Author Topic: Does anybody here work in the bike industry? Need some career advice.  (Read 3826 times)

ROY2007

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I'm strongly considering a big career change. I'm 26 and I work as an analyst at a small bank making $46k a year. My wife is a school teacher making about $40k a year. I've also worked at a local sporting goods store/bike shop for the past year on nights and weekends. The owner of the store would like to bring me on full time to run the bike shop. The current bike shop manager will be retiring soon. I think that I would do well in this role and I think it sounds like a lot of fun, but I'm a little nervous. I don't have any experience as a bike mechanic. I have fiddled with my own bikes for the past two years, went through the Trek training program (emphasis more on selling and features and benefits of new products), watched hours of YouTube videos, read books on bike repair, and even took a class through a different local bike shop. I'm still not completely confident with the mechanic side of things.

The offer from the LBS:
$19/hr plus 10% commission on bike and accessory sales (Bike sales were approximately $50k last year, but were over $100k just a few years ago)

The sporting goods store/bike shop:
- In business for 30+ years in a smaller town
- Currently two stores, but one store will be closing soon (the newer store opened about 15 months ago and has not done well)
- The bike shop sells Trek bikes exclusively

Personal financial situation:

Assets
Home: $190k
401ks and IRAs: $79k
Taxable Investments: $6k
Cash: $5k

Total Assets: $280k

Liabilities
Mortgage: $130k

Net Worth: $150k

Any advice would be appreciated. I feel like I could grow the bike shop into something really special (or get great experience for opening my own shop in a few years) and make money doing something I love.
« Last Edit: November 24, 2015, 12:14:37 PM by ROY2007 »

ROY2007

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Re: Does anybody here work in the bike industry? Need some career advice.
« Reply #1 on: November 24, 2015, 01:17:53 PM »
What would your role be as the manager of the bike shop?  Would you really need to be an expert mechanic or just be able to manage the mechanics?  Is most of the sales based on selling bikes or repairing bikes?  Does the team already have an expert mechanic that can be the technical manager and you just would need to handle the business side? 

Thanks for your response. It's a really small operation so I would be doing all the sales and service and everything in between. I wouldn't be managing any mechanics or sales people.

frugaliknowit

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Re: Does anybody here work in the bike industry? Need some career advice.
« Reply #2 on: November 24, 2015, 01:37:22 PM »
I have a number of concerns:

1.  I don't have any experience as a bike mechanic.  If YOU are expected to actually do all repairs, you will have a problem being a production mechanic, I would think.  My guess is you need to shadow a mechanic, starting out with flats and cable changes, then get into more complex problem solving. 

2.  Bike sales were approximately $50k last year, but were over $100k just a few years ago.  So sales are on the down...hmmmm.

3.  Personal financial situation:  Cash: $5k.  This is not an appropriate amount for someone making a career change.

4.  I feel like I could grow the bike shop into something really special (or get great experience for opening my own shop in a few years) and make money doing something I love.  How would you do this?

ROY2007

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Re: Does anybody here work in the bike industry? Need some career advice.
« Reply #3 on: November 24, 2015, 01:58:12 PM »
I have a number of concerns:

1.  I don't have any experience as a bike mechanic.  If YOU are expected to actually do all repairs, you will have a problem being a production mechanic, I would think.  My guess is you need to shadow a mechanic, starting out with flats and cable changes, then get into more complex problem solving.


You're right, I do need to shadow a mechanic and take more classes. I think the retiring mechanic would be willing to come in from time to time to help with more complex fixes. I feel comfortable changing flats, putting on new chains, adjusting derailleurs, and I have changed cables before. From what I understand, these make up about 80% of the service requests that come into the shop.
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2.  Bike sales were approximately $50k last year, but were over $100k just a few years ago.  So sales are on the down...hmmmm.

Correct. The retiring bike shop manager has been coasting and there has been little to no effort to market or promote the shop over the last few years.
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3.  Personal financial situation:  Cash: $5k.  This is not an appropriate amount for someone making a career change.

It's not a ton, but I'm not jumping into a straight commission job. Our savings rate is a little better than 50% and my wife is fully supportive of the change.

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4.  I feel like I could grow the bike shop into something really special (or get great experience for opening my own shop in a few years) and make money doing something I love.  How would you do this?

As I mentioned there has been almost no effort to market the bike shop over the last few years. I feel that with some marketing and promotion within in the community along with outstanding customer service that I could really bring the bike shop back to where it once was and beyond. The sporting goods store already has a great reputation in the community and people just need to be reminded that the bike shop is there to help as well (and that the grouchy mechanic has retired).

monstermonster

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Re: Does anybody here work in the bike industry? Need some career advice.
« Reply #4 on: November 24, 2015, 04:50:00 PM »
I've worked in the bike industry (non-profit shop and bike advocacy) for 10 years.

