Co-op Helps Fill the Bike Gap
By Emily J. Weitz
The story of the Sag Harbor Cycle Company is unique. It’s not a family-owned business in the usual sense of the word, though the argument could be made that if Sag Harbor is like a big family, then this is a family-owned business. More accurately, it’s a business cooperative, where about 25 people with a common passion for cycling joined together to fill a void.
When the Sag Harbor Bike Shop closed last year, there was a gaping hole.
“A few of us got together then,” says Andy Boyland, one of the operating partners that helps advise the shop in its operations. “We said, ‘There’s something clearly missing here. What do we do about it?’”
Boyland, who owned two successful bike shops in New Jersey, knew all about what would go in to starting something up. He knew it was important to serve the whole community, from families looking to rent bikes to racers looking to train.
“We basically spoke to our friends and family about what we wanted, what we missed, what we needed. We each brought a couple of people to the table, and the group went from five to 10 to around 25 who were totally interested.”
These 25 were the original investors, and there was a cap on how much any one person could invest, so that everyone had a small share. This way no one person had more at stake, and no one person was in charge. But it isn’t like there are 25 cooks in the kitchen all the time, because there is an operating committee of five who makes the day-to-day decisions to keep the business running smoothly.
“Just like in any investment, you keep everybody informed,” says Boyland. “But, we’re not telling people about every little logo change. Those with more marketing background deal with that, another guy’s a finance person, I handle a lot of the operations. None of us are full time.”
They hired people to work in the shop, like manager Jason Lucas and a staff of mechanics who deal with repairs. But the investors are invested in more than the economic opportunities that come with opening a business.
“I think what happens,” says Boyland, “is you’ve got folks in the community riding each day, communicating with other cyclists and promoting the sport and the lifestyle… When you have the economic interest in the business, it’s some added glue to what we do. For us, it’s really nice to have us all integrated in the community, speaking a message of a healthy lifestyle.”
Since they opened six weeks ago, business has been booming. The pent-up demand that the hole in the market created, coupled with the fact that they opened in late June in the Hamptons, created a big challenge.
“We’re working really hard to satisfy the demand,” says Boyland. “And I think we’re doing great. When I wear my Sag Harbor Cycle Company t-shirt, I am stopped constantly in the street with people telling me they love our store.”
The fact that there are so many people invested emotionally and financially in the success of the Sag Harbor Cycle Company impacts the environment of the space.
“Just this morning, a customer came in and said how nice the shop was,” says Boyland. “It’s gratifying to hear that. And then she got her flat tire fixed and bought a helmet, and said she’ll see us soon.”
That maintenance is key to a bike shop’s success, says Boyland.
“You build customers for life,” he says. “Every couple of years, you need a helmet or a tune up. Or maybe you get more serious and you want a faster version or you want to try a triathlon for the first time. I’ve been cycling for 18 years now and I think a lot of people are the same way. It’s about building these relationships and keeping them for long periods of time.”
The other aspect to this is beginning the relationships, starting with youth.
“We’re up against the X Box and video games,” says Boyland. “And the more we focus on healthier living and these types of activities, the better.”
The important thing is that the Sag Harbor Cycle Shop was formed because it was needed – because there was a space that needed filling. So as they develop and grow, it’s really about what the community needs. Boyland hopes people will come in and talk to them.
“Half of [the investors] are year-rounders and the other half are not,” he says. “But we are all in the community. There’s a tradition in this town of folks that are committed to riding, to varying degrees of seriousness.”
The structure of the business allows all these people to have a voice.
“We are the only shop in the country that has a composition of cycling enthusiasts and community members with a passion for the sport, healthy living, and what-have-you who have invested financially and emotionally in building a business,” said Boyland.