Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you’re a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Names: Andrew Alexander
Franchise: Velofix, Greater Seattle
Number of years in business/Number of employees: Seven months/two employees
Initial investment:$62,500/ Average franchisee investment, $100,000
Andrew Alexander likes cycling; he really does: "As a baby, I think I crawled, rode, then walked," he jokes via email. "Since then I've always been heavily into cycling. I was obsessed with the Tour de France, and following the European races." He also raced for his college team, and competed in U.K. and mainland Europe races.
So, when Alexander went looking for a franchise, Velofix, as an idea, had wheels on it. It's the largest mobile bike-shop franchise in North America, with over 50 mobile-van shops on the road which sell, fix and rent bikes. Given that focus on mobility, Velofix, according to its publicity people, is "seriously disrupting the $6 billion bicycle business in the United States."
What's more the sector is growing, as any examination of big city bike lanes and bike-sharing programs, reflects. While most quality bikes are still made abroad, the repair business, stateside, is booming. Elby, with its chargeable commuter bike, is a promising startup. Then there's Canyon; a European, direct-to-consumer startup; SpeedX bikes, focus of a $2.5 million Indiegogo campaign; and "spinning"-class bikes at fitness studios like Peloton. Velofix is making deals with all of them.
"I wasn't necessarily looking for a franchise -- more the business that would work for me and align with my passions and strengths," Alexander says. With a background in managing and growing engineering consultantcy businesses, he says, he's spent a lot of time developing solutions for customers. So Velofix felt like a great fit. "While it's a franchised business, the delivery of the service is extremely flexible," Alexander says. "I have always enjoyed working with customers, understanding their requirements and developing tailored solutions that meet their needs."
Along with residential customers, he says, he's also found a market in the corporate sector -- companies like Microsoft, Google and Swedish Medical. "We're able to work with them to put programs in place that align with their health and wellness initiatives or support and encourage alternative means of commuting," Alexander says.
"This aspect has been hugely rewarding and people haven't necessarily had this level of service in the bike industry before."
After making a modest investment of $62,500, Alexander -- "as a self-certified control freak" -- managed the business end set-up and accounting tasks himself, "which has been an investment of time rather than additional cost, but clearly may not be for everyone."
He adds that he spent most of his planning effort obtaining legal advice on his franchise agreement and building various cost models, validating his business model and "talking to many cyclists and gauging the market."
Part of that discussion centers on educating customers about the mobile model for buying a bike, he says, adding, "I wouldn't say there have been any surprises, just a lot of work." He praises his franchisor, Veloflex, both its brand and infrastructure, and describes the effort needed to find just the right people for his team: fellow bike aficionados, obviously.
"You have to love what you're doing," Alexander emphasizes, when asked his advice for potential franchisees. "It had to be more than just an investment decision. For me, that's working with bikes, meeting the people that ride them and encouraging others to ride, too. Secondly you have to do your homework and understand your market. Third, and most importantly, I think it's about the people and relationships.
"Granted, I think a franchise business can operate successfully on a very transactional level, but a common thread through all the franchisees I've met with Velofix has been the quality of the people and the abundant energy and passion, and sharing the same motivations."
In terms of growth, "I feel that we've hardly scratched the service," Alexander says. He says he's keen to maintain a healthy balance of corporate and residential work and ensure the capacity to let customers book online without a long wait. "We're seeing more people buying bikes online. But opting to have a mechanic bring it to their door, professionally built: I'm excited to see that grow, too."
For more information: Velofix