I would NEVER advise you jump into the bike industry from a stable job. The industry is very volatile and deeply un-professionalized*. You have to deal with losing low-paid, talented mechanics all the time and trying to on-board them again. There's little opportunity for advancement, especially in a small town with a limited market. The average bike shop manager, according to a recent survey in an industry magazine (it's taped on our lunchroom bulletin board), makes $32K annually. Many many many bike shops are a losing money side project for passionate, otherwise wealthy men.**

A $46K bank job is likely going to pay off a lot better if you're shooting for FIRE, even if the salaries look similar right now.

If you do go for the job, make sure you go to UBI or something similar for the shop mechanic course to build your confidence. I'm passionate about bikes (obviously) but I don't think this is a good career move.

*the unprofessionalization of the industry is one of the big reasons that women are alienated from cycling in general IMNSHO, but that's a different rant
**gender specific for intentional reasons, based on industry standards

robartsd

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Re: Does anybody here work in the bike industry? Need some career advice.
« Reply #5 on: November 24, 2015, 05:10:02 PM »
*the unprofessionalization of the industry is one of the big reasons that women are alienated from cycling in general IMNSHO, but that's a different rant
One could read this as an opportunity rather than a liability - build a reputation as the helpful professional bike shop and become an advocate for family cycling.

If you're certain that you will enjoy this career MUCH more than your current one, it might be a reasonable lifestyle choice, but unless you hit it out of the park with making your town a family cycling hub with your shop at the center, you'll probably be stunting your financial progress slightly.

GordonCopestake

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Re: Does anybody here work in the bike industry? Need some career advice.
« Reply #6 on: November 25, 2015, 02:44:26 AM »
Ask your bank to go part time 3 or 4 days a week then work the shop the other day(s). You can then make your mind up either way.

Personally I would just go for it if you enjoy working with bikes as doing something you enjoy is worth a lot of cash IMO

ROY2007

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Re: Does anybody here work in the bike industry? Need some career advice.
« Reply #7 on: November 25, 2015, 07:57:25 AM »
I've worked in the bike industry (non-profit shop and bike advocacy) for 10 years.

I would NEVER advise you jump into the bike industry from a stable job. The industry is very volatile and deeply un-professionalized*. You have to deal with losing low-paid, talented mechanics all the time and trying to on-board them again. There's little opportunity for advancement, especially in a small town with a limited market. The average bike shop manager, according to a recent survey in an industry magazine (it's taped on our lunchroom bulletin board), makes $32K annually. Many many many bike shops are a losing money side project for passionate, otherwise wealthy men.**

A $46K bank job is likely going to pay off a lot better if you're shooting for FIRE, even if the salaries look similar right now.

If you do go for the job, make sure you go to UBI or something similar for the shop mechanic course to build your confidence. I'm passionate about bikes (obviously) but I don't think this is a good career move.

*the unprofessionalization of the industry is one of the big reasons that women are alienated from cycling in general IMNSHO, but that's a different rant
**gender specific for intentional reasons, based on industry standards

Thanks for your perspective. I think you're right that the bank job may seem to have a better future payoff, but I'm not sure if I can endure an office job for another 10 or so years. I would be ok with pushing out my FIRE date if it means doing work I enjoy. I would eventually like to go take some classes at UBI or Barnett.

monstermonster

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Re: Does anybody here work in the bike industry? Need some career advice.
« Reply #8 on: November 25, 2015, 08:50:20 AM »
*the unprofessionalization of the industry is one of the big reasons that women are alienated from cycling in general IMNSHO, but that's a different rant
One could read this as an opportunity rather than a liability - build a reputation as the helpful professional bike shop and become an advocate for family cycling.

Oh I definitely agree! However, in a smaller town, there might be a limited market that just a shop alone can't make happen- might also need to policy & encouragement on the city level to build a family cycling culture.

I have a good friend who jumped into building up a women-specific bike shop, which has found great success. But that's in a large city that can support over 40+ bike shops because of a high cycling rate.

ROY2007

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Re: Does anybody here work in the bike industry? Need some career advice.
« Reply #9 on: November 25, 2015, 09:36:34 AM »
Ask your bank to go part time 3 or 4 days a week then work the shop the other day(s). You can then make your mind up either way.

I like this idea a lot and I've thought about proposing it. I'm not sure if they'd go for it or not, but it would be a nice way to ease into the transition.

monstermonster

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Re: Does anybody here work in the bike industry? Need some career advice.
« Reply #10 on: November 25, 2015, 09:47:22 AM »
I've worked in the bike industry (non-profit shop and bike advocacy) for 10 years.

