Bicycles and espresso

diary-of-an-entrepreneur-lincoln-200Name: Lincoln Brown

Business: Bike Gallery

Location: Hawthorn, Victoria

“Bicycles and espresso” – this is the Bike Gallery mantra. Their patrons live by it and founder Lincoln Brown is no different. A small store with a simplistic interior design of exposed red brick and polished concrete floors emphasises the bikes which are proudly displayed on the walls and around the store.

A product of Brown’s passion for cycling and awareness of the market, the store opened in November 2010 and has been growing steadily by around 20% a year since to reach a turnover of around $1.2 million per year. SmartCompany caught up with Brown and gained an inside look into the ins and outs of the daily life of an entrepreneur/bicycle enthusiast.

Mornings:

Clad in nothing but Lycra, you’re likely to see Brown hitting the streets in the early mornings. He rides most days before work and while he prefers to ride alone, he’s often present on the Bike Gallery shop rides.

“I get up around 7am and go for a ride if we’re leaving from the store. We generally go for three hours or 90km, average speed is typically around 30 km/h.”

There is a fully-equipped bathroom with shower and all the necessary products in the store, undoubtedly a necessary addition given the fast-paced morning rides.

Most days Brown makes it to work by 10.30am, but on Thursdays the Bike Gallery doesn’t open until 1pm –“pretty civilised”, Brown says.

When asked what the first thing is he does for the day there, he offers a quick response: “coffee”.

Like most cyclists, he loves his coffee. The shop boasts a Synesso coffee machine, but Brown insists it isn’t a money maker.

“It’s not a big part of the business, we don’t make a cent off it, we actually lose money,” he says.

Daily tasks:

Throughout the day Brown’s time is divided between a range of activities, from customer service to repairing bikes.

“I do everything in here; I’m a mechanic, sales, obviously there’s a lot of invoicing and dealing with suppliers which can be tough, but the main element is customer service I guess.”

First job for the day is usually purchase orders, which take around an hour.

But the majority of his time Brown spends getting his hands dirty as a bike mechanic.

“Depending on the day, mechanics takes up most of my time. But the main element to the store is customer service.

“I’ll be checking my emails constantly, if I get an email I’ll generally respond to it within five minutes,” he says.

Mid-interview the door opens and his attention to his customers is immediately evident. Quickly excusing himself from the table, he swiftly greets the customer with a casual “what’s up mate” before assuring the cyclists they’ll be able to fix a crooked section of his bike. His relaxed demeanour conveys the friendly, community atmosphere he’s strived to achieve.

“As soon as a customer walks in you’ve got to interact with them, they’re the most important thing to us. Around 80% of the customers are walk-ins off the street,” he says.

The remaining 20% are cycling friends who now purchase all their cycling equipment through the store.

“Once you’ve developed a relationship with the customers, the more time they’ll spend here and the more money they’ll spend here, but that’s never been the motivation of the store; the motivation is to have a community, really excellent products, good service and good coffee,” he says.

For Brown, the flexibility of his job is one of the greatest things about it.

“Lunch is at any time, being your own boss is very flexible.”

“The best part of the job is the good lifestyle you get to lead, if I don’t want to work one day I just don’t and I can push jobs back to the next day. No one is ever going to tell me what to do, because I’m the boss,” he says.

After lunch, his days are taken up with more of the same: Customer service, bike repairs, merchandise and stock control.

“We’ve got clothing, we’ve got bikes – there are a lot of different elements to the store. It’s all about time management as is any business,” he says.

Brown’s busiest time in terms of dealing with customers is usually of an evening, with an influx of people between 5pm and 7pm.

“Sometimes I work late, sometimes I don’t, and tonight we have a meeting between the three partners (Brown, Cameron McDonald and a silent partner). These meetings happen once a month and we discuss how the business is going and what we need to improve.”

Leisure time:

After knock-off Brown doesn’t have a set routine, but working full-time hasn’t stopped him enjoying himself.

“Of an evening I usually go out for dinner and then go out drinking, pretty standard,” he says with a laugh.

For the rest of the year Brown intends to consolidate the business.

“At the moment we’re just focusing on consolidating the business and growing it over the next couple years, possibly to include another retail store but we’re not sure of the location yet.

“But hopefully I’ll get a few holidays too, haven’t had many of those yet.”

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