Inspiring a bigger population to do something fun and amazing always strikes as a good marketing strategy. Today, Jesse Cole interviews Chad Wolfe of Trek Bicycle Store. Chad is the guy who created a community hobby and, at the same time, promoted and grew his shop. He shares to us how he drew more people to their city and brought back the joy of biking. By marketing his experiences more than their products, Chad was able to resurrect the love for biking and created a cultural shift. Here, he also talks about how they assessed every bit of the biking experience to understand how to market their products.
Listen to the podcast here:
Bringing Back The Joy Of Biking With Chad Wolfe
Our guest has been known as the Mayor of Johnson City, but he’s not in politics nor should he be. He is the operator of the Trek Store in Johnson City, Tennessee. He has turned the city into a full-fledged biking community with Taco Trek rides, bike and egg rides, and even hosting a wedding at his store. He’s delivering an extraordinary experience. Once I heard his story, I had to have him in the show. Chad Wolfe, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate being here.
I want to let the readers know this email I got from you. You wrote back to me, “I feel bad that this podcast will be so epic that it will make all other podcasts pointless. It will be so epic all their podcasts will need to be referred to as 2.0 from this point on and most likely a nationwide moment of podcast silence will happen on this day every year paying respect to the moment when the mic officially dropped. As the limit to how epic a podcast could be had been reached and generations of children who read comics about what life was like back when businesses sucked and people did everything normally.” That’s a big expectation for the show.
You’ve got to set the bar somewhere so why not go all the way to the top?
I’ll tell you, I never got a response like that. You definitely got me fired up for this. The first time we spoke, I’ve been back with Trek a few times. I love what you’re doing because if you think about us, we’re in similar industries. Biking has been going on for a long time. Baseball has been going on since 1100 at this point. They’re older sports people have been doing but we have to think of them differently. You’re doing that and I’m inspired by you. I’d love to go back and share a little bit of your story. You were a regular person who liked biking and now you’re about creating a biking experience for everyone in Johnson City. Share your story a little bit with us.
The bicycle business is definitely a specialty industry. We sell a thing that people don’t need and that’s why I’ve stuck with it for so long. Even if when your lawnmower breaks, you’re not thrilled about buying another one. I’d rather keep the one I had. It sucked for a little while, so there’s a little bit of newness to it. Even a car for that matter. It’s fun to get a new car, but I’d also rather maybe not have a new payment and stick with the one I have. I’m replacing the necessities and bikes aren’t that. They’re once. Whether it be for fitness or fun, your family and friends are doing it. What better industries to be in when you’re truly selling the things people want from things they need? That’s what’s kept me going in the bikes for so long.
When we started, we were in Johnson City, Tennessee which other than a country song is about as far into the mountains of Appalachia as you can possibly get. We split on the squiggles of East Tennessee, the border between North Carolina and Tennessee so we are in the mountains. You can’t get any more in the mountains than us. When we first moved here, we had challenges. The city was definitely on the up and coming as much as the bicycle business was taking a shift. Road cycling will never go away, but that industry is starting to shrink as texting and distracted driving is a real epidemic in the United States. More and more people are attending to natural surface trails, whether it be bicycle paths or mountain biking. We’re in the mountains so you’re not going to find many places that are better for something like that.
Our market wasn’t cycling. We didn’t have a cycling culture here. What existed were people who are leaving this area driving ironically an hour over the same mountain to another mountain to go have their outdoor experiences. Any good entrepreneur and extrovert, the two things that get you excited would be a challenge and a blank slate where you can make those challenges happen. Rather than claw away, I suppose that the market shares in existing markets. We found Johnson City as this true blank slate. Swimming was phenomenal proper recreation. We hadn’t been anything capitalized on it yet. The challenge we had was getting people to ride bikes and that’s where we quite literally had to start thinking differently because we are not currently the brand.
Schwinn went out of business nineteen times over the last twenty years. That’s still the brand that when people say bicycles, that’s where they’re going to come back to, even though that’s not the same company we all grew up with nowadays. Becoming that brand was challenging in the southeast. Trek was for the new kids. We’re a Midwestern company so we didn’t have the market share here. We had to think outside of the box to try to get people to interact with us as socially and as authentically as humanly possible. We started with bicycle rides for sure. That’s been extremely successful with us as we’ve continued over the last few years that we’ve been here.
Where are we now with you guys versus where you started? You started as an owner of a bike store and you got involved with Trek. What has the traffic turned into be? You’ve turned the community into this community that loves it. There was no cycling. It wasn’t a part of the community. Where are we now? Let’s paint the picture and reverse engineer a little bit of what’s happened to not only your store but the community.Giving people the sense of ownership where the event is something they literally helped you build is very strategic. Click To Tweet
That’s something that we are truly proud of other than making money. This is a business, that’s not a bad word. You are supposed to make money in businesses. More than that, now we had bicycle racks all through the town. It seems easy but I’m telling you in a town that was more of less boarded-up warehouses, it’s painful years ago. Getting that type of infrastructure seems so simple, but it’s not. It shows a belief that these types of outdoor recreation things are sexy and sellable. People want to live in areas that have outdoor recreation and you can attest a lot of people can. Where you live has never mattered less.
