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Davis shops coexist in tight-knit community

Published February 29, 2012

Editor's Note: Several BRAIN editors are on a dealer tour of Davis and Sacamento, California, this week. Today's report is on their tour of shops in Davis.

DAVIS, CA (BRAIN)—With five shops within walking distance of one another, the question we asked most of the owners was how do they manage to survive in bike-friendly Davis. The answer: each store serves a different type of customer—the family, the student, the triathlete, the commuter, the skier/snowboarder and mountain biker, the enthusiast and the recreational rider. They also distinguish their stores with their product and brand mix.

Here’s a brief overview of each:

B&L Bike Shop
Despite entry level pricing and its close proximity to the University of California at Davis campus, Beth Annon-Lovering says student sales are only important for one week out of the year: the week dorms open in September.

“There are lots of parents with credit cards around that week, so yes, it’s good business,” said Annon-Lovering, B&L Bike Shop’s manager. “But the rest of the year we service local customers. We’re a family shop.”

That said, the shop moves about 800 to 900 Wald baskets a year, and its fender sales are equally impressive. A little over a year ago, B&L expanded next door with a 700-square-foot clothing shop. B&L sold little apparel previously.

“It’s carpeted with big clean changing rooms, and women are our biggest customers. We’ve been open just long enough that they are beginning to shop it like they would any clothing store, stopping in once a month to see what’s new,” she said.

When gas prices peaked in 2008 Annon-Lovering said her service business took off as people pulled old bikes out of the garage. Those people are still riding those old bikes, so she is uncertain how rising gas prices will impact her business his year, but she is optimistic.

Davis Wheelworks
Owner Joe Santos is a bike fitter to the U.S. Olympic tri team and some of the world’s top triathletes. So it should come as no surprise that his store, which counts Cervélo, BMC and Felt as its core brands, owns the elite and road market in Davis.

How many shops stock four different brands of TT helmets and offer in-store modifications to make them faster and fit better?

Even demo rides start on a trainer. The sales staff—most are F.I.S.T. certified—can fit the rider to the demo before it leaves the store. “We offer a lifetime fit warranty on every bike we sell. If a customer gets injured or becomes less limber, we will continue to fit them on any bike of ours they have,” said Chris Townzen, Davis Wheelworks’ manager.

The shop’s price point starts at $800 and goes up to well over $10,000. And while its custom approach to fit suggests bare frame builds, it prefers to start with a complete bike. “Most bikes go out of here with a different saddle, and many with a different wheelset than they came with. But buying a complete bike is still so much cheaper than building up a bare frame,” Townzen said.

It’s also one of the only shops to receive certification from Cervélo to retrofit its frames for Shimano Di2. “Our mechanics have been trained where to drill holes into the frame and how to run internal cables and Cervélo still provides its same new frame warranties. Di2 is popular on TT frames, but you have to get the wires internal,” he added.

Freewheeler Bicycle Center
Jeff and Kevin Hein are the lead cyclists in the second of three generations of Hein family members who call Freewheeler Bicycle Center in downtown Davis, California, home. Their father, Frank, now in his 70s and who opened the store in 1975, still handles orders and operations, Jeff and Kevin, his sons, manage day-to-day business, and several of Jeff’s children help out part-time.

“It’s really the only job I’ve ever had,” said Jeff. Kevin graduated from law school, but called it quits. “I went to law school and I practiced for a few years, but I still worked here on Sundays. You know you’re in the wrong business when you spend time thinking about working in the store on a Sunday,” he quipped.

The original Freewheeler sported red shag carpeting and wood paneling when it first opened. But since then the Hein family has expanded the store’s footprint, redesigned the service bay and sales floor, and turned it into a merchandising gem.

Trek and Giant bikes are well displayed with no clutter and clear signage. “Trek has been a tremendous partner after we picked them up in 1995,” said Jeff. “They’ve made my job so much easier,” he added.

Despite the deep recession that’s plagued most of America the last three years, the Heins have done well thanks, in part, to nearby UC Davis, the store’s deep ties to local families including university staff and faculty, as well as the annual influx of new students every September. And the brothers predict this will be another strong year, especially if gas prices continue to rise and stay above $4 per gallon.

Bike Barn
Service and repairs are at the bread-and-butter of Bike Barn, a shop owned by the Associated Students and at the center of the UC Davis campus. General manager Robert St. Cyr estimates that it handles 10,000 repairs a year.

“We work on anything and everyone who works here is a student and started by fixing flats,” said St. Cyr. “We focus on meeting the cycling needs of the college community—students and faculty.”

His biggest challenge is finding parts. Students often bring in old bikes owned by their parents that have been sitting in the garage—many dating to the late 70s and early 80s—to be overhauled to use as commuter bikes.

Though the shop started as a repair facility in 1971, it began selling used and reconditioned bikes 13 years ago. Six years ago it brought in new bikes by Sun bicycles. It also stocks Biria, Masi and Haro and carries a wide selection of wheels, locks, jackets, gloves, helmets and pumps. Now it’s teaming up with Giant on a program that will allow students to pre-order their bikes online before the start of the school year.

Bike Barn also runs a second “Bike Garage” on campus where faculty, staff and students can borrow tools and work benches to wrench on their own bikes, and is preparing for the opening of a third location on campus in April that will only sell accessories. The store has a fleet of 200 bikes that it rents out, mostly to foreign students from Japan, Europe and South America.

“I price everything like any other bike shop and have sales like other stores do,” said St. Cyr. “We’ve got one foot in the bike collective circle and one in retail. We run mostly a break-even model, and any profit goes back to the student association.”

Ken’s Bike-Ski-Board
Ken’s Bike-Ski-Board got what Joe Pickens, the store’s manager, described as a backhanded slap from Mother Nature this winter. “Lack of snow in the Sierras has put a dent in our ski rental business big time,” said Pickens, who has been at Ken’s for 15 years. Still, sales of bikes and accessories in January were excellent thanks, in part, to customers coming in to buy high-end carbon fiber road bikes by Specialized.

Ken’s is the only Specialized dealer in Davis and the brand makes a difference. And the store is the local leader in mountain bike sales and service. “We do well with mountain bikes and having Specialized in the store doesn’t hurt,” Pickens said.

Pickens, also an avid skier and snowboarder, said ski rentals are an important segment of the store’s business. And as the only ski shop in the area, it’s a haven for rentals and boot fitting.

Patrick Steggall, a sales rep at the store, said Ken’s would typically have four boot fitters at work during the heart of the ski season. “We will have days when our boot fitters will have people waiting for a half-hour for a fitting,” he said.

Several months of ski rentals, particularly during the holidays and three-day weekends from December through February can net enough cash to more than cover four months of the store’s annual rent, Pickens said.

But despite this year’s downturn in ski and snowboard sales, Ken’s, like other Davis stores, depend on local families and university students for their ongoing success. “It’s been a very mild winter, so we’re up a bit with our bike sales,” he said, noting that with three downtown stores nearby “some people shop every store before they buy.”

—By BRAIN staff

Topics associated with this article: BRAIN News

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