Switching Gears: One On One Bicycle Studio Navigates Long Winters
The bike shop is a tried and true urban staple. But as cycling evolves from its historic place as a summer recreational pastime into a commuting mode and lifestyle obsession, cycle shops are navigating an awkward transition.
Gene Oberpriller, owner and founder of One on One Bicycle Studio (with wife Jennifer), has to pedal hard to keep his business rolling during Minnesota’s long winter. “Due to the seasonal aspects of the cycle business, and living in a four-season state,” Oberpriller says, “it’s feast or famine.”
Oberpriller opened One on One Bicycle Studio in 2003. “We had a two-year, by-appointment-only test before opening,” he says. One on One started as a junkyard in the basement of his building, where he would fix bicycles.
“We had to find out if this was a viable business in this neighborhood, and we had enough people asking about cycles, so we knew we had something,” Oberpriller says. “We had a backward business plan that started in the rear of the building and worked our way to the front window.”
One on One Bicycle Studio is located in the North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis, a booming residential, culinary and retail community. “When we first opened we couldn’t even get a pizza delivered to our shop,” he says, “and now we are watching [the development] happen, and it’s phenomenal.”
The growth of the North Loop is not the only plus for One on One. Minneapolis is ranked among the top bicycling cities in the nation by Bicycling magazine. “We have influence from both the East and West coasts, and that’s what makes Minnesota cool.”
One on One sells a variety of bikes from numerous manufacturers—including Santa Cruz, Bianchi, Surly Ibis and Swobo—to bikers with a range of skill sets. “We even sell these little bikes called Striders for kids here,” Oberpriller says.
Oberpriller also runs a repair shop—pricing is a dollar a minute: “It appeals to a lot of people and spreads by word of mouth fast.”
One on One’s season peaks during the summer. “This business is fickle like that,” Oberpriller says. From summer to winter, there’s a difference of almost 50 percent in bike, retail and repair revenue. “We are a seasonal business here, which is hard.”
Oberpriller’s off-season strategy is a rather unorthodox one: coffee shop. “It was something to prevent us from a severe roller coaster that all bike shops go through,” Oberpriller says. “We know that coffee is a culture, just like anything else.”
His coffee shop offers a variety of coffee, espresso and food options. “We needed something to get people to come back every day.”
2013 Sales Breakdown
Bikes, Parts & Accessories 54%
Coffee Bar 20%
Soft Goods 12%
Oberpriller believes the ability to continuously reinvent the business is what keeps customers coming back. He says bike sales account for over 50 percent of revenue, but the flow of business is unpredictable. The coffee shop accounts for 20 percent of sales, though Whole Foods Market’s opening this past spring a block away hit food sales. “We had a pretty healthy lunch business and now we are down around 20 percent,” Oberpriller says. “It happens, especially in this up-and-coming neighborhood, and you just have to adapt.”
Even though the coffee shop is One on One’s winter ace-in-the-hole, it cuts its offerings during the slow months. Soups and sandwiches are pared back to “a super-premium item and something super-cheap,” Oberpriller explains. One on One’s food is prepared for the store by At Last Gourmet Foods in Minneapolis.
Still, others in the business suggest the retail cycle trade should be evolving into more of a steady, year-round enterprise.
“The Twin Cities is a special place with bikes,” says Jim Thill, owner of Hiawatha Cyclery, a South Minneapolis bike shop. “Obviously, if One on One can make better money [with the coffee component], sure. . . . [But] seasonality is a myth nowadays. It’s pretty steady winter business with fat bikes.”
To that end, Oberpriller is also hoping for a boost in winter bike sales. “We have this emerging fat-bike market—a new niche happening with people making this commitment to riding during the winter months,” Oberpriller says. “I mean, One on One’s motto is, ‘It’s not bad weather, it’s just bad clothing.’ ”
This winter, One on One will also host cycle-related art shows to reel in clientele. “It helps us get through the winter months because people like art and want to see something lively.” Oberpriller has hosted several shows, which bring in close to 200 interested browsers. “They pique people’s interest and keep us in the back of their minds.”
One on One employs interns from spring until late fall, and in summer peaks at nine full-time employees. “It’s always a challenge,” he says, “and we are almost at that point where we can keep everyone on [throughout the year].”
Bikes, culture, reinvention and food are what Oberpriller hopes will keep his business upright. “It’s a lot of crossover, but it works,” he says. “We don’t plan on going anywhere.”