You can have anywhere with a laptop in an airport and do billion-dollar companies that you started yourself. As communities start to understand what’s sexy and what brings this generation of people in, it definitely focuses on outdoor recs. We have Tannery Knobs, which is a mountain bike park that’s not even a mile away from our store. It was built on this completely worthless 100-acre bump right in the middle of the town, right off the interstate. We have a Tweetsie Trail which is also a bike path that’s 10.5 miles cut through the Appalachian Mountains. It’s beautiful. It connects two towns to one to the other. The city is now at a design phase to develop a city parcel of 1,100 acres called Buffalo Mountain. This is more than cycling too.
Cycling is what we need to focus on more than anything. Bicycle optimized has a real pitch that makes it marketable to where people not only visit but call home. The Taco Trek draws hundreds and hundreds of riders that come to this iconic ride that we’ve developed. It proves that people ride bikes when given the opportunity. With Buffalo Mountain, that project will put us on a map. It doesn’t even exist and nearly 50% of the land here is a national forest. We not only have to go but we have to be able to have some skin in the game that Johnson City has to prove. People will participate in this type of thing, cycling, when given the opportunity and the Tweetsie Trail started and Tannery Knob got concreted and the Taco Trek. You cannot deny hundreds of families riding their bikes through the middle of town. We can’t naysay that it’s a successful project.
We’ll get to the Taco Trek. What’s fascinating is that it’s not only about the store and the retail experience. You’re making people fans of riding bikes. “Ride bikes, have fun, feel good,” it’s part of the Trek motto in getting people out. You aren’t the hero. It’s not about your store, it’s about the entire community. A lot of companies say, “We’re involved in the community. We do this and we do these donations.” How are you making it so your product and experience gets out of you and your store?
For example, are we getting more people to have fun playing baseball in our community? Are we doing more pop-up shows and funds where we go to a little league ballpark and get kids to be a part of a Savannah Bananas experience? You’re getting more people riding bikes all over which helps the business. It’s such a different way of thinking. It’s not how can we sell more products, but how can we get more people to experience what we sell outside of our store.
Nothing can be more accurate than that. As soon as we say cyclist, you envision a person clad in spandex head to toe, weighing how many bananas they’re going to eat to get the exact amount of water they need for their ride. They’re going to ride until they puke. That’s what we always go to the extreme. As brands, we always advertise that. We’re as bad as most trek advertisements you’ll see and I’m not knocking on a marketing department. It’s a young guy chugging an energy drink of his choice and launching off a house and skidding tires. It’s that real extremity version of it. I would argue that that’s not at all what the industry is like. Most of the mountain biking, for example, is off-road cycling and walking. We call it hiking and that’s an experience.
You’re going to go with a family or you can go by yourself. You’re going to get dirtier because you’ll walk off-road and step over sticks but you’re going to get to these amazing overlooks of waterfalls and destinations that you put in play. You’re not setting a timeframe to this either, “I’m going hiking today.” That’s the experience of it. I would argue mountain biking is the exact same experience. You’re going to get dirtier. It’ll be a little more physically exerted because you’re going to climb steeper grades. You’re going to take a lot of pictures of your bike leaning up against something.
I love to take new people. We don’t know how far or fast we’re going. We’re not donning computers on those types of bikes. We’re going mountain biking for the day and spending time with family and friends. That’s the experience of those types of things. That’s a story. Stories are the most effective way to get people excited about something. That’s what the Savannah Bananas does for a living. At Trek, that’s something we could even do better because now we have 88 domestic stores throughout the United States that are Trek stores like this store. We have thousands of retailers who represent our brand extremely well and all of those heavy impact have telling their unique local story aside from the brand story. That’s the pitch. It has to be said in a tone that makes sense for those types of things.
Take a step backward. We weren’t focused on traditional baseball fans. If we were focused on traditional baseball fans, we would have gone out of business. A lot of other baseball teams struggle and you were saying, “If we want to sell more bikes and make more of an impact, we have to make it easier, more fun, accessible and not focus on those die-hard cyclists.” That’s such a lesson that everyone can look at. What business are you in? We’re not in the baseball business and you’re not necessarily in the cycling business. How would you describe the business and who you’re trying to take care of? It’s not all the elite lead cyclists.
Elite cyclists are grown. They don’t buy a $10,000 bike and ride at a million miles. It doesn’t happen. They start somewhere. Look at the fitness industry. The joke of a treadmill and it becomes how many hangers can you hang from it? It’s getting that buy-in. The first two days, the second ride and everybody goes out on a bicycle. They bought it. They spent a lot of money on it. They’re justifying their investment and they’re going to ride five miles. It’s going to hurt for four and their trail is not the right trail. They’re gone too far.
All the experience of it is not exactly what they had pictured in their heads because our industry shows that extremity on it. What a disappointment is that? What a disservice we do if that’s all that we cater to. It’s not about the bikes but it’s the experience of what you do with that bike. All the success we’ve had come from the advocacy reach here. It was always pitching that too. We never pitched bikes, even to customers. We talk about what you want to do with it and how this thing can help you do those things. That’s how you create fans quite literally.
Let’s go into creating fans. Let’s share a little bit of the story of how Taco Trek started biking and how you and the company’s mindset started thinking outside of the store instead of thinking outside the box which is a good lesson. Share briefly those stories of where it started and where it is now. You made some edge into it and I want to get into what’s next and going from there.
