In 1991, David Bole’s dad faced a choice. The investment company where he worked had been sold, and he had to either move with the company, or do something different. That’s when Dave Bole ’90, his father, and his brother decided to open Bicycle Chain, a bike shop in Roseville, Minn. An economics major, Dave had worked at a bike shop during college. The Bole family worked together at Bicycle Chain for several years, before Dave took it on himself. He’s now been its owner and manager for twenty-seven years. On a typical day, he spends his time ordering products, paying bills, and helping customers. “There are a lot of different skills you need to learn, and there’s no instruction manual,” he says. Bole shared some of the work lessons he’s learned over the years.

Stay interested

We had a Dutch commuter bike from the 1940s in our repair shop. It had skirts around the wheels because women used to ride their bikes to work wearing dresses, and the skirts kept their dresses from getting caught in the spokes. We had to un-sew the skirts and then sew them back on after we were done fixing the bike. That bike was in one work stand, and in the neighboring work stand we had a bike that was hooked up to a laptop getting a software update—two ends of the spectrum. Being interested helps keep your knowledge base high.

Social isn’t for everyone

There is a lot of pressure to have a social media presence these days and nobody that works in our store full-time really engages with social media, which makes it difficult. We rely on other strategies for connecting with customers such as word of mouth, getting involved in the cycling community, and volunteering at charity events such as the MS Society bike rides.

Honor your lifestyle

There are plenty of templates for doing cash flow projections and market analysis. The harder part of it is defining success. What brings you happiness or satisfaction in the job? Over the years, I’ve had lots of opportunities to expand, and I have been tempted. But I’ve always said no because I really value the lifestyle that I have. If I had multiple stores, I wouldn’t be able to ride my bike to work. Trying to define that and work toward that goal keeps you in the game longer.

Ride a bike

When you’re writing a business plan, you don’t really address time management. Your time gets so divided among customers, and employees, and vendors, and phone calls. When we opened Bicycle Chain there was no email. The only way you could get ahold of us was the store’s phone number. Now you have multiple email accounts, messaging, social media. It’s really hard to tune out sometimes. Biking and other exercise is a big part of relieving that stress.

Adapt, but try not to sweat it

There have been more changes in the past year in how you do business than probably the past twenty-five years. Our vendors have become our competition because they are all transforming to a model where they sell bikes direct to customer. We’ve invested a lot more money in our website so people can see our inventory. We also get orders now direct from our vendors where customers shop on the vendor’s site and we facilitate the sale. We’ve been open to working with them, but you wonder, is this good for the long term? The way people shop and the way they interact has changed dramatically over the past three years. The hard part is that it’s so out of your control. So far, it’s worked out for us. I try not to think about it too far into the future.

Be welcoming

Part of the reason people are buying bikes online is that a lot of bike shops haven’t made it fun for customers to shop. It’s a very young and a very male world. Sometimes shops don’t understand that not everyone wants to dress or bike a certain way. There are as many different ways to use a bike as there are people. It’s important to have a shop with diverse people and an atmosphere that’s welcoming.

April 28 2023

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