We talked to Paul Olszewski, 64, owner and general manger of Valencia Cyclery in the Mission since June 1, 1985, about his business and it didn’t take long for the topic of the internet’s impact to come up.
ML: Why the bicycle business?
PO: I’ve always enjoyed bikes – ever since I got one when I was a teenager and started riding a lot. Working on bikes was something that I did through college years to pay the bills to go to school and eventually had the opportunity to start my own shop.
ML: How has the business changed?
PO: It’s changed a lot. Because we’re now a very mature business we have plateaued and the bicycle business in general has been affected nationwide. We’re not exactly sure why..…in part it is because of what is going on with dot.com sales. The brick and mortar stores are not doing as well.
A reflection of that is just down the street we have another competitor and last winter he went out of business or at least closed the store here.
ML: What do you like about the business?
PO: Truthfully, I very much enjoy helping people. What got me involved in retail and keeps me in retail. I enjoy the contact with customers, especially our clientele. We do a lot of business with entry-level cyclists, kids and a broad range of people. And granted we do a fair amount of business and especially repair work with experienced cyclists. But I also enjoy working with the average Joe who just wants to get out there to exercise or commute.
I also very much enjoy the type of employee who works in a bike shop. I can relate to those guys even though all of them are younger than me. It is a good group of people to work with.
ML: What’s difficult?
PO: It is the challenge of all retailers and especially lately with the internet things like Yelp and all, it is really sad to get bad reviews. It is not that we don’t deserve bad reviews, sometimes maybe we do or maybe we could have done a better job, but it’s like we get some customers who frankly no one can make them happy and it’s kind of a platform for them, for one person to spoil the whole barrel.
All in all we do great and we have a lot of happy customers.
We’ve been known to sweep all the awards that are out there for bike shops, so we’re doing a good job. I think, of course any business could do better, but we pride ourselves on doing a good job.
ML: Other challenges?
PO: This internet thing is weird. It’s like a whole different way of doing business and I think a lot of brick and mortar stores are learning how to handle it.
One example – customers will buy parts over the internet and then ask us to install them. How do we handle that? It would be like going to your auto parts store and saying I want a tune up on my car, but I am going to bring my own parts. And then the mechanic says well these spark plugs don’t fit and the customer says, well, keep my car there while I go get some other spark plugs
It makes things complicated. Things were a lot simpler before.
We charge a certain amount for labor, we have our price for the part and if the parts is defective or a problem or doesn’t fit we will take care of that because we’ve made a little money on it. But now we are asked to do a lot of work that we don’t make money on. It is the dilemma of brick and mortar stores everywhere.
ML: What’s on your mind now?
PO: Well actually, we own the two buildings the repair and the sales showroom and it is a big concern if not this winter or the next winter we have to do seismic upgrades and that is a big challenge. It is not only how to do it but how do we coordinate and keep our business going. I’m working on it now.
ML: Any plans to retire?
PO: That hasn’t crossed my mind; as long as I enjoy the business I will do it. It’s not something I’m planning
Certainly there are a lot of headaches a lot of responsibility but in some ways some freedoms that you wouldn’t have otherwise.
Next up: The Local Grocery Store