The Taco Trek ride is our baby. It started out of necessity. As most good ideas do, we need to do sell bikes to people and we needed to get people into the ride bikes. We sat down with our team, that was a big step and truly wrote down, “How would we get people to believe in bikes?” It’s similar to if you want to sell more tennis rackets, you should start building tennis courts and teach people how to play tennis. Someday it’s a long game. They will buy tennis rackets. We took that approach with bicycles as well. We set out to create the 5K of bicycle worlds. I always joke about 5Ks. Unfortunately, I married into a family who does 5Ks on Thanksgiving morning. Some of us, unfortunately, have to deal with that. It’s my only 5K of the year, but this year I selected the dog category. They are so social and fun. There’s a dog category. We walked the entire thing with our dog.
There’s a dog walking part of the race.
Absolutely. It’s like when people are drinking Starbucks while they’re walking.
That’s what you entered.
That’s what it was. That’s the type of thing we were looking for. Something that is all-inclusive and still focused on fun. We can do so much better than that. The idea started to spiral out of control that we could create an experience that was inclusive and break down the barriers of what a cyclist looks like. How many people run 2 or 3 miles a day and they would never call themselves runners. They would be offended at the idea, but the concept is they do it to stay in shape. I would argue that they’re more of a runner than most runners are at that point.
This association between this is a hobby versus this recreation versus something I do to stay a healthy person. We’ve set out to set that experience for bicycles and we learned a lot of things along the way. A lot of mistakes were made because we misinterpreted what the average cyclist could do. We would look at mileage. That was one of the biggest hurdles because we would throw out a number of anything and if you’re not riding a bike, five miles sounds like a lot as it should. That’s a realistic distance. It’s like telling a runner you’re going to run five miles or walk a mile for that matter.
Almost by mistake, we had referenced five miles specifically because we were trying to see what riders would want. We’re giving surveys to our customers or existing customers, “What would you like to see in this social ride experiment that we were creating?” We said, “Would you ride ten miles?” We got a resounding, “No.” “Would you ride seven miles?” We got a resounding, “No.” To the point where we thought we had made a horrible mistake of moving to Johnson City altogether. We said, “Would you ride five miles?” We still were getting a resoundingly, “No.” It was to the point where I was like, “Five miles only takes 30 minutes.” They were like, “I would do that.” I was like, “Thirty minutes is five miles.” They’re like, “Let’s run with that.” We had this massive cultural shift and we started to advertise, “The ride is a 30-minute ride.” It changed everything.
We found that that friction point that was keeping people from coming out and experiencing the fun aspect of it and we absolutely ran with it. There was no question. All of the ideas started to come in and it’s like, “What would it look like when you were signing up for the ride?” You need to get some cool wristband and we need to be high fiving and getting excited about the ride. We need to encourage you to bring all your friends and family when they come to a ride because it’s not only about you. We wanted to give out free rental bikes. If you come to the ride, we’ll rent you a bike for $1 which all goes back into the event anyway. What would it look like while you were waiting in line outside? Was there music and keeping people excited about it? All these simple little ideas are similar to what you guys do at the Savannah Bananas. I don’t understand why we connect so well. It was all completely about the experience of the ride. At the ride, I don’t even know the real mileage. I don’t even think it is five miles. No one has ever mapped it. It takes about 30 minutes to get it done and that’s it. That’s the whole thing.
Everyone starts together and it finishes at a taco restaurant. What do they get at the taco restaurant?
The place is called Holy Taco which is not even a block away from our store. It effectively starts and ends here and they get a free beer at the end of it for those over 21 and kids get their choice of soda or ice cream. They usually get both and that’s it. That’s the entire experience. It is an eight-mile an hour ride. That was a big thing we learned, too. Eight is as slow as you think it is. You will have to put your brakes on going downhill. That is the terminal velocity of a kid on a twelve-inch wheel. That is as fast as they’re going to go. That’s what we’re catering to. We want you to be able to be inclusive and that means we’re going to ride together because it’s not fun when it’s 400 people spread four miles apart. That’s not fun anymore. That’s not an inclusive ride. Those are the type of things we worry about. It’s also the appropriate speed to take a selfie on your bike in case you’re experienced. These are the things we worry about on the Taco Trek ride.
On the first ride, how many people to where we are now and what’s happened as far as costumes and everything? What’s the full picture here?
I’m thrilled to have a picture of the first one. I have that picture as if I have any idea of where it was headed. There were twelve people and I was one of them. My wife was taking the pictures so we can cut it down last. It was this quirky thing we advertised and said, “We’re going to ride social.” We had no idea how it was going to grow. We thought we had a pretty darn good idea for it. Now, we’ll exceed the 3 and 400 rider mark at every single time. That’s the first Tuesday of every month, April through October and that’s a lot of rides.It doesn’t matter what business you do, there are things you can take away from the events. Click To Tweet
It’s grown into this whole other thing. Most people would assume it’s a city event version. They’re clueless when I say it’s a retail-specific event because it’s so large. We closed streets for it, there are police escorts that closed the roads for it. People dress in costumes. They get carried away with the costume. We’ve had a real litmus test of capes and spokes do not play well together. You should be able to see where you can go get a helmet on. All of those things are part of what the Taco Trek is and why it’s so successful.
One of my philosophies is share before you are ready. The last time when I was up in Madison, you were thinking of how you’re going to take it to the next level. I would love to know some of the ideas because it’s gone from a little thing to now. It’s big in Johnson City. People look forward to it and it’s an experience. They get their free beer, they have fun, they do it. What are some ideas on how to enhance it?
