To differentiate his bike shop from local and online competitors, Michael Grotz, owner of Park Ridge-based CycleSport, likes to say he doesn't sell bicycles — he sells cycling.
"Certain things in this world are just commodities. Maybe something like an energy bar is cheaper online, but we have it here as a service to our customers," Grotz said. "The majority of things here have a human-to-machine relationship. What we're selling is a lifestyle."
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Grotz said on several occasions, people thought they were making a simple purchase online, but then they ultimately had to visit his store to get custom measurements, because they couldn't ride the bike they bought.
"You could buy a $1,500 bike online, but not realize it comes in eight to 10 sizes. There's a ton of information on the Internet, but not everyone knows how to use it," Grotz said. "I had a guy bring in a bike he had bought online and tried to assemble, and it was a total nightmare. One of my mechanics spent the better part of an hour making the bike safe Now they'll have a better experience, but a lot of times people don't realize a bike is not like a TV."
Even though he has worked harder than ever to compensate for the state's failure to adopt legislation that would force his online competitors to collect sales tax, Grotz said adapting to change — including new technology, since he recently gave his employees iPads to look up out-of-stock merchandise — has helped him grow his business by 10 percent every year. To drive local sales and get customers motivated to use their new bikes, CycleSport hosts about four bike rides a week out of the store, and sponsors races where proceeds benefit local charities, like the Upper Saddle River Women's Biathlon for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which was held on May 19.
"A bike shop could grow at a faster rate if you spend less time with your customers, but we do a lot of referrals, so by doing the job our way, we do get the growth," Grotz said. "A lot of people in corporate America are dropping golf and picking up cycling, because once you have the bike, you don't really need to pay to use it. That's really helped us lately."