In the north east of Victoria, Brendan Washington and his family run two cycling stores — one in Wodonga, and another smaller shop in Yackandandah.
Like most small businesses, Washington Cyclisme is feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, as people stay at home and tourism in the regional towns dries up.
But, this is a community-focused business. And in tricky times, Washington is feeling the support of his cycling brethren.
People are coming in “who probably don’t necessarily need any particular work done on their bikes”, he tell SmartCompany.
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But still, they’re booking in for services or upgrades, or to buy some of the products the store offers.
People know Washington, his wife Anna Fogarty and his two young kids. And the Washington Cyclisme business is not just a store; it’s a space where people come to chat and spend time with like-minded people.
“People understand around here, and particularly in our little community … if the bike shop closes, because of anything, they don’t have that community hub,” he explains.
“People don’t necessarily come here to buy something. They come here to talk shit and hang out.”
And Washington is grateful he can continue to provide a service. In Wodonga, several other small businesses have had to close their doors for the time being.
“We’re very lucky that we work in an industry that can stay open when this happens,” he says.
At the same time, he’s found people turning to him and looking for answers. The business is “pretty proactive” in the local community, he says.
“We’re the store that creates the trends or makes things happen or starts events”, he says.
In the world of COVID-19, that means people have been asking him what he’s going to do.
“I don’t know. I’ve never done this before,” he says.
“They assume you’ve got the answer. But when you’ve never been in this situation before, you’re going to have to wing it.”
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That ‘wing it’ reality became even more stark as Washington realised Washington Cyclisme wouldn’t be eligible for the government’s JobKeeper wage subsidy package, as it hasn’t seen a 30% drop in revenue.
That sounds like a good thing — and in most ways it is. Washington says a 30% drop in revenue would be “devastating” for the business.
“But 25% or 20% is devastating as well,” he adds.
For a business of this size, a 15% drop in revenue would be cause for concern, he explains.
“If you were 20% down you would be a bit worried,” he adds.
“If you were 25% down you would be taking action anyway.
“Staff wouldn’t be able to work, and things would be a bit desperate,” he says.
The business would have to be in a catastrophic place before it would qualify for the subsidies.
“It’s understandable that the government has to have guidelines and figures, and there has to be a breaking point … but it’s also frustrating that you can’t access that for staff.”
Then again, it’s wise to be careful what you wish for.
“You can’t say that you’re disappointed that you’re not 30% down,” Washington admits.
“That’s just where we’re at.
“Luckily things aren’t that bad, and luckily people are still riding their bikes.”