Bike shop races to the top

Fixed-gear bikes, ser­vice are spe­cialty of Fern­dale store

The Detroit News - - Business - BY MAU­REEN MCDON­ALD

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 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.”

Ri­cardo Thomas / The Detroit News

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.

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