Our biggest takeaway where the friction points. It’s so funny to look at friction points if something that’s already successful. Those are the most important ones because it’s great that people are coming out now. How can we make it better? One of the biggest things I took away from your idea was as if we had charged, let’s go crazy. If it was $50 to do the Taco Trek ride, what would we change? We’re never going to charge for it. That’s part of the beauty of it. It is free but you start thinking completely differently that way. The waiting period is a huge friction point for it because it’s hundreds of people crowded into the biggest part we have in town. It’s still challenging for us.
We were talking with magicians, balloon animal, face painters because the kids are a large portion of why we love the Taco Trek. Mom and dad can only do events when I can bring in junior to it. He’s going to have an awesome time. He’s going to bring all of his friends and I don’t have to worry about where we go afterward. That’s the big friction point for the whole thing. Making sure that that entire waiting period of getting all those people through the process is going to be huge for it. The post-party as well because once we get to Holy Taco, as you can imagine, it is chaos inside that poor restaurant. We have far exceeded their fire code years ago. It’s making that experience more fun. As you’re waiting in line to get your free ice cream, the same thing, interacting with the fans the same as you folks would and giving that sense of ownership into it. This is something they helped us build and being able to make sure that they’re always reminded of how impactful that is for our business.
I’m also thinking about music and we brought in a mobile DJ. We put a DJ on wheels. We had a segue with a DJ with speakers plugged on. He was going around the ballpark. DJ Peels on Wheels was his name. Can you guys have your own DJ Peels on Wheels? Could you have a DJ on a bike that’s leading the way? Could you have a band potentially inserted in areas that make it into more of this production? It’s lots of music in the end and the beginning and maybe people have their own music, but the music adds a ton to the experience.
How much social is it when you’re listening to music? We sat speakers along the route on the riders themselves. That’s not nearly as much fun. You’re right. I’m writing it down. We’re doing it. We need a live band on the route riding as well. “You wouldn’t believe moments.” We already get those and that’s what’s so fun about events or businesses. Once you hit that spark and you get people excited, it’s intoxicating. You get excited. What can we do more? What can we do better? Everybody wants to be on a winning team. The fans, that’s what we refer to them now as people who do the Taco Trek ride buy bike from us because it is a business at the end of the day. It doesn’t need to be an ROI on these types of things. When you love what you do, it’s unavoidably obvious and that’s the best type of feedback you always get from the fans. That ride generates fans. That’s all there is to it.
You said something a long time ago, “Your customers are transactional and fans are forever.” What an amazing way to look at the way we interact with our businesses, our customers and how we can get to that level. It’s something to be proud of that. Our staff loves that stuff. It’s high fives and smiles across the board. That’s the type of thing you have to teach at that point. That it makes sense and they love everything about it.
I’m impressed, Chad, that you remember some of the things I said. This is a big moment for me here. I want to think about from a business standpoint, because a lot of people may be reading is like, “I can’t go on and do a race. I can’t do an experience.” What is something that you think that you have done that any business can take away? Before we go into that, share the story about the two people that met on the Taco Trek ride and what happened.
We had two customers that met throughout the Taco Trek because it is a great date night. A lot of relationships that now come out of the Taco Trek because of that. I feel that we have to quantify that now. It is super social and these two customers, I hit it off on the first Taco Trek ride. They kept doing the Taco Trek ride. At some point that becomes your thing because that’s our thing. It only makes sense that a couple of years later they were ready to get married and we did it here in the store. We cleared out everything. All of the products and we have some of the pictures because they look pretty great anyway. We closed the store for an entire day. We advertise to our customers not to come because we were having a wedding. Even the outpouring of support that we got from customers is about as high in the fan database as you can get. Our building is beautiful and we did it upright and it was amazing. I have to think about the only wedding inside a bicycle store. That’s pretty confident. That would on a shortlist.
When we first talk, that blew me away. I was circling all my notes. I was like, “Literally got married at your store.” That is a conversant you wouldn’t believe, but it happened because of an experience that you provided. It didn’t happen from the bike that you sold. It happened from the experience you provided and that is the key. What is the experience you provide to bring people together so therefore they can have these moments that they were willing to get married at your establishment? I hope every single time you speak, you share that story.
It’s one of the best stories that we have. Who doesn’t relate to a great story about those things? You nailed it with the idea that this is the longest of long games. That’s difficult to get behind when you are abundantly aware of what’s in a checking account that goes along with those types of things. It’s the old exercise everyone’s done where it’s like, “Remove all the obstacles. Forget money. Let’s spend whatever it takes.” What would you do to create this one of a kind unbelievable experience to it? That’s a great exercise. You can come up with all kinds of ridiculous things like people jumping out of helicopters and personally delivering bikes and things. That’s the fun part of the exercise but after the novelty wears off, if you will, you start to pick up these little snippets. You’re like, “We could do that or we could do this better. We could make that a thing.”
It’s putting yourself in other people’s shoes. What would it take for you to get married in any business that you’ve ever gone to? How would they have to treat you that way? Those are free ideas that everyone can think of. You can write them down on the list, they’ll cross off most of them because most of them make no sense. You’ve got to get a couple of snippets out of it. I firmly believe that it doesn’t matter what business you do. There are things you can take away from the Bananas or the Trek store in Johnson City that will work. It will work in any business. I believe in my soul, Jesse.
