Published in UT San Diego, July 28, 2014
The wheel is always spinning – especially if you are a bicycle. San Diego is a bike friendly town. We have bike lanes, triathlons, a velodrome, and multiple groups that ride – the Wheelmen, the Cyclo-Vets, the Swami Riders, bike clubs from UCSD and SDSU, and many more. We have events—the Cruiser Ride, the Ramona Fun Ride, and the North County Roadies. San Diego is awash in bicycles and spandex. And all bikes need repair and maintenance.
Meet Anywhere Bicycle Repair and Stu Clott, the owner. My interest in Mr. Clott started a few years ago when I wanted someone to come to my office and tune up my bike. Like a doctor in days of yore, Clott makes house calls. He backs up the word “anywhere.”
And here is his story of how he turned his passion into a viable business.
Clott’s experience fixing bikes started during high school outside of Philadelphia. He dropped out of college after one year and then attended one year of a technical vocation school. In 2004, he drove his Nissan Frontier mini-truck across the country to San Diego so he could live in a place where he could ride his bike year round.
Clott quickly landed a job in a local bike shop, and over the next six years, he worked in five different places. “In every shop I was dumbfounded at how slow their service department was because of their systems, not because of their workers. Their focus was selling bikes, not repairing them. I thought that San Diegans had a right to expect both high quality repair, as well as fast turnaround,” he said.
As Clott moved around, a few loyal customers followed him. One night, when a customer was told that it would take two weeks to fix his bike, Clott offered to bring his personal tools to the customer’s office. “He was an accountant so I valued his business opinion, and I asked if he thought that I could make a business fixing bikes out of my truck. He said ‘yes,’ and so I went for it,” said Clott.
Neil’s note: Often your customer will tell you the business you should be in.
During the next six months, Clott worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day splitting his time between the bike shop and starting his own mobile repair business. At the end of the first year, Clott purchased a 22-foot box truck in which he built a complete bike repair shop. He figured out marketing. He set up a table at the top of Torrey Pines and handed out water and bananas to the riders as they crested the hill. People stopped, they talked, and if needed, they got a small adjustment to their bike. After Torrey, he expanded to other popular venues, and it has become his chief marketing tactic. He buys 20 dozen bananas a week.
Neil’s note: Marketing 101 – Go to where your customer is.
The next problem was how to scale. Clott teamed with a partner to buy a second truck. The deal fell through, and he learned an expensive lesson. “You can’t create a business that is employee based. You have to create a business that is system based,” he said. Last year, Clott opened a physical shop in Kearny Mesa. The business currently has two full-time and one part-time employee, and Clott expects to generate $360,000 in revenue this year.
And here is Clott’s clever financing strategy. He used credit cards that offer no interest during the first year. “I max out the cards, pay them off, and then cancel them. To open the shop, I got three cards on which I put $25,000,” he said. A tried and true entrepreneurial strategy – you can’t beat zero percent interest.
His plans are to open a second shop and remain focused on service. (He does sell used bikes on consignment.)
Clott is the classic entrepreneur. He figured out how to meet a need, solve the problem and to do one thing really well. Most importantly, he had domain expertise because he had worked in the business for several years. We love the “little guy” who finds a place to stand, carves out his turf, defends it and ultimately builds a business.
Rule No. 364: America needs to celebrate the people who get their hands dirty – who make things. Or in this case, fix them.