From aspiring Tour de France champions to leisurely weekend cyclists, there is definitely a market for small business owners who are interested in opening their own bike shop. However, despite the growing demand for specialty bike stores, business owners need to advertise beyond their existing clientele and tap into a larger audience if they hope to succeed in this specialized niche. In episode #105, Elizabeth Larkin and Gene Marks discuss the most effective marketing strategies for growing your bike shop as both a business and a brand.
2:49—Today’s Topic: How Do I Promote My Bike Shop Business?
4:22—Bike shop owners, as well as other small business owners, are encouraged to start a meetup group because it will enable them to connect with like-minded people who could ultimately become potential clients.
6:43— You can take advantage of various events or holidays by creating specific campaigns around them, such as a back-to-school bicycle campaign for teachers and students.
7:17—Building a strong social media presence on Instagram also allows your business to reach an otherwise untapped audience.
8:48—If you launch a podcast or write an e-book, you have the potential to become one of the prominent thought leaders in your particular niche and consequently, develop a strong following for your bike business.
13:14—Gene cautions small business owners against implementing any bonus systems in which the distribution is arbitrary or inconsistent because this dampens employee morale.
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Elizabeth: Welcome back to the Small Biz Ahead Podcast. This is Elizabeth Larkin, I’m the editor of Small Biz Ahead, the website, smallbizahead.com. And I’m here with Gene Marks, who is a small business expert and a small business owner himself.
Gene: And a writer on Small Biz Ahead …
Elizabeth: And a writer on Small Biz Ahead.
Gene: Every week I’m contributing. You know, I send you my content every single week and are you keeping to a weekly schedule, getting my stuff out there?
Gene: Yeah, okay. We’ll talk about that.
Elizabeth: I think we have about eight of your articles …
Gene: In backlog.
Elizabeth: In the queue right now being edited.
Gene: You never know. Sometimes when I write something and people, we might want to have another set of eyeballs read this first before we publish it.
Elizabeth: We have a whole set. We have a whole editing process, so anything you read on Small Biz Ahead. We have a wonderful editor named Daphne, who is also a listener. Hi, Daphne. She edits everything. I edit everything.
Gene: Right. So it goes through …
Elizabeth: It goes through a whole process and then our … We have outside teams that look at it. When you’re reading something on Small Biz Ahead, we really want you to read it. We really researched it.
Gene: Little bit of advice for you, if you’re listening to this show and you’re thinking of blogging on your own or blogging for another site, but even if you wanna have your blog. Even at The Hartford, when somebody writes something. I’ve been writing for years. I’m a fairly decent writer, but it still gets a couple sets of eyeballs to look at it.
Elizabeth: Oh, definitely.
Gene: My biggest advice, if you’re going to be blogging on your own is, write whatever you want to write, that’s great. But have somebody else look at it before you post it.
Elizabeth: Definitely. Absolutely.
Gene: Everybody does it. You learn the hard way, that second set of eyeballs is huge. Take that as advice.
Elizabeth: And some of your articles could be considered rants.
Gene: They could be rants. They could be controversial. They could be not … uninteresting. It just depends.
Elizabeth: You just want to make sure your grammar’s tight. Your punctuation, spelling, you don’t have any typos. You just wanna put your best foot forward.
Elizabeth: Today’s episode is about marketing a very small business when you’re first starting out. It’s about marketing a bike shop.
Elizabeth: And we will be back with our question after we hear from our sponsor.
This podcast is brought to you by The Hartford. When the unexpected strikes, The Hartford strikes back for over 1 million small business customers with property, liability and worker’s compensation insurance, check out The Hartford’s small business insurance at TheHartford.com.
QUESTION: How Do I Market a Bike Shop?
Elizabeth: We’re back, and today’s question, it’s another anonymous question, unfortunately.
Gene: But it’s about a bike shop.
Elizabeth: It’s about a bike shop.
Gene: Do you ride? You never talk about riding a bike. Do you ever ride bikes?
Elizabeth: Yeah, I have a bike. Yeah. But I live in a city, so I have to travel outside the city to actually ride my bike.
Gene: Biking is excellent. It’s great exercise. There’s a company in New Zealand, I was also going to report on, that are now offering their employees an extra $10 a week in their paycheck if they bike to work.
Elizabeth: Oh, nice.