We’re going way to serious. We’re going to have to mix it up with some games, but I love that question. What would it look like to get married at your business? What would the experience have to be for someone to want to get married at your business establishment? That is a powerful thing to think about because you would now re-imagine like, “They’re coming in here for a transaction. They’re coming in here to buy this.” No. How do you make them feel that way? How do you bring people together? That is a big question, Chad. We’re going to break up that big, deep, serious question into a ridiculous game. We’re going to go into truth and dare. Which one would you like first, truth or dare?
Let’s start with the truth. It seems like it’s fair.
I want to know a silly, ridiculous, goofy thing that happened on some type of experience, something that didn’t go as well that maybe as a story that you share. It’s like, “That was pretty ridiculous and that didn’t work that well.”
We can go back to the ride. We had so much success with the Taco Trek ride. He invented a ride called the Pedal to the Pints, which has a great ring into it. It sounded like it was going to be perfect. The challenge was, we were riding to nine different breweries. You can imagine you got out of hand at the second brewery. We had full-blown conversations with adults that like, “This is never going to happen.” The attire became inappropriate quickly. I was concerned when our insurance company was going to take it. It was too social way too quick. That’s the most in-depth version of the story that I’m allowed to give over your podcast.
How many people did Pedal to the Pints?
We had over 50 people that came.
Isn’t there DWI? Can’t you ride? What are the rules on that?
For something we should have looked at ahead of time, there’s no question there. It was a great success and people had a great time as you can imagine. There are people who got engaged at Taco Treks, there were people who had babies during the Pedal to the Pints. I’ve got a nice call from the Johnson City Police Department the next morning saying, “You cannot do that again. It’s not going to happen.” We had bikes parked all over town. We had excited, happy customers and fans at that point but that was a rude awakening that it is not a drinking contest to drink a pint at every single one of the locations. We reel it back in a little bit for sure.
I love that there is a way to replicate it. You did biking and eggs. You’ve done all these other different types. How do you make rides fun for people that take them to something? You’re right. Do you know what’s great? Date nights, I’m thinking about this back in my single days. That’d be something different. That would be fun. I won’t be going and sitting at a restaurant and you’re providing something. There are replicate models, but you can’t do too many. You have to find that right fit. We’re still on the truth. Now we’re going into the subject. Biking and eggs, is that one that’s continuing or are there any other ones that you’re doing in addition to a Taco Trek?
Biking and eggs are the spin-off. It was targeting different demographics because the Taco Trek ride is great, but it is huge. Not everybody is necessarily on board with that. Plus, it’s a Tuesday night. A Taco Tuesday, everything about that made sense. That’s school night and all those types of things. We started biking and eggs, which is a Saturday morning ride. It’s a different demographic there. It’s still family-friendly. It’s about 60 minutes, so it’s about twice as long. We don’t advertise the distance because we honestly have no idea, but we’ve hired for about an hour. It’s on the bike path and it has a Bojangles, which is a spectacular southern franchise.
I’m guessing they’re a sponsor?
Yes, they are. That was the same thing. We were reaching out to other businesses and customers of ours. It’s amazing the database of pool you have to pick from your customers. We found one that owns a bunch of Bojangles and he said, “You guys do breakfast. You do biscuits. Let’s do this thing.” Biking and eggs have been a great success as well. It’s funny that we call it our small ride. We’ll get 100 to 150 people on that one. It’s still a massive turnout for what a group ride is still 100% social and 100% supported. You can show up on a rusty old Schwinn that you drag out of your garage that morning and still have a good time on it. The takeaways are similar.
On the three presentations at Trek, there’s dancing and singing. I can’t see you dance, but I can definitely potentially see you sing. We are doing a sing-off. This song may fit more with the Pedal to the Pints. When the song finishes, you’re going to finish that song lyric. I know you’ve got the vocals for this. Finish it when the song finishes, “‘Cause the walls start shaking. The earth was quaking. My mind was aching and we were making it and you?”One of the best lessons in business is it doesn't matter where or who, find a way to share your story and talk about what you're doing. Click To Tweet
Shook me all night long. That’s all I got.
You went high, Chad. I wasn’t expecting that.
You’re going to win. What’s the point? You’ve got to get it up there. No one knows anything other than that lyric. That is the end of the song.
That’s it. No one knows. Is there singing involved in any of the rides that you have? Are there any sing-offs that you could get people doing?
It’s on our list. The whole getting ready to go and after party, that’s the backyard barbecue aspect out of that, we know that we can do so much better with those types of things and great ideas and stuff like that. The in-between aspect is exactly what we want to incorporate into what has already become a huge test.
Let’s talk about what’s next. You’re bringing an experience out inside the store. I know this was a big focus and what Trek focused on. I know you talk about how you got the high five experience when people buy new bikes. What are those things that have happened inside the store? People are always looking for ideas and ways to create a better experience in it. What are things that you remember that stood out or things that you are working on?
The biggest one is the new bike day. When people buy things, their most expensive purchases in their life were a home, a car. Honestly, it could be a bicycle. There are only a few other things that are going to be at that level. It doesn’t have to be. When people buy a bike, they’re making a commitment to themselves or others saying, “I’m going to use this thing and I had an idea in my head and what I’m going to do with it.” The worst thing you can possibly do is take their money and say, “See you. I hope you use it.” That’s not sending anyone up for success. It’s not making it special for effectively what could be the third-largest purchase that they made.
