Bike shops on the move

July 2, 2015

Sarah Braker, communications manager

Inside the Velofix mobile shop. (Image: VeloFix)

Getting your bike fixed can be a hassle. You have to drive it to the shop, wait a few days to get it back, and be bike-less during that time. It’s even harder if you have multiple bikes and no easy way to transport them. The bike repair status quo can lead to a lot of frustration. Or it can lead to a career. Pete Buhl of Beeline Bikes¬†and Chris Guillemet of VeloFix channeled their annoyance into entrepreneurship?they each started a mobile bike shop.

Making a mobile bike shop work is a lot more complicated than throwing some tools, parts and bike stands into a van. “How do you have supplies to solve 100% of what you see? How do you optimize the inventory? How do you build a technology platform for scheduling, routing and dispatch?” These are just some of the questions Buhl needed to answer before getting Beeline Bikes up and running in Northern California.

In addition to focusing on systems to solve similar challenges, Guillemet of Vancouver’s VeloFix ran into another issue. “None of the suppliers would sell to us because we weren’t brick and mortar,” he explains, “it took some time to convince them that we were legitimate.” Beeline Bikes brought on a technology expert to help with logistics and VeloFix operated for a year and a half before they started franchising.

Beeline Bikes on a house call. (Image: Beeline Bikes)

Most people choose to take care of other responsibilities, at home or at work, while their bikes are being fixed, but not everyone. “Twenty to thirty percent of customers like to hang out and talk to the mechanic while their bike is being serviced,” Buhl explains, “It’s like having your own personal bike consultant.” Guillemet says that the VeloFix vans are hubs of activity at every stop. “We park and all of a sudden the whole neighborhood is there. The kids come by and the van creates a party atmosphere.” Building a personal relationship also benefits the mechanics. Buhl says that on two occasions Beeline Bikes was called by families who had eight bikes that needed work. “Our mechanic was there all day,” he says, “and in both cases the family fed the mechanic dinner.”

Another benefit of mobile shops is that they can attract customers who might avoid bike shops because of distance or intimidation. “We’re providing access,” Buhl says, “there’s lots of areas where there are no bike shops and we’ve had large numbers of customers from those areas.” Guillemet agrees. “There were a lot of people that weren’t riding because their bike needed a tube change or air in the tire and they were too embarrassed or intimidated to go into a bike shop.” In these cases, having the shop come to them, in a space where they’re comfortable, creates a better dynamic. Both say their customers run the gamut, from bike racers to commuters to families that just need a bunch of new tubes to get back to their weekend riding.

Beeline Bikes and VeloFix have seen great success and both are expanding. Though the two founders of these mobile shops had some challenges at the start, they’re both excited and optimistic about the future. After all, if you spend less time waiting for your bike to get fixed you’re likely to spend more time riding it. While there’s no replacing the shopping experience and rich community a traditional bike shop provides, these mobile bike shops are proving there’s still room for new business models.

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