Every September I get the chills when I think back to 1993 when I opened the first west side location with Mark. Thats was 18 years ago this month and although it was one of the best decisions I ever made, I wouldn't want to relive those early days. I was young and energetic and worked more hours than I care to admit at the expense of time with my supportive family.
It was September 1st, 1993 and the doors opened at the 4000 sq ft14 & Haggerty location in Walled Lake which we also market as Novi. 10am came and went and no one came in. Hard to believe in my mind. 11am came and went and still no action. The open sign must not be on I thought. Nope that checked out. Finally around noon a customer comes in. Actually it was a friend that came by to say hi. He bought a magazine which became my first purchase of the day. That felt good to just get something rung up. Well seven hours later and a few inquisitive customers and one sale was how the day went. $2.99 was the grand total and my stomach was in knots. I spent 2 years planning for this day and I knew what I had to do in sales per hour based on my budget. It just couldn't be. I must have made an error somewhere in my planning. There must have been an error on my budgeted spreadsheets. Nope, the reality was I did $2.99 in sales to a friend who probably just felt sorry for me because I quit a high paying corporate job with Marriott to start my own business.
Day two sales were even worse than the first. How could that be possible? $.99 was the grand total for day two. I hadn't sleep in 48 hours and this wasn't going to help. I felt like I was letting my family down and I felt like I was letting myself down. I decided to call my partner Mark who had grown up in the business and maybe could give me some clarity. And clarity he did provide after he was done politely laughing at me for my concerns. First of all he explained that the bike business in September is always pretty slow. And opening a new location in September is bound to be even slower. He also explained that some days you will do no business and then all of a sudden you will get a little burst and you will have a good sales day. Lastly he suggested I not look at sales on an hourly basis because it will drive me nuts. I felt better after that conversation but only a little. I hung up with Mark and went and checked the open sign again for the tenth time that day. Yep, it was working.
Day three came and finally some business. I think we did about $500 that day and I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. I guess Mark was right and I should listen to him more. Took the wife and baby out to dinner that night to spend our good fortune.
After 18 years in business I sometimes still don't listen to Mark and I'm not sure he listens to me either but something is working because we have grown to 7 locations and are the market leaders. Until next time, keep riding and have fun on that bike. We sell fun which is not a bad thing.
Ken Stonehouse writes:
Wow, it’s hard to believe I’ve been involved in this business on and off for over 30 years! My life in bicycles can best be shared with tidbits of the times and the changes that occurred between them. Let’s start at the beginning.
My first shift (get it?) in the bicycle business was April 1978. I was fourteen. Unlike my partner Michael’s willing entry into the business, I was a product of forced child labor! Awakened by my father at 7:00 am on Saturday, he took me to Scarlett’s Schwinn Cyclery in Pontiac, a business he bought from Mr. Scarlett four months earlier. He walked me down the ramp to the basement. On the floor in front of us was a pile of boxes with “ten speed” handlebars in them. Dad’s training program went something like this:
Dad: “I need these bars taped and matched to those bikes. Mom made us egg salad for lunch.”
Me: “Dad, I’m not sure I know how to tape bars.”
Dad: (Pointing to completed bikes) “Make them look like that.”
And so concluded my first training program. I started taping and…. very slowly….started to get the hang of it. After a while, I noticed it getting progressively louder upstairs. I ventured up the ramp. PEOPLE WERE EVERYWHERE! Lined up at the repair area, lined up at the sales counters, and scattered everywhere in the showroom! Employees were running and wrenches were flying. Someone grabbed my arm. It was Lee, a long time employee. He pointed to a bike.
Lee: “Kenny! Load that bike in the car for that lady over there!”
Me: “Lee, I’m not sure I know how to load bikes.”
Lee: “There’s wire and cardboard. Don’t scratch the bike and make sure it stays in the trunk!”
And so concluded my second training program. It didn’t take me long to figure out that this place was so busy, there was no time for showing you how to do things. Figure it out, work hard, do your best! We closed at 6pm, and I was exhausted but excited. We had sold 63 bikes that day, and I remember it like it was yesterday. Oh what glorious times! This past April, during our Supersale, it was BUSY (and I am forever grateful for that!) I was behind the counter ringing up sales and I once again got the urge for taping handlebars and eating egg salad! Thanks for the great memory and I look forward to the next installment. I promise it will cover more than one workday!
For years I have had customers, friends, family, and neighbors come up to me and ask me how I got into the bike business and I tell pretty much the same story time after time. And for years I have had it on my to-do list to write this history down and put it on our website only to put it off another day. I am not generally a procrastinator. That is a trait more associated with one of my partners (I’ll let him defend himself when he writes to you all-and he will). You see, American Cycle & Fitness did not come to be through the hard work of just one individual but rather a long heritage of entrepreneurs going back many decades before I was even born.
I soon realized the reason I never wrote down our history was because I don’t know all of our history. So much of our history is tied up in the archives of my partner’s heads and now it is time to get all those stories out and on paper for everyone to enjoy, myself included. I think we have an interesting history, from what I know of it, and so here is the first installment of “Random Thoughts from the Owners”.
It was 1991 and I was working for Marriott managing hotels in the Detroit market after years of managing hotels from Washington D.C to Atlanta. I was transferred on the average of once a year and all the moving was getting old. I was starting a family and had to make a decision if the hotel business was right for me. After careful deliberation I decided to start working on a business plan to see if there was a business that would match my requirements, mainly no more suits and ties and something healthy. I was always a cyclist so it was at the top of my list to investigate.
That's me second from the right at the Barnett's Bicycle Institute 1992
I started reading everything I could about the bike business and called and talked to anyone that would answer my questions, and I had a lot of questions, just ask Mark. I called Ray Barron who was the Schwinn rep in the market, and still is today (hi Ray). Ray then and Ray today always gives me the time of day and was influential in getting me into this business. For that I will always be grateful to him. Ray was the person who put me in contact with Mark Eickmann from Pointe Cycle & Fitness in Grosse Pointe. Ray said Mark would be happy to answer my questions.
In the Fall of 1991 I met Mark and he has been answering my questions ever since. There is rarely a day that goes by that we don’t talk. Mark is one of my partners and has been since day one in this business. Without Mark’s years of experience in the bike business I doubt we would be where we are today enjoying the successes that we have enjoyed.
by Michael Reuter
Come back in April for the next installment of “Random Thoughts from the Owners” authored by the one and only Mark Eickmann.
More ACF History
Michael Reuter Writes,
It was Fall of 1995 and I had been in business with Mark for approximately two years. We had the Grosse Pointe store on Mack Avenue which was part of Mark's family business and always did very well in that niche community in the Pointes. There was a small store in St. Claire Shores called Bill's Bikes named after Mark's dad which was closed in 1997.