Most people have a soft spot for their first car. Jeff Williams remembers his first bike.
“It was a blue 16-inch Huffy that my parents got me,” Williams said. “I would ride around the neighborhood and big parking lots. I had that bike for a long time.”
Today, Williams’ neighborhood revolves around Leawood’s Mission Farms, where he and partner Barry Ogden own and operate Elite Cycling. The store specializes in sales of both everyday and high performances bicycles, and accessories for cycling. Elite Cycling also offers repair service, wherever a bicycle was purchased.
When he went off to college, Williams became a member of the University of Kansas Cycling Team. He worked part time at a bicycling shop.
“I enjoyed myself there … but I was kind hitting the ceiling there,” said Williams.
In 2007, Williams was working for a lending company and decided to start Elite Cycling in the space next door. His boss was a triathlete who was interested in high performance bikes, a fact that helped motivate Williams to open Elite Cycling.
“I started Elite Cycling kind of for fun,” said Williams. The space at West 83rd Street and Robinson was small, but the store did well.
Williams also had on online store “that really took off, first with family and friends and then internationally,” Williams said. And he did repairs at the physical store, getting business by referrals.
“It was a fun little prize that was making money and intriguing.”
Q: When did you make the leap to a full-time business?
As the economy crashed in late 2008 and early 2009, the investment firm closed up. Rather than jump into something new, Williams decided to give his cycling business a shot.
“I had this fun business that was functioning and thriving,” Williams said. “I told myself I would give myself a year.”
Q: Why did you decide to move to Mission Farms?
Elite Cycling’s business was so successful that Williams said the company had outgrown his space near downtown Overland Park. Looking for a strong demographic of people who cycle, Williams and his partner looked to the growing area of retail in Leawood.
“We moved into Mission Farms with a nice bricks and mortar presence,” he said. “We invested quite heavily in the build-out of the space.”
Elite Cycling left its 600-square feet in Overland Park for 1,400-square feet of space in Leawood. In May, when a boutique next to Elite Cycling closed, Williams took the additional space, growing to 3,200 square feet.
Williams said Elite Cycling had continued to grow through strategic partnerships with brands.
“Certain brands are more desirable, like Felt,” Williams said. “Bike lines enjoy a certain level of legitimacy to your business.”
In 2010, Elite Cycling aligned with Cervelo Bicycles.
“They’re the best known triathlon bike brand,” he said. “That helped draw customers in who were seeking that brand.”
Most of the bicycles the store was carrying ranged $1,000 and up. Williams decided to look toward other opportunities to increase growth.
“We were missing potential buyers who purchase bikes under that price,” he said. “So earlier this year we formed a partnership with Giant … so we could reach a broader audience.” Giant’s bicycles begin around $300.
“We were definitely limited in our growth before.… Instead of giving that business away to competitors, we wanted to accommodate them,” Williams said. “By doing this we’re able to reach a broader market, pulling in a lot more potential buyers.”
The addition of Giant Bicycles coincided with a rebranding of Elite Cycling.
“We’re now a store that can support all riding skills,” Williams said. Our slogan is ‘Elite service for every athlete.’ If you’re out and moving, you’re an athlete.”
With the addition of the Giant brand and the store’s recent expansion, Williams said revenues are up 20 percent for Elite Cycling.
Q: How do you promote your businesses and these recent changes?
Elite Cycling is an active player in the local cycling community.
“We partner with local cycling events and triathlons,” Williams said. “You have a high concentration of users with these events.”
Elite Cycling also puts on two triathlons of its own; they were held Aug. 10 and 17. It plans an off-road racing event for December.
“These have helped us with lots of exposure,” Williams said.
Q: What do you do in the cycling off season?
The off season is defined by the weather, and some years the period is longer than others. However, Williams and his staff of four worked hard to keep cycling front and center year round.
“We do things like indoor classes for repair and maintenance of your bike as well as cycling classes, so we keep people engaged in our brand,” he said.
Being a business owner is hard work, Williams said.
“The owner ends up burning the midnight oil,” Williams said. “We always tried to run lean and work smarter and not harder. We’ve got a really good staff, and that’s key.”
IN A NUTSHELL
COMPANY: Elite Cycling
ADDRESS: 10673 Mission Road, Leawood
WEB SITE: www.elitecycling.com