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Portland, the land of (bike business) opportunity

Posted by on March 23rd, 2010 at 2:46 pm

bike parking near Aerial Tram - South Waterfront-2

The time is ripe for a new bike shop
in South Waterfront near the tram.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Portland is an ideal place to start a bike-related business. Not only do we have a vast array of people who enjoy riding all types of bicycles, but we’ve also got an increasingly supportive business and development community.

In the past few days I’ve come across three interesting opportunities that every aspiring bicycle entrepreneur should be aware of.

First up is a new program from the Portland Development Commission. As reported by Civic Source last week, the PDC has several new programs to support entrepreneurs and start-ups “in order to foster economic growth from inside rather than focusing solely on recruiting companies from outside”. One of those new programs, the Portland Start-Up Fund, will provide seed money from the city for new companies who need a stepping stone to larger private investment.

Once you get your company off the ground, or if it’s already up and running, an excellent location is critical. I’ve gotten word from two people recently about perfect places to start a bike business.

Under construction as of this morning.

Real estate developer Jon Kellogg is responsible for several projects along the bustling bikeway of North Williams Avenue including the new space that’s home to United Bicycle Institute and bike pannier and handbag maker Queen Bee Creations.

The final piece of this bike hub is the corner space that sits on the intersection of Williams and Shaver. Kellogg purchased an existing building and is moving it from downtown Portland to this new location. He’s still trying to find “the right bike-centric tenant” for the space in order to complete his vision of a 100% bike-oriented development. If you’re interested, drop Jon a line at jon@cra-nw.com.

Drawing of building that’s coming soon to Southwest corner of N. Williams and Shaver.

The other location that’s ripe for a bike business is in South Waterfront near the base of the Aerial Tram. John Landolfe, the “Bicyclist Liaison” (yes that’s his official title) for Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU), recently got in touch to share what he thinks is a perfect opportunity.

“The first startup to plant their flag would have zero direct competition and access to the largest workforce in Portland. Why has no one jumped on this yet?”
— John Landolfe, OHSU

As he scouted new locations for bike racks near tram, Landolfe looked out at hundreds of bikes and thought, “I can’t think of a better place to open a bike business.”

Landolfe says he counts an average of 500 people on bicycles a day during the high season at the base of the tram. He says the vast majority of them are OHSU staffers who have the money but not the time to take care of their bikes.

bike parking near Aerial Tram - South Waterfront-1

“The first startup to plant their flag would have zero direct competition and access to the largest workforce in Portland [with 12,400 employees OHSU is largest employer in Portland and fourth largest in state]. Why has no one jumped on this yet?”

Landolfe says he can imagine a doctor or EMT or office assistant dropping off his or her bike at the waterfront, riding the tram up the hill, and returning to a tuned up ride on the way home. “It’d be a great arrangement for the cyclist, the shop owner, and the local economy.”

Given the anemic condo market, there are likely plenty of open retail spaces close to the tram and OHSU’s adjacent Center for Health & Healing. Better yet, perhaps a bike cart (like a food cart, but for bike accessories and service perhaps?) could just set up shop right near all the action?

From new bike shops that seem to open up monthly, to product designers and manufacturers, Portland has a thriving cluster of bike businesses and it looks like there’s still room for plenty more.

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

24 Comments
  • Avatar
    chad March 23, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    I have a great love of bikes and money to invest, but no professional (retail or repair) experience.

    Sorry if this sounds like a CL ad, but I don’t really know where to start…anybody have any advice/ideas for someone like me to start a bike centric business in one of the locations mentioned beyond what Jonathan has already mentioned?

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    Brad March 23, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    Bike retail businesses already run on pretty thin margins. What happens when the economy comes back around and SoWa gets “hot” again? I suspect that the rent on those primo locations goes through the roof driving the bike biz out and it gets replaced with yet another pretentious Pan Asian / Northwest fusion restaurant or a Starbucks (14,000 highly paid employees who’ll pay $3.50 for mediocre coffee! Sign a lease now!).