I would NEVER advise you jump into the bike industry from a stable job. The industry is very volatile and deeply un-professionalized*. You have to deal with losing low-paid, talented mechanics all the time and trying to on-board them again. There's little opportunity for advancement, especially in a small town with a limited market. The average bike shop manager, according to a recent survey in an industry magazine (it's taped on our lunchroom bulletin board), makes $32K annually. Many many many bike shops are a losing money side project for passionate, otherwise wealthy men.**

A $46K bank job is likely going to pay off a lot better if you're shooting for FIRE, even if the salaries look similar right now.

If you do go for the job, make sure you go to UBI or something similar for the shop mechanic course to build your confidence. I'm passionate about bikes (obviously) but I don't think this is a good career move.

*the unprofessionalization of the industry is one of the big reasons that women are alienated from cycling in general IMNSHO, but that's a different rant
**gender specific for intentional reasons, based on industry standards

Thanks for your perspective. I think you're right that the bank job may seem to have a better future payoff, but I'm not sure if I can endure an office job for another 10 or so years. I would be ok with pushing out my FIRE date if it means doing work I enjoy. I would eventually like to go take some classes at UBI or Barnett.

I'd also remind you to consider the physical toll a bike shop job takes - you're going be on your feet 8-12 hours/day most days and working with your hands. Lifting bikes to and from the stand. I am SO HAPPY I can sit down in my back-office job now after years of working customer service and mechanical trades. If you like working with your hands, there's far better paying and more secure jobs than bike shops (car mechanic, HVAC) and if you like being active and bikey there's more secure and profitable jobs than bike shop management (leading cycle tour companies). Just remember if you want to escape an "office job" remember the grass is always greener - and working class jobs are often much harder on your body and health and rarely come with benefits. Customer service means always working weekends and evenings.

ROY2007

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Re: Does anybody here work in the bike industry? Need some career advice.
« Reply #11 on: November 25, 2015, 09:59:49 AM »
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I'd also remind you to consider the physical toll a bike shop job takes - you're going be on your feet 8-12 hours/day most days and working with your hands. Lifting bikes to and from the stand. I am SO HAPPY I can sit down in my back-office job now after years of working customer service and mechanical trades. If you like working with your hands, there's far better paying and more secure jobs than bike shops (car mechanic, HVAC) and if you like being active and bikey there's more secure and profitable jobs than bike shop management (leading cycle tour companies). Just remember if you want to escape an "office job" remember the grass is always greener - and working class jobs are often much harder on your body and health and rarely come with benefits. Customer service means always working weekends and evenings.

Very valid points, thanks for your input.

kendallf

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Re: Does anybody here work in the bike industry? Need some career advice.
« Reply #12 on: November 25, 2015, 10:30:29 AM »
I have several friends who own or manage in bike shops.  In almost every instance, they have spouses with steady jobs or they'd be living under a bridge. 

One friend is a passionate bike racer and master mechanic who has worked in bike shops for over 20 years.  He bought out an established shop where he'd been the manager and ran his own business for about 10 years, basically in a steady decline until he declared bankruptcy earlier this year.  He was great on cycling knowledge, bad on marketing, finance and managing inventory.

Another friend worked for several shops and opened a franchise shop of his own about 4 years ago.  He's doing excellently by LBS standards; he's a super friendly people person sort of guy, has a couple of excellent employees, and I think he'll succeed long term.  However, he didn't even pay himself a salary the first year or two he was open; his wife has a good paying job and basically pays the household expenses.

Two or three more manage or work at local shops; they're making ends meet at best.  As noted above, it's a business people enter out of passion, not focused on the bottom line.  You gotta pay the guy who takes out your garbage, nobody does that because they love it...

ROY2007

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Re: Does anybody here work in the bike industry? Need some career advice.
« Reply #13 on: November 25, 2015, 12:27:00 PM »
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He was great on cycling knowledge, bad on marketing, finance and managing inventory.

I feel like this is the story for a lot of bike shop owners.. They have a wealth of cycling knowledge, but lack the business acumen. I'm sort of in the opposite situation position, but I do have the passion and the drive to learn.

andyp2010

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Re: Does anybody here work in the bike industry? Need some career advice.
« Reply #14 on: November 25, 2015, 01:05:06 PM »
Hey, I used to be a bike mechanic!

In truth, it's not a difficult industry to master, it took me about 3-4 years to get to a really good level, happily wheelbuild, service forks etc. Downside is a lot of pay to have things fixed. Somehow it always gets compared to car repairs, even though car repairs is more like being a fitter.

Didn't have the wealth of youtube videos back in my day! Lol, this was about 4 years ago. Even so, true.

It's quite an enjoyable job when you get to a good level, it's never well paid. I started a website turning over millions for a shop and I was still being paid $36k a year, which is far more than a lot of mechanics. It's very dirty though and half the people that come through the shop talk to you like some kind of untouchable that must be kicking himself for not going to uni.