Gene: Yeah, trying to encourage them for exercise and for the environment and all that kind of stuff. I know a guy who bikes like 20 miles to work every day.
Gene: The issue with biking to work is then what happens when you get to work and you’re all smelly and gross and sweaty. I feel bad for the cubicle … Do you have showers at work to … I don’t know, it just seems like a … Right?
Elizabeth: A lot of people bike to The Hartford. I don’t …
Gene: Do they? Are they all sweaty and gross? I knew I smelled something.
Elizabeth: I feel like …
Gene: I walked into the lobby.
Elizabeth: I think most people … So, I walk to work in the spring and the fall. I just don’t think you can do that when it’s like a hundred degrees out.
Gene: People do. People do.
Elizabeth: We also, I mean some offices have gyms. But anyway.
Elizabeth: So, here’s our question. I plan to start a small business as a bike shop owner and manager. I published a website, posted on my local classifieds and printed flyers.
Elizabeth: Is there anything else I can do to grow my business outside of my social circle? Gene, I know you’re gonna have a lot of advice for this person. The first thing I wanna mention is to start a meetup group.
Gene: I love that idea.
Elizabeth: I know you love meetups.
Gene: I do love meetups and it’s a great idea. It’s funny, if you’re listening to this and you’ve never been to meetup.com, it is a great, great place that you can go. First of all … There’s meetup groups, I bet you, wherever you live, there’s thousands of meetup groups that people just they … You can set up your meeting for free and people can join and it’s a great way to meet people about a topic that you like. It could be a meetup group about coffee, or a meetup group about books or a meetup group about gardening, whatever. Biking is a great way … See, biking is … I never wanna have a bike business because I’m not that in to it, but …
Elizabeth: Yeah, you have to be really …
Gene: You gotta be really into it, but it is a great hobby/business. It’s a great business to have if you’re really in to biking, because you can really build … Talk about building a community, you know?
Gene: Because people get really passionate about their biking. For this listener who asked this question about building up a bike business, a meetup group is a great suggestion because you can say, “Listen, we’re gonna have a weekly meetup or a monthly meetup group.”
Elizabeth: Learn to ride.
Gene: Learn to ride or some kind of … Maybe something special. Meetup just for kids, if you wanna go after that niche. Or for senior citizens, if you wanna go after that niche. At a same place, we’re gonna take a nice ride around or whatever. Maybe it’s a tour. Invite local experts as you’re biking around to give historical comments on what people are seeing. You can get pretty creative with something like that. It’s like a biking group, and people have biking clubs and groups all in your area. If I was starting up a bike store, the first thing I’d being doing besides my own meetup group is, I would be going to full time to all other biking meetup groups that are in the area. I’d be attending them. I’d be offering to … I’d be looking for bikers that are there, letting them know who I am. That I have this bike store. Handing out business cards, maybe offering a free something if you come into the store. I would be making myself really, really well known within the biking community. I just think that’s a community that’s very much word-of-mouth. You start making some friends, then you start telling friends, that’s how you get a business like that going.
Elizabeth: Definitely, and if you’re starting up a local bike shop, you’re probably already a part of that.
Gene: You’re probably in to it, yeah. It didn’t come out of nowhere.
Elizabeth: It shouldn’t be that difficult. But, Gene, you had some really good suggestions for this, starting with a back-to-school campaign.
Gene: Yeah, there’s different campaigns you can do pretty inexpensively. You pick an event, I use the example back-to-school. So, a lot of kids ride their bikes to school. That’s where … A lot of teachers ride their bikes to school. You could have a special campaign saying, “Hey, 10% off all bikes. It’s our back-to-school campaign.” You can do the same thing before Memorial Day, before the summer starts hitting and saying, “Summer fun. Get on your bike. 10% whatever.” It’s a real … Because it’s such an outdoorsy thing and it’s an exercise kind of thing, you can really develop campaigns around that.
Instagram is an interesting thing. It’s relatively inexpensive to advertise on Instagram and Instagram is such a visual kind of thing. You could really put together some interesting sponsored posts on Instagram, because, again, you have a huge audience. A billion people on Instagram and they’re young people that ride bikes. Simple photos of bikes in a sponsor post that look really cool or very short videos of you on your bike in certain places or featuring some of your happy customers riding their bikes around. I’m on Instagram all the time and if I saw a little sponsor post of, I don’t know, somebody with their bike in front of the Eiffel Tower or somebody with their bike in front of some cool place, I’d notice that.
