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Can one open a repair shop without a fortune?

Old 09-19-22, 12:44 PM
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MarcusT
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Can one open a repair shop without a fortune?

I am starting to look into a sideline after retirement and considering a small investment bike repair service.
Understandably, tools are the biggest investment and proprietary tools are part of the game.
But then one has to consider the bigger investment of replacement parts. The number of disc brake pads alone are immeasurable. If one wants to carry only half of the existing brake pads, it's still an investment of $ thousands. Not to mention discs.
Dozens of bearings, spokes, cables, tire sizes, chains, cassettes are also out there.
Ordering parts is not really convenient if a customer has to wait a week for a tire replacement.

Is there anyone in the business who can comment on this conundrum?
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Old 09-19-22, 01:17 PM
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I'm not in the business. But it seems to me that, if you don't already own most of the necessary tools, you might not have the necessary skills.

As for the inventory costs: if you're the only game in town, you might get away with ordering in parts as needed...But you would need a wholesaler account with a large supplier (or multiple suppliers). Here in the US, it would be a company called QBP; I don't know about Italy.

Also bear in mind that most shops make some of their profit on sales of new bikes and accessories. Just doing repairs will not be lucrative.

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Old 09-19-22, 01:18 PM
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In the US Business license, liability insurance, blanket insurance policy if working out the house, quarterly tax returns are not bike items that need to be considered

Not sure how it is in Italy for the above

maybe a model of keeping most common stuff and ordering as needed.

currently in the US with supply chain issues bikes shops are often having to order parts or offer this is what we have for tires, select what we have
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Old 09-19-22, 01:21 PM
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There is more to it than just tools and parts if you are going into business. Set up an LLC to protect your personal resources and you will need a retail license, sales tax exemption, etc. and, most important, liability insurance. Do some research before spending any money on inventory.
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Old 09-19-22, 01:26 PM
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Originally Posted by MarcusT View Post
I am starting to look into a sideline after retirement and considering a small investment bike repair service.
Understandably, tools are the biggest investment and proprietary tools are part of the game.
But then one has to consider the bigger investment of replacement parts. The number of disc brake pads alone are immeasurable. If one wants to carry only half of the existing brake pads, it's still an investment of $ thousands. Not to mention discs.
Dozens of bearings, spokes, cables, tire sizes, chains, cassettes are also out there.
Ordering parts is not really convenient if a customer has to wait a week for a tire replacement.

Is there anyone in the business who can comment on this conundrum?
I'm not in the business, and you're in Italy and I'm in Southern California, but there is a local bike garage, not a co-op, that seems to be the perfect setup. It is called Orange County Bike Garage...

https://orangecountybicycleservicegarage.com/

They are located in a single bay of an industrial complex. They are an authorized Park Tool Learning center and offer classes. The entire operation reminds me of a low key independent auto repair shop. I do almost all my own work, but I have used them on occasion. I've pick up Park Tools from them and they seem to be good people. At one time I think they offered bench space if someone wanted to work on their bike. Their reviews are very good.

Not sure if you want to contact them or if they can give an guidance, but it looks to be a well run, but lower budget, operation.

John
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Old 09-19-22, 01:45 PM
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Assuming you have the skills, and a place to work like a garage in your home, the investment need not be too large. You need only the fairly basic tools that are needed for 90% of the work, and buy the rest as needed, probably financing them from those repairs themselves. Likewise, start with a thin stock of the most common, universal parts like brake and gear cables, spokes in the most common lengths, basic pedals, most common disc pads.

When accepting repairs that require stuff you don't have, quote a lead time long enough to buy what's needed.

As you use your stock, replace it and add extras to deepen or broaden the selection as needed. Likewise with tools, as you make a few Euros you can reinvest them to expand tour capabilities, but do not fall into the trap of trying to be able to do everything.

Assuming this is strictly a sideline, and you don't need the added cash to live daily, you can defer taking it, and build thee business off the sweat equity of the first few months, then slowly begin to withdraw as the immediate needs taper off.
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Old 09-19-22, 02:30 PM
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Depending on location, including availability to other options, I am sure it is doable. What do your really want out of it? If you just want a side hustle to give you a bit of spending money, and have the time and interest in working on others bikes, and you are a viable option for those looking to have work done, probably could work. How much do you want to deal with other people, how are you going to handle it when a customer is not happy, or when you screw up? I like working on my bikes fine, I make mistakes and it impacts only me.
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Old 09-19-22, 02:31 PM
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A lot of stuff on a bike is just adjusting. No parts needed. And you'll be surprised how many can't patch their own inner tubes or change the tube if they have a flat.