Wouldn't go into it on your own straight away. Maybe spend a couple of years learning the ropes before even considering doing things on our own. A course or two might halve that time. I was left on my own in a bike shop full time aged 17, with near no knowledge. A lot of unhappy people yelling at me for 8 hours a day.

How would it work with having time off if you're the only mechanic?

electriceagle

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Re: Does anybody here work in the bike industry? Need some career advice.
« Reply #15 on: November 26, 2015, 03:34:55 AM »
The offer from the LBS:
$19/hr plus 10% commission on bike and accessory sales (Bike sales were approximately $50k last year, but were over $100k just a few years ago)

The sporting goods store/bike shop:
- In business for 30+ years in a smaller town
- Currently two stores, but one store will be closing soon (the newer store opened about 15 months ago and has not done well)
- The bike shop sells Trek bikes exclusively

Something is wrong here, and you should figure out what before making this leap.

Why did the new store fail? Why have bike sales fallen by half? Is it a failing town or a lousy store owner? Is there new competition?

If the problem is with the store management rather than the location, has the owner committed to a plan to improve store performance?

It sounds a little like you think that you could turn the store around. Thats a big job. Has the owner committed to paying you overtime while you do this?

The owner just closed a failed second store. Can he afford to pay you?

Blatant

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Re: Does anybody here work in the bike industry? Need some career advice.
« Reply #16 on: November 26, 2015, 08:10:59 AM »
I do NOT work in the industry, but I am very in tune with it and am a pretty serious long-term mountain biker in Phoenix. I grew up racing BMX in the late 1970s.

OP: Can you share what city/town you're talking about? What kind of cycling culture does your town have, either road or mountain?

I, too, understand the pull of the industry job, if for no other reason than the employee discount. Thing to keep in mind, though, is most shop employees -- unless they're in some sort of weird niche position -- never have time to ride.

I'd be concerned about two major things:

1. Why did the other store fail? Specifically.

2. Do you have the requisite knowledge? If I'm reading correctly, you'll not only be the "manager" but also the mechanic. And you don't have that experience. If you living in a more serious cycling town, that's just not going to work. Everyone can go search a YouTube video. When someone brings their rig in for repair, the expectation is you will know what you're doing. If you don't, they won't be back.

All that said, Trek is hot right now (at least on the mountain side). Can you contractually bring in other brands? I don't mean to be harsh as I'd love to see this work out for you.

Kiwi Mustache

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Re: Does anybody here work in the bike industry? Need some career advice.
« Reply #17 on: November 26, 2015, 04:03:23 PM »
An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.  Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna.  The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied, “only a little while. The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos.  I have a full and busy life.” The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15 – 20 years.”

“But what then?” Asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part.  When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”

“Millions – then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire.  Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

If it is easy to go back into the stable banking job that you had before without too much trouble and this is your dream, then what are you really risking?

myrax

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Re: Does anybody here work in the bike industry? Need some career advice.
« Reply #18 on: November 27, 2015, 01:47:58 PM »
I work in the non-profit/advocacy side of the bike world, and I park my bike at commuter station connected to a LBS, so I get to talk to the LBS manager and staff almost every day. The manager works insane hours, the pay is low, and there isn't room for advancement.

I would be most worried about the decline in sales- while it is probably partially due to poor marketing and a crabby mechanic, it's probably also part of the larger trend of increasing online bike sales and decreasing bike sales at local shops. The bike shop owners that I work with through my job almost universally complain about online sales taking away market share. I would recommend doing a lot of research into the bicycling market in your town before taking this on.

Fuzz

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Re: Does anybody here work in the bike industry? Need some career advice.
« Reply #19 on: December 01, 2015, 07:05:49 PM »
Sounds like this owner should either (a) sell the bikeshop outright to you, or (b) not. But moving into a manager/commission/$19hr role is a bad deal for you.

It sounds like your his succession plan, and he gets whatever profits the biz generates (not much, it sounds like).

I would offer to buy the business by paying the owner a percentage of revenues/profits over a period of years.

Scenario: you're the manager. You have an idea for a website/promotion/marketing tactic, but it costs money and may not work. Are you going to get the owner's permission? Probably not. What if he says he doesn't do "internet" or something ridiculous.

Don't work for a commission and a promise, get equity. Then it's an only slightly terrible financial idea that will be a lot of fun. Most lifestyle businesses (nice bars, coffee shops, book stores and yes bike shops) don't make any money.

Financially, it's probably better to be an average banker than an above average bike shop owner.

Also, don't sell yourself short on the mechanic stuff. It's not rocket science. You can figure it out.  Just like you can negotiate a better deal on this shop if you want it.

You're going to inherit a lot of systems that are broken, or at least not optimized, or how you would do them. If you look at them with "owner" eyes, I think you'll go farther than if you look at them with "manager" eyes.