This new bike day experience is something that we’ve always focused on here in Johnson City. I am so thrilled that we’re holding ourselves to a new standard as a brand to make sure that those experiences are always met. It started as simple as everybody gets a high five when they buy a bike and everybody gets a new bike they pictured. It’s always so funny to me the number of hugs that we get when people buy new bikes. The experience has to be great up until that point. Something as simple as loading their bike into their car or when you sat down with their staff and tried to find those friction points that were one of the biggest ones is how’d you get the thing home?
We can offer delivery and that’s great, but we aren’t going to deliver it to you every day. We’ll make sure that we walk you all the way out to the car, we get the bike in the car, we give you that last moment of high fiving and hugs, and we get our picture taken. Do you know how many selfies that our staff gets tagged in on a regular basis and people who are taking our picture with them outside of that last moment? That’s your last chance to set home that this has been an amazing experience and they care about you. It’s also reaching out afterward. After people make those purchases, we don’t want to send you to some generic card that says, “Thank you for buying it.” It’s printed in someone’s signature.
I would love those things where they wrote their signature once and it gets photocopy ever since. How do we engage with those customers post-purchase from the moment that their credit card swipes to the moment they get on their 1st, 2nd, 3rd ride? It starts with, “Are we even creating an awesome experience past the door and getting into their vehicle.” It’s changed our business. A good story is something that no business can steal from you. They can try to create their own, but they can’t have yours. That’s your story and that’s the moment where stories happened. It’s right then and there on the, “Thank you for trusting me, person I met, with a lot of your money for a thing that none of us have any idea how you’re going use it. We’re excited about it and you’re excited about it. Let’s drive this thing home.”
Every single buying purchase should be a celebration. I don’t care if you’re at a grocery store or if you’re at a convenience store, whether it’s a high five, a picture, a song clip that comes on and you celebrate, even the littlest things but especially a bike. We think about this, that’s why we send a video celebrating and a thank you call. That opportunities of celebration, people aren’t celebrated enough and that’s such a huge opportunity. I think about that constantly with what you guys are doing. People go home and they can say, “Wow.” They treat it like it was a big deal. District Bicycles then from Trek who shared with them, they take the most ridiculous pictures. I don’t know if you’ve seen District Bicycles, but they’ll have two guys with no shirts on from the staff behind them or they’ll have guys hanging up on the wall. They do these pictures of a person holding a bike but ridiculous in the background and people want to share that picture. It becomes popular. Make a fun picture. Make it exciting. Have you seen those guys yet?
I haven’t. I’m going to check them out.
I do want to get some more rapid-fire games. When I heard you speak at Trek and speaking to the group, I felt like we are definitely brothers from another mother. When you talked about sharing your story, this is one of the best lessons that any business can learn. It doesn’t matter where or who, find a way to share your story and talk about what you’re doing and how it can be potentially relevant to them. Many people are afraid to jump on stages. I remember when I first started, I spoke in front of 10, 12 people, Rotary, Kiwanis, you name it. I try to talk about what we’re doing to get people excited. You did the same thing, but it wasn’t about Trek and this is important. Tell me about some of the groups that you were speaking and how your role as a leader is to share what you’re doing.
Once you get your presentation dialed in and what people get excited about and what they don’t. We’re heavily in one industry. All of us, whatever business we’re in, it is hard to understand what relates to the general public. If I’m talking about how cool our bikes were, it doesn’t matter to a lot of people. When we talk about those stories, we change the story. First, I will talk to anyone who will let me speak, Rotaries, Kiwanis, advocacy groups. I once talked to a quilt club, which is called a guild. It’s infinitely cooler than any other club.
How did you do this? I want to go back. Did you start reaching out? How did this happen? You were like, “I’m going to start speaking to these groups.” How did it happen?
A lot of these groups are designed around getting people to present. We started with that and at the end of every single one of them, if I had done my job, people would smile and they would say, “How can we help?” I never had an answer for that other than like, “Give me money. That would be a great way to help.” I didn’t have any money either so then I would ask, “Tell someone else what we talked about here.” That’s all I ever asked for.
Eventually, as you would imagine, people started to call me and say, “The bike guy. The Banana guy.” How many times have you been called Banana guy? “We would love to have him come here and talk about what bicycles can do.” That was always our story. It was the result. If you ride a bike, these things will happen. That presentation was different because they didn’t care about bikes. Not that they’re evil people but they don’t. That’s not their thing, but they can certainly understand the idea that if you built trails that intersected to other trails on your development, that would increase the property value. We bring in a specific clientele.
I talked to a group of orthopedic surgeons about how my back gets hurt all the time. Those are things they can relate from, as simple as it is. That’s where we started to build that culture of what your actual story is. If you start with what’s authentically making you different, tell one person and ask them to tell someone else. That’s how I did it and it’s done with it. I always talk about that in the past tense. I got stuck talking about these things but during those first couple of years, that was our true presentation on how we were going to sell bikes was to prove to the world that we believe in bikes. We do and you should too, and here’s why. That was how it worked.
I’m thinking about a restaurant. Who wants someone from a restaurant to go talk? What if you talk about the healthy lifestyle, what type of food and how it can impact you? If you’re in heating and cooling company, what if you talk about the comfort in sleeping and things that can make you have a better lifestyle? Every company can find their things. You’ve heard me speak three times and I talk about the Bananas but it’s all about how it can guide your company. You notice people are like, “Can we come to a Bananas game?” That’s not the goal. That’s never the goal. The goal is always trying to help and share how to help but that’s what it turns into. I’m looking at how can this help the community? They’re like, “We should get a bike from him.”