Whether there is enough out there to make it a sideline will be on you. Are you considering working out of a van and being a mobile shop?
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Old 09-19-22, 02:50 PM
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Don't know about Italy, but in the U.S., many bike shops trying to stay in business in the face of increasingly razor-thin margins have trouble finding and holding onto young employees, many of whom can find better-paying jobs elsewhere. Love of bikes can keep bike shop workers around only so long until they need to make a decent living wage. That might be opening a door for retirees who like the idea of keeping busy by working on bikes.

Maybe that's the case in bike shops in Italy, too. If there's a shop where you've established or can establish a relationship with the owner, you might consider talking to that owner about the possibliity of working there, even if it's only part time and only doing simple repair jobs, at least at first. You'd learn a lot about the bike business on the front lines and be better equipped to evaluate the practicality of the idea of opening your home-based repair business.
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Old 09-19-22, 03:03 PM
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When I was in Italy in the 80's, finding the used market of stuff was difficult.

But, all of that may have changed with websites like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Ebay, etc.

Around here there are quite a few people who work out of their home. Buy, or are given good project bikes. Fix them up and resell. That takes away some of the needs to carry a big diverse inventory.

However, buying a few things in bulk may save a considerable amount of money. So you should be able to get tires, tubes, brakes, etc, at least at half the cost of new.

A unique market is stripping and shipping (Ebay).

If you can get popular big-name items for cheap in Italy, then it may pay to ship them to the USA or elsewhere. Think Colnago, Pinarello, Merckx, Campagnolo, etc. The higher quality the better.
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Old 09-19-22, 10:13 PM
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Thanks for the input. I have a few years still before I retire, but always checking my options. It would be nice if clients were the the older folks with their older bikes, but Italy is definitely "keeping up with the Jones".
Unfortunately (and maybe fortunately) the nearest full service bike shops are 40 mins away. Bike touring has really taken off here and I see dozens of riders a week pass in front of my house. I've considered the mobile repair shop, but still in dreaming phase.
I predict much of my client base will be transients, I believe they will not be willing to wait a around for a few days for their part to arrive
I have a good hand on the tech side, also a large selection of tools, but the parts supply has me concerned.
Plenty time to think and plan.
Thanks again
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Old 09-19-22, 10:34 PM
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When four of us opened a shop 24 years ago, one of the first things we did was create our inventory list in a database (just do it in a spreadsheet). You can also do it for your tools, and you'll quickly see what those costs are.
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Old 09-20-22, 08:24 AM
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Since you mentioned many tourers pass by your house, try putting up a "Bike Repair" sign in front for now and see what type of repairs people are needing and just start out slow offering services that don't require large investments in parts for you. You'll most likely be turning away some customers due to lack of higher cost parts but you'll get an idea of what your customer base needs. We have a husband and wife team running a very busy small shop for several decades near where I live in a So Cal beach town. Just does beach cruisers, BMX and kids bikes and sells inexpensive parts. No road, mountain or mid-high dollar bikes. They just take care of what is popular in our area and have more business than they can handle.
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Old 09-20-22, 06:06 PM
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Old 09-20-22, 11:05 PM
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It doesn't work so well with the nearest shop being 40 miles away, but I used to run a small business as a side gig in an unrelated hobby. It was heavily service based, and additionally I kept the main consumables (eg. tires, cables, tubes, loose bearings) on hand. I did have a wholesale account, but only made orders every couple months as shipping on wholesale supplies is a killer unless you have large orders. As a result I ended up getting quite a few parts at retail pricing from the local brick and mortar, though it was only 15 minutes away. For something I didn't have on hand my pricing went something like this:

Lowest price, ready in X weeks, ie after my next wholesale order comes in.
Medium price, ready after the weekend as I typically swung by the hobby shop weekly anyways. It was unfortunate having to pay retail for the part, but I made up for it with the service cost.
Highest price, I'll go pick it up tonight, but you're paying for my time.

