Last July, I found myself in a hotel banquet room in Utah, talking to Chris Kelly of Topanga Creek Bicycles
. I was bemoaning how busy and exhausted I was in the shop. We just had too much work, and the shop was like a hurtling train.
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Chris proceeded to tell me about a magical place called Topanga Creek Bicycles...where they shut down and "UnPredict Their Wednesdays" every week. Chris is the owner of this amazing shop that has the clarity to see that shutting down and stepping away might be the best thing for a busy shop.
Chris got into the details, but there weren't too many. "If you shut on Wednesday and go riding, people will come back on Thursday...and if they're angry we just make them banana bread". Basically, their Wednesday plan is to just go riding with employees, friend and families. By now, I had drank the Kool-Aid and washed down the banana bread.
When I returned back to Brooklyn, I explained the plan to my staff, and they loved it. We have been "UnPredicting out Tuesdays" ever since (we couldn't do Wednesday because of my teaching schedule).
Closing the shop to go riding has had so many great advantages that the minor negatives have been washed away. Check out our collection of Shop Ride Films and Photos here
Creating a Narrative:
Being able to talk to our customers abut rides, and them invite them along is a great way to connect. We look to connect with our customers in many more ways than retail transactions, and a shop adventure is a great way to do that. Also, the stories told about riding this bike or that helmet upon return become more fleshed out and less sales-brochure-like.
Our customers respect that we close to go riding...it cements us as being committed to riding and our well-being.
Exercise: We could all use more exercise. Its sobering to discover that I had gotten in worse shape since diving head long into the health and fitness segment of retail. Devoting 1 day a week to exercise isn't a life-changer, but its a start.
Morale: Shop morale has always been good, but it gets downright giddy as Tuesday approaches. Upon our return to the shop the day after, there are great laughs and stories to be had again and again. This connects us far more than a work relationship.
Taking a Break from the City: Taking a break, hitting the road with friends and seeing trees and ducks is a great thing.
Riding our products.
We have great bikes and products from the best manufactures in the world
. What better way to sell them than to take them out for a ride. We get asked all the time, "what do you ride". Building experience on many pieces of equipment in many locations makes what we do less like selling and more like giving a friend some advice. At 718, we have no salespeople, so our ability to sell is directly derived from our experiences with these products.
Visiting other Shops. A key part of the trip is to visit other shops. This is great experience for all of us to see how other places are run. I always ask the owner what advice they would have given themselves (essentially me) 20 years ago Aside from most of them saying "Get out while you can!", there have been many great pieces of wisdom. We joke that we either leave the shop feeling good about what we are doing, of leave the shop realizing how far we have to go.
Visiting Tasty Diners: Another mandatory piece of the trip is finding a diner. Eating way to much BEFORE our ride has become another unfortunate tradition
Visiting Woodhaven, Queens:
Unless Tijon moves, we have to go to Woodhaven
to pick him up
Access to key employees: The gang doesn't realize it (actually, I am sure they do), but having unfettered access to the employees who make 718 a reality is a great thing. You cant get 2 bike shop people alone for 5 minutes without talking shop...now image 5 in a car for 90 minutes.
Sales are up: Sales are up 19% over the same point last last year since we started the rides
Creating a Market: Hidden down the list here...we are simply looking to "invent" a market for mountain-biking in NYC. Step 1 is to travel to these great venues and show our customers how easy it is to get there...step 2 involves the amazing bikes we have from Salsa, Surly, Kona and Yeti, to name a few
$$: We started these rides in early September, and are planning on going as long as we can into the winter. Everyone has put $20 in...last person riding gets it. So there's that.
In conclusion, this approach seems so non-intuitive on paper. Shutting down 1 day out of 7 surely wont grow a business. Surely, it does.
Somethings these endeavors become monsters, threatening to consume everything it its wake. Shutting it down shows it who's boss.
Time away makes the heart grow fonder. Working in an ice cream store 7 days a week will cause you to hate ice cream, and no one wants that