The Power of the Master Mind

bike brick and mortar dealer panels leadership small business

Running a business isn’t easy. At the Mann Group, we’re always pretty quick to acknowledge just how lucky we are that we get to do something we love every day; as specialty retailers, it’s an honor to share our passion for the outdoors with our customers nearly 365 days a year. But sharing that passion comes with hurdles, dozens of them, from the small—sick days, broken boxes, faulty POS programs—to the big—hiring, ordering, tricky finances—that we small business owners and managers have to navigate on a daily, sometimes event minutely, basis. The good news, as Recycled Cycles owner Steve Donahue learned, is you’re not alone.
Every other specialty retailer out there, from the biggest brands to the mom’n’pop shops, deals with the same difficulties, and in this budding, tight knit community of retailers fostered by groups like the Shimano Dealer Panel, there’s not just comfort, but genuine aid, in a community of peers. In these settings, you’ll find inspiration, advice, support and acknowledgment. In a shifting, modern world, change isn’t a recommendation, it’s a necessity; with allies at your side, that change is possible.
Donahue is a true veteran of the retail bicycle industry, so he’s experienced the highest highs and lowest lows necessitated by a life in the business. He cut his teeth as a teenager at a local bike shop, where he picked up on the skills and knowledge he’d need to succeed down the line. “When I was in high school in Virginia, I worked for Bicycle Exchange as a shop grom,” he remembers. “I kept busy doing my job, but always had an ear open to the goings on business wise.” When Donahue found himself on the other side of the country some nine years later, he put those surreptitiously-earned business acumen to good use: he opened his own shop.
“I got my feet wet in the local bike scene in Seattle, saw the need for a different kind of shop in the city and Recycled Cycles was born,” Donahue says of his shop, which opened over 20 years ago in the heart of Seattle. Unlike other expensive bike shops around town, Recycled Cycles offered cheaper alternatives for cyclists through the sale of used bikes, parts and accessories.
Like most small business owners, Donahue ran up against a particularly pesky hindrance early on: finances. Even after twenty years of business and a successful second location, Recycled Cycles still struggled to make ends meet. “Cash flow is a constant difficulty and had escalated to a point last year that we could no longer pay our bills,” he says.
Rather than surrender defeat, Donahue faced his problems—and his creditors—head on. “We have negotiated with our vendors to pay down what we owe and get back on track. It is a deep hole to get out of once you find yourself in it. We are certainly not out of the woods yet, but we are making progress in the right direction.” Donahue also made adjustments within the store to save pennies, like shifting his staff model to to a core group of employees offset by seasonal part-timers. When unnecessary positions became vacant, he left them open, and he learned to constantly adjust and redefine old roles. Recycled Cycles changed their insurance carriers and and modified their health benefits, and Donahue even got into the habit of constantly negotiating and seeking out the best, most financially solvent deals for his business.
All of these changes were encouraged and inspired by the community Donahue found in the Shimano Dealer Panel. “The Shimano Dealer panel has been a great influence on me,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity to pick the brains of other retailers and learn their best practices.” It’s a sermon we preach often at the Mann Group; as specialty retailers, we aren’t in competition, we’re a community. By encouraging the success of one retailer, we’re making success for all of us a possibility, which is why panels like Shimano’s are so awesome: by bringing together a collection of similar retailers, they can help each other succeed and, as a result, our entire industry succeed too.
The greatest influence of the panel is a big one: closing the second location of Recycled Cycles. “Many of the other shop owners have shared experiences of tough decisions they have made and have come out better as a result of making those tough decisions,” Donahue shares. And this is the toughest change and challenge he’s faced yet. “Companies grow and that is exciting, companies constrict and that is terrifying. Having to tell staff members that they will no longer have a job in a few weeks has a created a pit in my stomach like I have never had before. But with each step of this process, the pit becomes a little smaller.” With the encouragement of his peers on the panel, Donahue was able to make the best—even if it is the most difficult—change for his business.
Panels and community organizations like the dealer panel also help folks like Donahue remember they’re not alone. “It’s refreshing to see that things are different yet the same in every corner of North America. We are all in this together and having this group of peers has been a big help,” Donahue points out. Using our community as a resource, and as a touchstone, is invaluable.
In this season of change, what truly marks Donahue’s story for us is his refusal of complacency. Despite his tenure in the industry and his success with older models, Donahue willingly altered nearly every aspect of his business model in order to find new forms of success. His willingness to change, coupled with the extensive knowledge and advice of his peers, helped Donahue’s old dream become a new kind of reality.


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