For the price conscious regulars or those with spare time but lacking the skills, you get the part to me however you want, I'll install it. I would charge my regulars a lot less for this than a new customer though because I didn't want to spend time running down warranty claims if something went wrong with the part.

I share the above concern that while doing quality work in a reasonable timeframe is entirely learnable, if you don't already own the tools you may have a bit of a learning curve.

After my father retired he simply opted to start volunteering at the local bicycle co-op, but then again he's on a pension and doesn't have any expensive hobbies.
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Old 09-21-22, 06:24 AM
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I live in Switzerland and I just went through this process, opening a repair shop in January 2022. I work alone in a small workshop with very cheap rent in a village on the edge of a large city. I've sold a few custom-assembled bikes, but I don't sell bikes and I make almost nothing from the small range of accessories that I stock. Almost all the income is through repairs.

I'd previously worked in 2 of the larger bike shops in the region in 2011-2019. In 2020-21, I was occasionally doing repairs and custom builds for friends, working out of my basement, so I was stepping up from that by opening a proper workshop. My large network of contacts in the local bike community certainly helped a lot, and then I've had a decent amount of business from the local community where the shop is.

After being open for 6 months, I was able to recover the money I invested in setting up the shop. Fortunately, I already owned 90% of the tools including some of the specialist ones. I also had some of the furniture for the shop or got things from friends/second hand. Even so, initial outlay was significant and more than I'd hoped.

It wouldn't have worked as well if I didn't have knowledge of what I would need to buy for stock based on working in local shops for so well and already knowing some of my clientele. Also, Swiss Post is very good, so orders from local distributors arrive the next day (if they have stock), some orders I have to place with German websites, with about 1 week delivery, which often means I don't always make a lot of margin on parts.

Fortunately, my wife is the main earner in the family. Without that, my modest income wouldn't be enough. I have pretty low profit goals, but I have been able to meet/exceed them each month so far, but there is a lot of uncertainty all the time and not a lot of profit involved.

I haven't regretted it yet, but it's only worked out because of many factors in my favor. I wouldn't recommend it to many people except in certain situations.

I'm very happy working by myself and I can figure out all the administration stuff. I don't mind making less money than I could do worry-free being a salaried mechanic in a local shop. The income will hopefully improve in coming years, but even in the 1st year it's been enough to make it worthwhile.

Good luck! Here's my website: https://ridefar.ch/
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Old 09-22-22, 02:50 PM
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I don't remember who said it:

The way to make a small fortune with a bike shop is to start with a large fortune.
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Old 09-22-22, 06:52 PM
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Originally Posted by Chris_W View Post
I live in Switzerland and I just went through this process, opening a repair shop in January 2022. I work alone in a small workshop with very cheap rent in a village on the edge of a large city. I've sold a few custom-assembled bikes, but I don't sell bikes and I make almost nothing from the small range of accessories that I stock. Almost all the income is through repairs.

I'd previously worked in 2 of the larger bike shops in the region in 2011-2019. In 2020-21, I was occasionally doing repairs and custom builds for friends, working out of my basement, so I was stepping up from that by opening a proper workshop. My large network of contacts in the local bike community certainly helped a lot, and then I've had a decent amount of business from the local community where the shop is.

After being open for 6 months, I was able to recover the money I invested in setting up the shop. Fortunately, I already owned 90% of the tools including some of the specialist ones. I also had some of the furniture for the shop or got things from friends/second hand. Even so, initial outlay was significant and more than I'd hoped.

It wouldn't have worked as well if I didn't have knowledge of what I would need to buy for stock based on working in local shops for so well and already knowing some of my clientele. Also, Swiss Post is very good, so orders from local distributors arrive the next day (if they have stock), some orders I have to place with German websites, with about 1 week delivery, which often means I don't always make a lot of margin on parts.

Fortunately, my wife is the main earner in the family. Without that, my modest income wouldn't be enough. I have pretty low profit goals, but I have been able to meet/exceed them each month so far, but there is a lot of uncertainty all the time and not a lot of profit involved.

I haven't regretted it yet, but it's only worked out because of many factors in my favor. I wouldn't recommend it to many people except in certain situations.