You got to make money at the end of the day. It is a business that is not a nonprofit. We aren’t and we need to make money and that is not being a jerk by saying those types of things. That’s your end goal. If I got on stage in front of 100 people and told them about all the cool, amazing technology that our bikes have, two people might get excited about it. One of them would understand what I was talking about. That’s also the presentation most people are used to hearing, you’re right.
I love the idea of heating and cooling. That’s a staple thing that people need. It’s dangerously a need, not a want. It is a want because no one wants to be uncomfortable but that comes with your house. You expect it to work and when you’re in it, it goes down. You’re not getting frustrated when it finally shuts off. It’s challenging for industries to make it sexy. You’re right, a different aspect of eliminating that type of barrier is how we do things differently. This is how we treat customers differently.
It’s sad that the customer and the hospitality level is freaking low in the United States. All you have to do is be better than that, heaven forbid, to be twice as good as that. That’s what we’re looking for, those types of companies who give us something to believe in, no matter what they do. That’s your return on investment. When those dollars get spent, they need to know that the bike guy and whatever shop that he said he’s working at, is the one that’s going to get my money at the end of the day.
We’re looking at your macro level. First, create an experience that’s worth talking about, then how can that help people? How can what you’re doing help? Get on a stage and start sharing it. Every company can follow that blueprint. You’ve made a comment about how there’s not good service these days. I love this little segment. That’s what I call service. I would love to know what’s the best service experience that you’ve had or something that stood out for you.
The biggest one, honestly, is a coffee shop. Those are the ones that hit home with you. It started with Dunkin Donuts, it’s a franchise. You sadly set this level of expectation that it wasn’t going to be anything extraordinary that day. This is one of my favorite stories because it was one of the first interactions I had in Johnson City a long time ago. I walk into a Dunkin Donuts in the South and I don’t talk like southerners. I don’t have the right accent, which is obvious.
I walked in there and I ordered coffee, nothing more to it than that. The woman noticed my accent and said, “Where are you from?” This is small talk while she’s making my coffee. I said, “I’m from Chicago. We’re visiting down here.” It turned into a conversation where she said, “Great. Have you been here yet? Have you been there yet?” She apologized for the weather being bad that day. When I got done with the coffee, she said, “Next time you come to town, you definitely got to check this out.”
That was a little hospitality at Dunkin Donuts getting coffee that completely blew me away to the point where I’m telling you about that type of experience. The coolest part is that was an employee who did that. I’m not knocking Dunkin Donuts, I’m not entirely sure that’s built in their company culture but that employee got it. As you would imagine, six months later when we started the business, I called and hired that employee. Those are the types of things that are takeaways when people get it.Every single bike purchase should be a celebration. Click To Tweet
My biggest point to it is these amazing, you-wouldn’t-believe experiences sometimes come from the employees within and those are the ace in the hole that is going to be able to take your message. I talked to a guy camper truck with you about how not everybody is this person, not everybody can get on a stage in front of a group of people and get them excited about something. That’s the cold hard fact that a lot of the people who might be thinking that way, they aren’t necessarily the person who can be in front of them and that’s how it is. You need that lasting hope within your company who can get on stage and get people excited. It may not always be you but someone in your organization. It has to be that person and if not, you need to hire one.
Different strokes, Chad. What’s one view of business that you have that’s different than most?
I have this iconic brand theory, which is I split the word theory because it sounds sexy when I say it that way. It sounds like something that should be a book, but I believe that there are three things that companies are known for. It’s either products, hospitality or story to come full circle. The product, that’s the Harley Davidson to the world where you make anything and people will buy it. That’s a risky business because it can be stolen easily by someone who’s made a better product or your product becomes outdated. It’s almost financially unrealistic to keep at that level.
Hospitality, that would be the Chick-fil-A of the world where it’s a bag of chicken. Everyone loves it, but I don’t even know if it’s the best chicken. The hospitality that you get is incredible, which is what drives their business. That’s dangerous because it takes generations to get to that level where you’ve had a great experience, you’ve told me about it, then I told five of my friends and eventually you’re known for great hospitality. It takes time but then there’s the story. The story would be Patagonia perhaps where if the company you believe in what they do with your money after you buy it.
My favorite part of that idea is that the story part comes with the other two. It’s something that has to be built that way. Apple isn’t a terrible version of this story because they make a revolutionary product. They drop an iPhone in the land of BlackBerry and the world lost its freaking mind. You go to an Apple store and you know what the expectations will be. The hospitality is going to be there. You’re going to get in and out quickly. They’re going to have the product in stock and everyone knows Steve Jobs is a household name.
If you have all three, that’s the iconic brands that people study for generations to figure out how you’ve done it. Each aspect of it can be done because small business is not an excuse to not be great. That’s an expectation to be better than the great businesses. Five employees, five million employees, it doesn’t make any difference. Standard core values are there. I know it sounds ridiculous to be this little store in East Tennessee, but we’ve always held ourselves to that level of expectation and we don’t create the products, thank goodness. Someone smart in a lab coat builds those things for us and they are best in class.
