, toyed with becoming a lawyer before becoming a head mechanic for a bike store and then joining the family shop trade. He decided to open a shop in April 2010 in Ferndale, where a culture of cycling runs strong.
Hughes projects his sales will increase to about $500,000 this year, aided by the increasing price of gas over the $4-a-gallon mark and the variety of bikes that are available for recreation and commuting. To do that, he needs to increase his visibility.
So weather willing, Hughes on Friday evening will lead a cycling group from Ferndale to downtown Detroit for the monthly Critical Mass, an assembly of 200 to 600 riders who fill up the streets along a 20-mile path. After the ride, he will challenge participants to pedal short sprints on rollers. He plans to record the event and post it online.
He aims to bring customers to the shop where Jamis, GT, Red Line, Torker and People bikes are displayed on a steel infrastructure that once supported the 1996 Olympic velodrome he and his father built for competition. He also sells a smattering of used bikes and assorted bike lights and locks, the most commonly purchased items.
Hughes understands that 73 percent of the bike units sell through mass merchant channels such as Costco and Wal- Mart. Like other shops surveyed by Gluskin/Townley for the National Bicycle Dealers Association, specialty bicycle retailers add customer services such as bike fitting, expert assembly and repair. Hughes offers to fix any bike or reassemble a department store model, helping sustain a relationship that leads to a sale or referral.
The Downtown Ferndale Bike Shop and other retailers can avail themselves of free lessons in business planning, posting on the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority’s website and the widespread promotions of the town as a regional mecca for restaurants and traffic-building activities.
“(Jon’s) father took cyclists to an ice cream parlor after a ride. He goes to bars,” said Christine Walden-Hughes, Jon’s mom and the communications manager for the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority. “But he doesn’t get any special treatment from the city on my account.”
Downtown Ferndale Bike Shop owner John Hughes works on a wheel in his shop. In addition to selling new and used bikes, the store offers full repair services.