I'm very happy working by myself and I can figure out all the administration stuff. I don't mind making less money than I could do worry-free being a salaried mechanic in a local shop. The income will hopefully improve in coming years, but even in the 1st year it's been enough to make it worthwhile.

Good luck! Here's my website: https://ridefar.ch/
THIS! It is a long time understanding that, to be in the bike repair business a long time, having a smart and successful spouse is a very good thing. This is your path to (at least here in the USA) health insurance, bank loans and retirement accounts.

As a former shop owner I learned that the being successful is greatly helped by any of these three preexisting conditions. Owning the building. Inheriting the business and being independently wealthy.

I have resisted in joining this thread for a few days. So many people have rather pie in the sky ideas about this stuff. I strongly suggest seeking some professional help (and not in the usual psychic reference) from any small business consulting non profits. here in the USA we have SCORE (or had 35 years ago when i started my shop). While i didn't carry on with their continuing help attending the first few free classes was very eye opening. In many occupations the actual skill we sell is a small part of running a business that works. Andy
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Old 09-22-22, 07:17 PM
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Originally Posted by Andrew R Stewart View Post
THIS! It is a long time understanding that, to be in the bike repair business a long time, having a smart and successful spouse is a very good thing. This is your path to (at least here in the USA) health insurance, bank loans and retirement accounts.

As a former shop owner I learned that the being successful is greatly helped by any of these three preexisting conditions. Owning the building. Inheriting the business and being independently wealthy.

I have resisted in joining this thread for a few days. So many people have rather pie in the sky ideas about this stuff. I strongly suggest seeking some professional help (and not in the usual psychic reference) from any small business consulting non profits. here in the USA we have SCORE (or had 35 years ago when i started my shop). While i didn't carry on with their continuing help attending the first few free classes was very eye opening. In many occupations the actual skill we sell is a small part of running a business that works. Andy
In my areas, the long term shop own the building, are multigenerational (one is at 4th generation now). The other thing these shops do is surf the current trend, whether it be cruiser, fixies or ebikes. the last time I went into one the only drop bar bikes to be found were the not for sale display high on the wall bikes.

I think a better model for the OP to compare with is people doing mobile bike repair. Limited space for parts and accessories, profit from service
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Old 09-22-22, 07:32 PM
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Originally Posted by squirtdad View Post
In my areas, the long term shop own the building, are multigenerational (one is at 4th generation now). The other thing these shops do is surf the current trend, whether it be cruiser, fixies or ebikes. the last time I went into one the only drop bar bikes to be found were the not for sale display high on the wall bikes.

I think a better model for the OP to compare with is people doing mobile bike repair. Limited space for parts and accessories, profit from service
Agree that knowing how currently working shops handle their business model and the market is another very good research tool. Andy
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Old 09-25-22, 04:58 AM
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I couldn't find the the exact service I was thinking of, but there are a couple "Uber for bike mechanics" schemes around. The one I read up on was mostly offering advertising and insurance for mechanics and clients. I think there was a sweet point in there for a part time volume of work. If one of these schemes could get wholesale pricing for "members" it could be a thing.
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Old 09-25-22, 11:54 AM
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Here in the USA most all wholesalers have tightened up their rules as to who they will sell to. Pretty much a location, a resale license (and thus sales tax paid to the state), liability insurance and a phone book listing are required. If they sell to a person without at least the sales tax and liability insurance the supplier can be on the hook for a lot of $ when the crap hits the fan.

When I had my own shop I required a resale certificate or a non profit sales tax exempt form to be provided for my records. It was interesting how many "churches" and claimed non profits couldn't provide them.

The other issue with how to resale and how much to "mark up" the products is how you want to be treated by the for profit LBS community. If you want them to be helpful when you are in a jam or need a part/tool that you can't source I suggest not trying to undercut them with their customers. The local non profit here doesn't cater to the usual LBS customer and thus has pretty good relationships with the LBSs. But as a former shop owner when I hear of unlicensed "garage shops" undercutting my retail prices and don't pay back into the system of supporting our community (sales tax collection and state payments) I get pretty mad. You are taking away my and my employees' incomes. Andy
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Old 09-26-22, 01:17 PM
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I would start small.
Run the shop out of your garage and advertise locally
Grow by word of mouth.
If it catches on, then you can expand
grantelmwood is offline  

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