Elizabeth: What I love, too, is when you’re riding a bike. So, I travel a lot and whenever I travel to a new place I always do a bike tour because I just think it’s such a great place to see a city.
Gene: It’s such a great idea.
Elizabeth: With a simple GoPro, you could just put a little GoPro on your helmet and make a video of your town or your city or wherever you have this bike shop.
Elizabeth: And you could have a whole campaign around see your own town or your city from a new vantage point.
Gene: I love that, and I think that comes across … That’s so great for social media. I love that stuff as well. Another thing with biking is that because, there’s different levels of bikers. Some people, like me, will bike a few times a year, and then other people like my brother-in-law bikes like four times a week and bikes for 30, 40 miles. It’s a great niche to become a thought leader, as well. Look how easy … We’re doing this podcast about small business, but why not have your own podcast. They’re very inexpensive tools to do your own podcast, where maybe every week or once a month you do something about biking and it’s nothing … Bike repairs and scenic bike tours and talk to bike experts and then, in addition to podcasts, you can write about biking on your site.
Elizabeth: You could do an e-book.
Gene: Do an e-book. Like a guide to biking or a repair guide to biking, which I think people would be very interested in. Whenever you bring in new bikes … Manufacturers give you repair guides and things like that for bikes, but they’re written …
Elizabeth: No one reads them.
Gene: Nobody reads them. It’s written in corporate-ese, it’s tough to understand. There’s definitely a niche out there for somebody to take, put it into English in a fun way. Here’s how to maintain your bike, from this bike store and you put your branding all over it. There’s a lot of ways as a bike store owner, I think you can be passionate, have a great time. I wish I was more into bikes, because I think it sounds really fun.
Elizabeth: Yeah. Now, I’m gonna put this out there for the listeners. We’ve done this in the past, but if you’re listening to this episode, and you think, “I don’t own a bike store, but I have a similar business.”
Elizabeth: At the bottom of the show notes, there’s a place you can leave comments. Tell us what your business is and Gene and I will go in there and we’ll give you some ideas.
Gene: Yeah, I … just like we did with the bike store. I don’t really care if you’re running a coffee shop or you’re selling shoes. Go ahead, tell us what business you have and you will walk away with five marketing ideas for your business.
Elizabeth: And cheap.
Elizabeth: Maybe not buying a GoPro is cheap, but pretty much all the other …
Gene: GoPros are pretty cheap. How much is a GoPro? $99?
Elizabeth: Yeah, maybe. Yeah, they probably are.
Elizabeth: I think having groups, having different types of maintenance classes, teaching people about their bikes. That’s really the way to go.
Elizabeth: And definitely if you run a similar business or you want more ideas for a bike shop, comment at the bottom of the show notes and Gene and I will get in there ASAP and give you some ideas. Because we could just do this all day long.
Gene: Love this stuff, and I love putting myself in the shoes of other business owners, say, “How would I market that business or how would I grow it?”
Gene: Bike shop owner is cool. I know I’m going on about it, but it’s just a really fun business to be in.
Elizabeth: It is.
Gene: By the way, just so you know, mister or … Mister? Miss? Bike shop owner.
Elizabeth: We don’t know.
Gene: I will tell you this much. You’ll make a living at it. You’re not gonna make a great living at owning and operating a bike shop unless you really expand it. If you have a few bike shops and you can get a little economies of scale, then you can make some money or if you create a place where you’re selling a lot of parts or doing stuff online, you can … Just selling and repairing bikes, you’ll eke out a living doing that, and nothing wrong with that. I’m just telling you if you really wanna make more money, you’ve gotta think of all indirect businesses connecting to the biking industry that you can do. And I remember one guy I talked to in Denver, he owns two bike shops and he was doing pretty good with those two. But then he started an online, e-commerce site where he was selling a bunch of bike novelty things. All things related to bikes and he was making money. So he had different sources of revenue coming in and he was doing great.
Elizabeth: That’s great.
Gene: Yeah, so just want you to know if you’re just gonna have an individual, standalone bike store where you’re selling and maybe doing repairs. It’s a good living, but you know …
Elizabeth: But at this point, put, what, a couple thousand dollars aside to start doing some marketing …
Elizabeth: Hosting events and just get started.
