What do cyclists need besides air in their tires? For this bicycle retailer, cafe offerings make for repeat customers.
Chicago's heritage bicycle General Store, above, is a retail mash-up of a couple's -- as well as hipster culture's -- twin obsessions: bicycling and coffee. In 2012, Melissa and Michael Salvatore, right, opened up their bike store-cafe, where customers can peruse hand-built bicycles while enjoying a croissant and a cup of Stumptown coffee. After all, "diversify" is the first commandment for small-business owners selling somewhat seasonal gear. As Michael says, "The cafe subsidizes us during the slower winter months when we don't sell as many bikes." And, in turn, building a sense of community among cafe regulars draws in potential bike buyers. Plus, they just really like that people have a homey hub to gather in. So much so that they and their 21-month-old son have moved into the apartment upstairs from the store. "Heritage has truly become our front stoop," Melissa says. 2959 North Lincoln Avenue, 773-245-3005, heritagebicycles.com.
Melissa and Michael Salvatore, the owners of Heritage Bicycle General Store, share what they've learned about building a small business.
We Couldn't Live Without ...
the staff! We have the best bike mechanics, baristas, and administrative staff in Chicago. It's the people who make this place run smoothly. And ShopKeep (shopkeep.com), a program that lets us use our iPad as a register, has come in handy, too.
One Marketing Strategy We Used ...
was setting up outdoor photo booths at bike events, markets, and festivals. We would erect a backdrop and take professional-quality photos of people on their bikes (Melissa is also a freelance photographer). We stamped our business name in the corner of prints and let people download a copy from our online gallery. They'd share the pictures with their social circle, which got our name out.
We Wish We Had Known About ...
the resources available to us during the planning stage. Check with your city's chamber of commerce or the business school of a local university. People are more than willing to help you figure out a business plan.