From Newton, Kansas comes news of an old bicycle business brought back to life:
For 12 years, since the fall of 1997 when John Hobbs and Carol Sue Stayrook Hobbs closed Great Plains Bicycles, their independent bicycle repair and retail shop, Newton residents have had to fix their own bikes or drive to Wichita for similar services. This fall, that changed.
Ever since Great Plains Bicycles closed, Hobbs would still be approached by folks who knew he and Carol Sue, who would ask, “Would you please fix my bike?” John Hobbs said, “I had four bikes in my shop at the time of my epiphany. I looked at those bikes and said to myself, ‘You know, I should be making money with this!’
“When I went back to my old records from the ‘90s of when we had the shop and looked at whether or not we could be profitable offering only parts and service, I was convinced this was indeed possible. So we are re-establishing Great Plains Bicycle Repair solely as a professional repair facility.”
There was “some excitement,” he said, when folks found out the Hobbses were once again getting back into the bicycle business. After Great Plains Bicycles closed, Newton never had another bicycle shop. Besides being inconvenient for Newton residents, “this has been a particular hardship for the many cross-country cycling tourists who come through Newton on the Trans-American Bicycle Trail,” Hobbs said, “as well as for the many young families with kids and the college students who had nowhere locally to service their bicycles.”
Eliminating the retail floor does some significant things, he said — such as cutting overhead costs (heating and cooling, insurance, purchasing and carrying an inventory of new bicycles). “What you find is that the floor space dedicated strictly to service and parts is very profitable floor space indeed. In the bicycle business, the floor space used for just retail is not very productive, simply because the gross margins on individual bicycles are, by history and competition, quite low. When you only can achieve a few decimal points of actual profit beyond your base margin, it may be time to think about doing something different.
“The fact that we have been working on people’s bikes without even being in the business is telling,” he said. “The fact that even with only word of mouth, we are getting folks who never even knew we existed is even more predictive.
“Our market is really quite simple,” he said. “Anyone who has ever bought a bicycle for any reason has an investment in that bicycle. When it doesn’t work, all they can see is that pile of money just sitting there. It’s sort of like the money you could have saved with Geico. As long as I can provide a repair for that bicycle that does not exceed the perceived value, I have a market.”
Great Plains Bicycle Repair re-opened last September.
It’s good to see that the cyclists of Newton now have someone close at hand to turn to for their bicycle repair needs, and this is another critical resource for people riding their bikes across the country on the Trans-America Trail, where quality parts and professional services can often be hard to find.
Read more from the Newton Kansan: After 12-year hiatus, bicycle repair shop returns to Newton
Photo courtesy Gregg Friesen of the Newton Kansan.