Edited by Rick Weinberg, California Business Journal. Email: Rick@CalBizJournal.com / Mobile: 949-648-3815
While one may not think that beer and bicycles necessarily go together, Carolyn and Aaron Thompson — and a handful of other bicycle/beer enthusiasts across the country — are of a different mindset.
That’s why the Thompson decided to open Bicycle Brüstop in downtown Novato, California.
The 2,400 square-foot shop is really much more focused on serious bicyclists than the beer, but Aaron likes to think of the beer — and the chocolate milk and other beverages they offer — as more of a perk, a value-added means to an end, something folks will remember them by.
“While you’re actually out there on the trail, mountain biking is not an inherently social activity,” he says. “You concentrate on the path, you ride single file often, but it is pursued by very social people who really like to get tougher after their ride to meet and talk and have a beer.”
“We want to make our shop more than just a place to buy a bike or get your bike fixed, but a place where you can start and end your group rides, where cyclists can get together – a cycling community hub. The other beverages can be before or after, but the beer is definitely for after the ride.”
Thompson had been working at a tech firm in San Jose for eight years when he — and practically everyone else he worked with — was made an offer by management to either accept a transfer or a payout package.
He took the dough.
“While I was there, I was really getting into cycling and I realized I didn’t want to do the cubicle thing the rest of my life,” Thompson said.
So, with the unfailing support of Carolyn, he signed up for a double masters at San Jose State (Business and Engineering), took bicycle mechanics classes, and then got a job at a bike shop to learn the ropes.
With the training done, he and Carolyn started looking for an ideal spot for their shop.
“We knew we wanted to be in the North Bay and we spiraled our search down,” Carolyn says. “We’d always loved Novato and when we heard they were fundraising to open a bike park — that pretty much sealed the deal.”
With the concept and location set, they started looking for partners. First, they found Giant Bicycles, the world’s largest bike manufacturer.
“For so many years, other bike companies – when it came to women’s bikes – had an attitude of ‘pink it and shrink it,'” she says. “They would just modify – barely – and re-brand men’s bikes. Giant goes far more in-depth into the needs of woman cyclists by offering everything from specially designed bikes, to great well designed gear and accessories. We have a large section of our store dedicated to women’s bikes and accessories and will host events with LIV/Giant including a demo day and clinics.”
Then came the process of finding the needed funding to open the doors. Most banks, notes Aaron, say they work with start-ups, but when you get down to it, they really are looking for the new-ish business looking to expand.
“That’s the difference with SAFE-BIDCO,” he says, referring to the small business organization, State Assistance Fund for Enterprise, Business and Industrial Development Corporation. “They will work with actual start-ups and they won’t just go through the paperwork, but will actually offer help and feedback based on the lessons they’ve learned from going through the process with so many other entrepreneurs.”
SAFE-BIDCO was able to arrange a SBA term loan for the initial inventory and the Thompson’s opened their doors in April.
“Initially, I previewed their business plan and provided some feedback,” says John Connelly, consultant for SAFE-BIDCO. “[Then] I sat down to meet with them for the first time and I could tell that these were two well-prepared and dedicated individuals.
“As far as start-ups go, one of the best prepared I have come across.”
The shop owners also aspire to become the center of the burgeoning biking community in the area.
“I’m glad we finally have a cool bike shop in Novato,” says one customer, Henry Blank. “Having beer there is a great idea. After a long ride, a cold beer is ideal, especially after riding with a few friends.
“I am very impressed with the store and the staff. They’re very friendly and knowledgeable. They took the time to chat with me about life, bikes, products…just genuine people.
“I bought a few products for lubricating my bike, which were cheaper than usual,” he says. “I also checked out a ride bike for my lady and I couldn’t believe how good the prices were for Giant bikes. They sold us.”
Says another customer: “Incredibly friendly and helpful people. Aaron took lots of time to talk to me about trails, bikes and even went as far as to start looking things up on his own computer and even helped me purchase a day pass to Camp Tamarancho. I felt very taken care of — and he asked for nothing in return. Great people, great service. They do things right.”
As for the hard work and long hours involved in starting a new business, Aaron and Carolyn are enjoying the experience.
“There are always challenges and something new to figure out running your first business,” Aaron says. “But we don’t get that burn-out feeling like when other jobs take over your life. This is our new life: helping people get out and have fun on their bikes, we love it.”
830 Grant Ave.
Novato, CA 94945