man rides bicycle in sun
SCORE

David Sperstad had dreamed of working in a bicycle shop since he was 13 years old, but it took being let go from a job as an adult to help him get there. The day after he lost his job, he started working as a bike mechanic in a nearby town. As Sperstad settled into his role, he started asking the owner about running the bike shop.

As he learned more about the basics of small business ownership and the ins-and-outs of running a bike shop, Sperstad and his wife, Susan, thought they might like to start their own shop.

First, they attended a workshop at their local Small Business Development Center, where SCORE mentors were suggested to get help starting your business on a good foundation. Luckily for David and Susan, the nearest SCORE office was just down the hall from the SBDC.

After much consideration — they even considered buying the shop where David worked — they decided to open their own shop. Touright Bicycle Shop was born in Little Falls, Minnesota in 2015.

Touright sells bicycles, offers repairs, hosts group rides and offers how-to clinics for cyclists of all levels. David and Susan like to refer to it as “the Cheers of bike shops,” for the friendly atmosphere it fosters in this small town.

Experience is the best teacher

“We knew experience is the best teacher, so we couldn’t go wrong in reaching out to a SCORE mentor who had successfully run a small business,” David recalls.

The couple has worked with volunteer mentor Dick Jordan, who has provided guidance regarding accounting, bookkeeping, advertising, social media and financial reports.

The Sperstads have also participated in webinars concerning funding, marketing, social media, customer relationships, and accounting. “Each has provided us with improved hands-on information that, once implemented, help our business become more profitable,” David says.

“Our mentor has always been there when we reach out to him with a question,” he says. “He has the answer, an idea we are after or gets us a connection with someone who can consult with us and steer us in the right direction.”

Unexpected challenges can derail your business

Despite having a good business plan and support as they launched their shop, Touright has faced a variety of challenges, from the seasonal to the deeply personal.

In Touright’s first year, the Sperstads had planned to offer rentals of cross-country skis and snowshoes to generate income in the winter months, when bike business would be slow. David had heard from other bike shops that getting too much winter equipment could put a bike shop out of business, so Touright carefully selected winter inventory from suppliers and also by sourcing on Craigslist and eBay. “We felt pretty good entering the snow time of year in central Minnesota,” David says. “Yet it wasn’t to be.” There wasn’t much snow in the shop’s first year, and the second wasn’t much better. It took longer than the Sperstads had planned for those investments in equipment to start paying off.

Another challenge was much more personal: in the second year of the business, Susan was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. “Cancer certainly wasn’t in the plan,” David says. Susan wasn’t able to work on the business, and David felt constantly pulled between his wife’s needs and the needs of the business. Susan’s diagnosis and treatment took an entire biking season, which left the store with limited staff to complete the season and prepare for winter. “It was so challenging we almost threw in the towel,” David admits.

But the Sperstads persevered, maintaining a diverse schedule of group rides and events while serving customers in the shop.

What’s next? Maybe a day off

“Our mentors have been instrumental in helping our business become more profitable.” David reports. “Over the past year, our revenue has increased. Thanks to our mentors we have a better cash flow which has allowed us to stay in business.”

What’s next for this bike shop? Hiring more help! In their American Small Business Championship entry (for which Touright was one of 102 state winners), the Sperstads noted their desire to be comfortable enough with their business revenue to hire additional staff. While David is the ‘face’ of Touright, he also works 70-plus hours each week. As the business grows, customers old and new expect David to be present when they visit. The Sperstads know that an additional staffer can complement David’s style while bringing fresh ideas to the business.

Then, David might be able to take a day off and go for a bike ride himself.

About the Author(s)

Bridget Weston Pollack

Bridget Weston Pollack is the Vice President of Marketing & Communications at the SCORE Association.

Vice President of Marketing & Communications, SCORE