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    Toby March 23, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    Well, why not partner with an experienced mechanic and/or entrepreneur and open a shop? If you wanted to be more than a silent partner, you could take some wrenching courses from UBI.

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    SteveG March 23, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    MercyCorps NW is offering a course on “how to start your own business” right now. I think it’s even free.

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    Nick V March 23, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    Brad #2,

    I hear ya, but the few times I’ve been in “SoWa” it has been a ghost town with no amenities yet (food markets, bars, dry cleaning, etc.) They needed an auction to finally sell off some of those condos. Unless I’m mistaken, you shouldn’t have to worry about rent for a good two or three years.

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    rob j March 23, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    you know you could probably get a bike centric biz going downtown somewhere too. There is a plethora of empty retail that building owners would be desperate to lease.. not sure

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    cole March 23, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    i almost moved both of my businesses (www.batescrates.com) (www.1lesscar.com) from chicago to portland last fall but i ended up getting a great deal on work space here. its really to bad i felt like portland is the perfect place to have bates crates located…it still might happen

    cole

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    Dan March 23, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    I welcome any new locations for bike businesses, especially considering new businesses mean the possibility of new jobs for out of work engineers like myself. 🙂

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    Paul March 23, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    Those Bates Crates are really cool!

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    Anonymous March 24, 2010 at 7:21 am

    I work with in the industry supporting bicycle retailers.

    The best owners I have seen are those who understand the retail business. They could be selling appliances or office equipment, it doesn’t matter, they know how to run a business.

    The biggest failures I have seen are the people who think that their love of cycling is enough to carry them through while the learn the business side.

    Learn what a P&L statement is. Learn what turns are. Understand the difference between markup and margin. Know the difference between gross and net. Find out what net 30 means.

    And the biggest piece of advice on starting any business is to have enough money in your bank account to carry you and your business for 12 months.

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    Zaphod March 24, 2010 at 8:12 am

    Yeah, I checked out the Bates Crates and I totally want one. In fact…I have a small sum of birthday money…kaching

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    rojo March 24, 2010 at 8:15 am

    “I work with in the industry supporting bicycle retailers.

    The best owners I have seen are those who understand the retail business. They could be selling appliances or office equipment, it doesn’t matter, they know how to run a business.

    The biggest failures I have seen are the people who think that their love of cycling is enough to carry them through while the learn the business side.

    Learn what a P&L statement is. Learn what turns are. Understand the difference between markup and margin. Know the difference between gross and net. Find out what net 30 means.

    And the biggest piece of advice on starting any business is to have enough money in your bank account to carry you and your business for 12 months.”

    OOO I know what all those things are! Good advice

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    chad March 24, 2010 at 8:38 am

    thank you Anonymous for the down to earth advice.

    I am aware that my love of bicycling will not make up for my lack of retail knowledge. It is for that reason alone that I have yet to move forward with a great, but unique bike business idea that I’ve had for some time. I know that bike-love and money alone will not make my dream a reality.

    But, I still have the drive and the ambition to follow the right paths that may lead me to a successful business involving one of the things I am most passionate about. Complimenting that passion with knowledge and/or a partner who possesses the knowledge I presently lack is my next step.

    The advice given above has already helped me immensely.

    Thank you!

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    Anonymous March 24, 2010 at 10:00 am

    Chad,

    Keep pushing forward. Don’t let my advice stop you. I hope it has given you a different view of the challenges that face you and that you will take up the challenge and get the knowledge you need to turn your idea into a success.

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    reg March 24, 2010 at 10:01 am

    OHSU employees are encouraged to bike through incentive programs and for those of us too lazy to take the hill we all lock up at the base of the tram. That’s a decent percentage of 14,000 moderately well paid people who would be willing to support a bike business in the area.