Gene: And your name will get out there in that community.
Elizabeth: Then a year from now, right back, tell us how it’s going …
Gene: And we’ll tell you how to spend more of your money. Sounds good.
Elizabeth: Alright. We’ll be right back with Gene’s Word of Brilliance.
WORD OF BRILLIANCE: Bonus
Elizabeth: Okay. We’re back with Gene’s Word of Brilliance. He seems … There’s a gleam in his eye about this one.
Gene: I got a good one. This one is called bonus.
Gene: United Airlines was in the news recently. The CEO of United introduced a new bonus program. The bonus program before at United is, was tied to your own personal goals that you hit. I’m not quite sure what the bonus program is here at the Hartford, but a lot of us business …
Gene: Goals, right? Individual goals or whatever. A lot of people struggle, do we give bonuses based on individual goals? Do we go meeting corporate goals? What’s the best way to do this with bonuses?
Elizabeth: You can have it both ways. You could tie it to corporate goals and …
Elizabeth: Personal goals.
Gene: Here’s what United did. They said, “Listen, we’re gonna have a bonus program now. The average bonus was about $300 a person a quarter”, was how it’s given out. Now, what they decided to do was, we’re gonna take that away and instead if you meet a certain number of your personal goals and the company meets its company goals, your name is gonna be thrown into a lottery and if you get picked in the lottery, you could win anywhere between two and 40 thousand dollars as a bonus, or a Mercedes vehicle, or a vacation package, or …
Elizabeth: What is this, Wheel of Fortune?
Gene: Or a grand prize of $100,000. All of that given out per quarter to the lucky employees that meet the requirements of the bonus and then also get picked as part of this lottery, right? Now, if you don’t get picked as part of the lottery, you get nothing at all. What do you think of that plan?
Elizabeth: I think it’s crazy.
Gene: Okay, so, apparently you’re not alone. There was an uproar from United’s employees and within 48 hours of them announcing this bonus plan, they completely stepped back on the entire plan and went back to their original plan.
Elizabeth: Because what if you just never get your name picked for you. What if you worked at United for 20 years and you never get … That’s mathematically possible.
Gene: That is, and although there’s the enticement of getting … “Wow, I got a new Mercedes Benz,” you could go for years without getting any bonus at all. The union representatives, the large union at United Airlines said that, “We would prefer, our employees would prefer to get a consistent bonus. One that they can count on than to take a bet that they’re gonna get something big.”
Elizabeth: People wanna be able to do their own financial planning.
Elizabeth: I don’t want a car. Come on. Just give me my bonus.
Gene: Well, the CEO thought it would add some spice to it. It would shake things up. Get people excited. They just wanna get paid.
Elizabeth: They want spice with lunch. They don’t want spice with their bonuses.
Gene: Look at you, Elizabeth. They want spice with lunch. So, again, United pulled back on that bonus plan. I guess the take away is this, we all are looking for the right mix of what kind of bonuses there are to give out to our employees, right? I give a yearly bonus. I do tie it to objectives, but I have to tell you something. I’m pretty bad, because I’m not gonna not give a bonus to somebody. And I don’t …
Elizabeth: I hope your employees are not listening.
Gene: Yeah, right. They’re gonna get their bonus, and that’s fine. But as you get bigger, we should all be giving bonuses to our employees. I think people expect it, they enjoy it. It’s a good thing to do. Once you start doing it, though, to monkey with the bonus program, you are really playing with fire. If anything, United would’ve been better off doing the math, in my opinion, and maybe just increasing the quarterly bonuses a little bit or coming up with at least a different formula with goals, how to earn it.
Elizabeth: So stupid.
Gene: Rather than basically putting you into a lottery. I give the guy credit for trying to innovate and whatever, but I think he should’ve done a little bit more, United’s CEO, should’ve done a little bit more due diligence and research before announcing that to the world.
Elizabeth: Like talk to one of his employees.
Gene: Yeah. Bonus. Or talk to you. God, you were really against this.
Elizabeth: That’s gonna do it for this week.
Gene: We’ll see you next time.
Elizabeth: Thanks for being here, Gene. We’ll talk to you in a couple days.
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