The great folks over at SPOKEFLY got together with Pedal Revolution to talk bike shops, job-training for youth, and San Francisco cycling culture. SPOKEFLY is a breakthrough development in bike rental where, individuals and bike shops can offer rental bikes through a location based app. Customers can access a rental bike of their choice based on their location and proximity to a rental fleet dispersed throughout the city and access it on the go!
And….keep your eyes on the Pedal Rev social media for updates on SPOKEFLY accessible Pedal Revolution rental bikes coming this summer!
“This week Spokefly caught up with Steve Fiduccia, General Manager of Pedal Revolution – a NonProfit Bike Shop and social enterprise of New Door Ventures. Located in San Francisco’s Mission District, Pedal Revolution helps at risk youth in San Francisco by providing on the job training and employment to young people. With the training and support of professional bike mechanics, interns learn how to assemble and refurbish bikes, as well as gain valuable experience with sales and customer service. In our interview with Steve, he tells us about bicycle retail, what it takes to start a bike shop, and the general bike scene in San Francisco.
Tell us a little about your background, how did you start in the bicycle industry?
My first job in the bike industry was when I was 14 years old at a small classic Schwinn shop in Chicago. I was basically the lunch getter, coffee maker, flat fixer, bike seller. I swept the floor, took out the trash, did the dishes, stocked inventory. I worked there for about 3 months before they even considered letting me touch the tools! Finally, the two brothers that owned the shop started to teach me mechanical skills after I’d earned their trust and “paid my dues”. Fast forward through a lot of years and numerous other jobs in different fields and about 15 years ago I found myself running a seasonal bike shop in Telluride, CO. I did that for a few years until making my way to San Francisco and finding my way to Pedal Revolution. I was curious about the social mission aspect of the shop and started as a mechanic/salesperson/intern trainer. I’ve been the General Manager of Pedal Revolution for almost ten years now. I manage all aspects of the business and the youth intern program.
Tell us a little about Pedal Revolution and how it all got started.
Pedal Revolution started in the early 90’s in San Francisco as a bicycle based program to provide job experience for at-risk youth. It began as a donation based bike shop that fixed up and sold used bikes to fund the business and the youth program. The young people that participate in our internship program are between the ages of 16-23 and received training in retail and bike assembly. We are currently a full-service shop with 6 F/T professional employees and we provide paid 6 month work internships for 15 San Francisco youth every year who work in the shop with us. Over the years we’ve incorporated new bikes, parts, and accessories into the business. Pedal Revolution is a neighborhood bike shop that specializes in new and refurbished used bikes for everyday day use, whether for road, touring, or commuting. We love steel-framed bikes that are built to last and are designed for versatility.
Talk a little bit about bicycling retail.
Bicycling retail is a tough business and a labor of love. Margins on bicycles are slim and there is significant competition with other shops and online retailers. If you like the option to be able to roll into your local bike shop and have them tweak your derailleur or fix your flat when you’re running late, tell your friends to shop there and support them! Bicycle retail certainly has it’s challenges, but on the positive side it’s gratifying to get people on bikes. In a city like San Francisco, it makes much more sense to travel via bicycle versus car or public transportation. It’s quick, efficient, healthy, and much more fun. At the end of the day, I feel pretty good if what I’m responsible for is getting more people on bicycles.
How much capital does it take to start a bike shop?
It really depends on the scope of what you are trying to do. Most independent shops start small with minimal staff and have a mostly service based business relying on repairs to bring in constant revenue with a small selection of bikes and accessories for sale. As shops expand they tend to bring on more product lines and expand their retail offerings. A small service based shop can provide a modest existence for one or two owner/employees. Most small bike shops need at least $100 -200K of capital to get up and running, order product, cover G&A, and provide a small cushion until the business can break even. Many people follow their love of bikes and go after the business end but it’s tough to be expand beyond the initial size.
Is that mostly inventory?
Once again, it depends on the goals of the business but yes, inventory is tricky to negotiate in a bike shop. First you have to have significant inventory of “back-end” parts for repair work; wheels of all sizes, drivetrain parts, brakes, shifters, tires, brake pads, headsets, cranksets and keep in mind that all this stuff is proprietary to era, size, style, brand. Then there are the retail accessories and bike inventory. Big dollar investments for a seasonally based product. There is also pressure to bring in the newest product and bike models each year so many shops have to further minimize their margins by putting bikes on sale to make room for the new ones.
How do you help to train and grow staff at the shop? You’re in a unique position as far as staffing by employing local youth.
Staffing is unique at Pedal Revolution. We need to have skilled mechanics who have sales and customer service abilities and are also engaged with our social mission. It’s a tall order as many bike mechanics are often interested in the mechanical side of the job and approach the customer service side of the business reluctantly. When I interview potential staff I spend a good deal of time explaining the youth program and ask them directly, “How do you feel about teenagers?”. This is a good general guide for me to see if they flinch or hesitate (Ha!) because they will be spending a lot of time around teenagers if they want to work here. The Staff who end up at Pedal Rev typically have a shared love for bikes and bicycling and a motivation for social change. If they are excited by the opportunity for a very grassroots hands-on experience helping out young people in need of direction and support, they won’t find a better match than at our shop.
What marketing techniques have you seen work well for bike shops?
Bike shops often don’t have a lot of money to spend on traditional marketing like advertisements. Social Media is a great option for bike shops trying to build community. Blogging, digital newsletters, in-store workshops, events, and group rides are great way to bring people into your shop and have worked well for our shop.
What are the biggest mistakes you’ve seen when people start a bike shop?
1) Not having a solid business plan and vision for the type of shop you want to be.
2) Not incorporating strategic planning for how to grow the business.
3) Not having enough capital to weather the time it takes to break-even/become profitable.
4) Too much inventory too soon.
And finally, talk a bit about the bike scene in San Francisco and how it’s changed since you’ve been in the city.
The bike scene in San Francisco has evolved significantly in the 20 years I’ve been in the city. The developments in cycling infrastructure thanks to the SFBC (support your local Bicycle Coalition!!) have made bicycle transportation much safer, practical, and pleasurable for a wider category of rider. In the old days there was a mentality that if you were a bike commuter, you kind of a pioneer or an eccentric….putting yourself at risk to ride in traffic. The image for the daily bike rider was often characterized as a hardcore bike courier type and in some ways the urban landscape demanded it. Motorists weren’t as accommodating as they are now and bike lanes and bike racks were a rarity. It says a lot that the Critical Mass movement started in this city as an attempt to broaden the understanding and awareness of the challenges that cyclists faced every day.
Currently, bike rider-ship continues to grow dramatically every year in San Francisco and the urban cycling infrastructure continues to develop, becoming much more accommodating to novice riders. I love to see these changes. I’m biased, of course, being a daily commuter and bicycle shop manager but I do whole-heartedly believe that increased bicycle rider-ship will only help SF become a happier, healthier, more communally aware city. It teaches cyclists and motorists to respect each other and behave better, follow the rules of the road, etc. When you ride a bike in the city you are aware of your surroundings, you make eye contact and interact with people, you observe things in detail because you’re moving at a slower pace. You become part of the environment in a way that you can’t when in a car. It’s a fantastic city to ride a bike in and if you’re up for some longer rides there are adventures easily accessible in almost every direction.
Thanks so much to the Steve and the Pedal Revolution team for participating in this interview. If you’re ever in the Mission District of San Francisco, be sure to stop in and support your local bike shop!
3085 21st St
San Francisco, CA 94110