Making a Business a Success, with Help from the Community

by Taylor Sisk, Staples® Contributing Writer

Riding around Milwaukee as a bicycle rickshaw driver gave Carolyn Weber plenty of time to think about what kind of business she would someday like to open. That day arrived in April 2013, and the result is Coast In Bikes, a bike shop and café that was a May 2014 runner-up in Staples’ Make Your Idea Happen contest. Weber and her partner, Tristan Klein, used some of their contest winnings to buy new computers and a second point-of-sale system. She was also able to buy an espresso machine for the shop and “bulk up” on some office supplies she’d been doing without. 

The couple, who have more than 16 years of experience in bike shops and nonprofits between them, hope to one day expand their business into a hostel with bike rentals for guests. But in the meantime, they have another goal in mind: “When we can provide stable jobs in the community and support a financially stable business that not only breaks even but also generate profits that allow us to develop our future business of a hostel, we will feel that we’ve contributed positively to Milwaukee and made good changes to the commuter, cargo and mountain/cross bicycling community,” Carolyn explains.

We wanted to learn more about Coast In Bikes, so we checked in with Carolyn to hear where she gets her motivation.

Tell us a little about Coast In Bikes.

We’re located in Walker’s Point, in the downtown entertainment area of Milwaukee, and right on the downtown commuter path. We service bike commuters, cargo bicycles and mountain/cross cyclists who ride to work and then ride for pleasure. We are also in the process of finishing a bike shower area to clean bikes of winter salt and mud during the race season.

In addition, we host workshops about bike touring in the space, and this winter we’ll be hosting a fireside chat weekly event where cyclists can gather and learn something new from a guest speaker, and network and learn from each other about everything from bike touring, winter cycling, commuting and the history of companies and cycling in general.

Which marketing channels help you get the word out about your business?

One of my favorite marketing channels is tabling at events and providing bike valet parking. I tabled at an event called Garlic Fest last year that was down the street from our shop and provided free bike valet parking to the commuters who attended. I had at least 30 people visit my shop the next week. I also plan a lot of events, including alley cat races, movie nights and cargo bike shows to promote my products and get people to enjoy riding their own bikes. It’s about creating a community and being part of the cycling community. That’s the best marketing I can do.

What challenges you the most, and how do you handle it?

One of our largest challenges is that since the business can’t afford to pay us during the winter months, we still work our other paid jobs while running a retail store. I work at a local college as an instructor and tutor, and my partner, Tristan, works at Ray’s Indoor Mountain Bike Park. Between both of our schedules, we’ve made it work. However, we do work some very long days to get everything accomplished. We work together at home, and when we aren’t working together, which is most of the week, we communicate using Wunderlist, Google Docs and notes around the shop.

How do you define success?

At the end of the day, success to us is feeling proud of what we’re doing. A good friend told us that the most important value a local bicycle shop can have is investing in people, not bikes. We believe that success is when people enjoy their life, live healthier and enjoy the time they’re spending with like-minded individuals. And if they find that community based on a bicycle — like me and my partner have over our 10 years in Milwaukee — they will be successful.

Is there a quote you live by?

Work, but don’t forget to live.” I saw that on a Yogi tea bag and now it is taped to my front door. I see this every day, and it reminds me that owning a business, working and earning a living are important, but it’s more important to live, enjoy life, spend time with friends and develop as a person. It’s the relationships we create that we will remember when we’re dying, not how many hours we worked. We are passionate about our businesses and want to live while earning the money we need to enjoy life.

What’s your secret for making more happen?

Networking with other business owners allows me to make more happen because my business benefits from my working with other businesses, and their businesses benefit from working with me. We get more done together.

What advice would you give to someone considering starting a community-focused start-up business?

Listen to the community. Trust your instincts and be flexible to change your business plan quickly, but still do what you think is right for your shop. Bring in events and support local events. If you're part of the community, the community will support your business and give you great feedback.

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