I believe that hospitality stories, that’s 100% something that we can control internally. That means the Trek store of Johnson City will always have the best story. We’ll always tell that great story and always give that level of hospitality because we can do that. We can control it and that doesn’t matter if you’re 1 out of 8 million franchises, your store has the ability to control those last two. That’s a different way of approaching businesses because all small businesses look at it as like, “We’re not a big business.” They always say that. When does a small business become big business? Is that a line? Is it a dollar amount? I don’t know when it happens. All small business wants to be big business. That’s the point of business, to get bigger. The product, the hospitality and the story, 2 of the 3 versions of it, that’s a different way holding yourself accountable to these high standards.
It’s powerful. I’m thinking every company may start with a product, but they don’t figure out the hospitality until they have the product. Once they get great hospitality, a lot of times, the story starts coming in like, “This is where they started. This is what they’ve done. This is what they’re about.” It’s almost in that order too. You can’t start with a story because your story is nothing if you don’t have a product and you don’t have hospitality.
Find me a restaurant that doesn’t have a story on the back of the menu or something like that. Those are bad ways of telling a story, but the story still exists. You have to be proud of something, otherwise you can go buy a lot of things in other places and nothing will hit home more than a company where I’m going to buy something. Shop local is always a big thing, I believe that everybody does. It’s a great shift in American consumerism but what it goes through is like, “I’m going to get that person on me because they’re local.” Where did your money go after that? You can get it to the local person. What does the company do with it after that? If there’s another company, what do they do with it? We want to believe in companies who all the way through are doing good things and that’s a story.
A few more rapid-fire and we’ll finish up because I’m fascinated. You gave some real fire right there. I want to go with question time. If you want better answers in business, you’ve got to ask better questions. What are some of the best questions you’re asking?
The best question is, what do you want to do with our customers? Ask them, “What are you going to do with a group ride? What would you like to do?” Their answers astound us. They were always the opposite of what we thought they were. They didn’t want 45 miles with somebody who’s puking. They want to drive with their family. That was the best question we ever asked, “How would you like to drive?”
What’s the most important tool you have in your business toolbox?
We can’t act for people if we don’t collect their data to begin with, phones, emails, addresses and beyond. It’s not a creepy follow-up thing. We legitimately want to be able to interact with you and we need to capture something. As businesses we have to get over it. It’s the most important thing.
Favorite part of your morning routine?
A favorite part of my morning routine is riding my bike. I know it sounds cheesy but it’s a big deal. We got a trail dog. Everything about that is awesome and it makes me feel the day is going to be awesome every single time.
Favorite way to unwind at the end of the day?
Ironically, it’s back to the bike.
You live your brand. I go for runs in the morning and stuff, but you live your brand. Every day you’ll do a ride in the morning and ride in the evening?
Yes. True to the form of everything that we’ve talked about to this point is it’s not the eight million rides where I go out and ride some with you. A lot of times, it’s riding with my dog in the morning. We take a lot of pictures that go as far as we feel like going. I love to ride with other customers and friends and family. We might run to the donut shop. It’s being on that bike is the part that I love. We believe this stuff and if there’s one way to put your money where your mouth is by doing it.
Favorite book that stands out for you?
Your book, obviously.
You’re the only one to go that route out of over a hundred episodes. Now for the real answer.
I’m not going to shy away from it, it is. When you connect with people’s businesses, there’s real buy-in that you’re looking for out of it. You can read about companies that don’t relate to your business and you get great ideas out of it, but it is a big picture. It’s hard to wrap your brain around. I’m completely serious. Your company is similar to my company in a lot of different ways, but we hope to engage in customers. Our true focus at that point is creating these levels of fans. It is one of my favorite books because I can relate to it and I can truly pick apart parts that make an impact on my business immediately. Those types of results are impossible to argue. I stick with my first answer.
What’s one thing you’ve done to stand out in business or in life?
It was making sure that we’re always telling our story. It sounds simple, but it’s not. Every time I talk, it’s a real talk and it’s authentic. It’s scripted in some cases because I have to have some details that I want to get across, but letting the conversation organically develop off of the feedback of the people we’re talking to. That doesn’t matter if it’s a politician who I’m asking for millions of dollars to build a new trail or if we’re talking to brands of things that we want to carry and what we think they can offer us, the authentic version of that story.
I’ve always said it’s powerful to be a story maker and then a storyteller. You’re doing both of those well. The final one here, Chad. How do you want to be remembered?
I want to be remembered. That’s the biggest take away from that. A lot of people go through life, the big picture. I’m doing good things and it’s like, “I want to shift the culture of Johnson City,” which I do think we’ve started to get, to be a bicycling-focused world, a better place. That’s what I’ve always loved about our industry. We have an actual impact of impacting our communities through bicycles. I want to be able to be remembered by being able to do those types of things, to make Johnson City better, because the Trek story of Johnson City had that impact. Who doesn’t want to have these types of legacies to leave behind?
I have absolutely loved getting to know you and hearing some of the fun. We went a little deep. The impact that you’re making, the fun that you’re having, I am fired up. I got to get to a Taco Trek ride and be in the yellow tux but maybe have some music going and throwing a party. You’re doing some cool things. Chad. There are many lessons that we could learn from here about telling and sharing your story. Believe in what you’re about and you are true to your brand and you believe in it. Trek is lucky to have you and I’m lucky to have you on the show. I appreciate you very much. Where can people find out more if they want to hear more of your story?
Thank you. We love everything you guys are doing. You can visit us at TrekBikes.com/johnsoncity, Facebook, Instagram or anything you could possibly imagine. We are easy to keep up with. We want to keep tabs on and we’d love to have you in Johnson City any time.
Thanks so much, Chad.