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Laurent, how long have you been in the industry?
I have been here since 93-94. My dad was the owner, I worked at his store until 2001. In fact, it was called a general store before, I bought the store in 2012 and I converted it into a bicycle store in 2017.
Have you added things to the business since you opened?
We added spinning classes, the workshop has been improved, and the diversity of bike parts has been increased in the sense that we use to only specialize in a very local niche, doing only specific types of orders.
We're affiliated with three racing teams now: one junior, one at the master level, and one who's doing pen cruising. Also, three teams of competitions and international athletes are being sponsored by us, either at the IC level or at the international triathlon level. We provide, among other things, bicycles, parts, accessories, etc.
We have brought the store to a stage where we are still dealing with everything that is local. We take care of the young people, we take care of families. For young people, in fact, we think we need to start initiating them very early, so we’ve created a program where we can exchange their bike from one year to the next. So if the bike becomes too small for the child, I take it back and I credit an amount for their next bike.
When it comes to used bikes, I try to resell them, and if I find the bike is in too bad of shape to sell in-store, I try to give it to local organizations for children who can’t afford a new bike.
You mention that you encourage everything local, are you speaking about Montreal in general or more specifically about Verdun?
Mostly about Verdun, there are many shops in Montreal. In fact, here in Verdun, we only have two bike shops. Marc, who owns the other store, is also doing a good job as a technician there. Which means that with our two workshops we serve our sector very well.
Also, when you go to Montreal, you throw a rock and chances are that there’s a bicycle dealer, especially on Mount Royal, Saint-Denis, and Saint-Laurent street. In my opinion, there is an overpopulation of bike shops. So, I have no interest in going into their market, I have mine, I have my business and we have fun.
We have a single mentality here, and it's having fun while working, we do not want to be negative in our environment of work. If there is a customer who wants to disturb our cool, he is just told to go shop elsewhere. We are here to have fun with our customers, and we are also there for our customers to have fun with their bikes.
It goes to a point where, if the customer buys a bike and is uncomfortable, does not like it, or whatever reason makes him uncomfortable, we'll take the bike back and give him a different one. There is always a mindset, behind the way we work, that our customer must have fun cycling, and that we too must have fun working together.
Tell me a little bit about the impact of online businesses and technology on your business.
We have our website online, I would not say it's the best site because we work with a US supplier. The disadvantage is that everything is in English on their platform, but the advantage is that I do not need to have someone internally who documents each of my pieces.
I work with UPC codes suppliers, they already populate the database with pictures, descriptions, etc. I just have to put my inventory on the portal and it adapts to my website in real time.
Do you sell bikes directly via your website?
I do not sell bikes online, I will sell parts, sell clothes, and accessories. It's the same principle as if someone calls me from Quebec for a bike, I'll tell him to come to the store. Or when it's bigger brands, like Giant, I'll refer them to retailers in their regions. Sometimes we need an alternative to travel, so I send the customer to a representative I know The same representative will send me the details that I need and after I will be able to have the bike delivered to my client.
The reason is simple, it's too easy to be wrong in size, it's easy to be ill-fitting, and if we send a boxed bike, if it is not well assembled when arriving at a destination, the quality looks and feels like a bike from Walmart or Canadian Tire.
The notion of professionalism in cycling is very important. Independent bike shops simply cannot afford to tarnish their brand image by sending something badly assembled, or something that does not suit the customer.
Our business model works even if online businesses exist. In fact, there is a lot of advice needed before choosing the right bike or parts. It's very easy to sell something that is too expensive and useless, and it's also very easy to go for a ” cheap ” option that will require some modifications after a year.
In terms of the internal work you have to do as a local business, have you seen a change in speed or efficiency because of technology?
At the online service level, there are many things that have changed, transportation, customs, etc. It was a little archaic before because the customs clearance fees were not charged to individuals. This meant that retailers ended up selling more than someone who ordered online.
In my opinion, the online business will continue to grow, for people who are connoisseurs, it's very easy to navigate. For people who are not specialists in the field, it is not wise to do so because there is far too much detail to consider.
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