    What I’d like? The ability to drop my bike for a tune-up or repair on my way to work and pick it up at the end of the day. Throw in some basic supplies like velcro leg straps, waterproof bike bags, some cutesy items and you’ll have the summer commuters in droves.

    The hard core people bike up the hill and probably have special needs like shoes that clip into their pedals and replacement parts – they’ll be your winter lifeline.

    Good luck!

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    Anonymous March 24, 2010 at 10:58 am

    I’d like to see a repair shop at South Waterfront that can cater a bit to commuters. I think that would benefit the waterfront quite a bit (PDC grant funding? BTW: Mandatory grant app meeting March 30 at PDC if you’re considering that kind of business).
    A bike rental/repair might do well there if that’s what it takes to get the repair part of a business in place. The path along the river will soon be complete, heading straight into town, though some construction on Moody is coming up.

    Speaking of upcoming construction, check out Trimet’s plans for a streetcar over to the eastside. It’s a done deal and includes a ped/bike path over the river. In a year or so, there’ll be a lot more access to that area. There are big plans, a la more educational buildings, for the land south of Ross Island Bridge. If a bike business has a good financial backbone, this may be the best time to get in.

    I’d be one of those who drops her bike off for a tune-up, shops commuter gear, etc. Do a little research, ride down during the 7:30am commute and check out the bike traffic (the kinds of bikes – functional, fancy and super primo fancy), splurge and take a ride on the tram (if you bike/bus up the hill, the tram ride down is freeeee). In a month or two, the bike parking at Center for Health and Healing will be maxed out. You’ll get really a good sense of cyclist volume.

    Please, somebody, start a bike repair business at South Waterfront!!

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    Jeremy March 24, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Thanks Anonymous for the great advice. The dream of the bike industry sometimes glosses over the realities of business.

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    cole March 24, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    hey,

    thanx to the guys who like the crates, it a fun project. on another note, i don’t agree with a lot of the post here. i knew nothing about business when i started 1 less car. i was broke beyond broke and had to borrow $350 from my brother to buy a screen printing kit. its been five years now iv’e been in business, i’m not making a ton of money but i’m doing something i believe in. i’m still not great at the business end but i’m learning every day. sure i’m never going to make a million dollars but its not always about that its about doing something you love and still having time to take a few bike tours and spend time with your family. i say if you have an idea and a whole lot of drive you will be fine.

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    Timothy March 24, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Yes, I would totally love to see a hip bike shop down at the water front, i am always in need of somthing.. currently im shopping for a new ergo seat for men, somthing that is closer than the downtown shops. We also need some kind of killer burrito cart down there..

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    rwl1776 March 24, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    take some business classes at PCC, or contact SCORE, they have retired business types who are looking to mentor those who want to start their own businesses in various industries. SCORE is downtown in the ODS building.

    If this South Waterfront business offered secure, indoor parking, lockers, showers, coffee, snacks, light repairs/tuneups, I bet they would do well on weekdays.

    Weekends they could offer bike delivery/assembly for those coming in from outta town to ride here. Ship your bike via UPS to them, they assemble it, you pick it up when you arrive via the Streetcar, which you got on after taking the MAX downtown from the airport. Tours/guides/maps could be available and even rental/Zipcars with bike racks……and when you are done riding, drop off your bike/gear, and they pack it up and ship it home for you via UPS. Geez, why did I just give that idea away?
    I’m too busy working a full time job to quit and start that up.

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    trail user March 24, 2010 at 6:48 pm

    Beer by bike.

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    Rollie White March 28, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    As a side note, in addition to the 100’s of bikes outside at OHSU, all the buildings have bike storage rooms and racks inside that support hundreds more cyclists. We’d love to have a bike shop down here!

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    Peter Smith March 30, 2010 at 12:13 am

    i’m still waiting for some enterprising PDX bike types to take on the task of starting their own bicycle manufacturing shop — American-made, baby!

    i think some of that goes on already, but i’m talking about a worker-owned and controlled coop — use the Black Star Brewpub Coop as a model (and y’all have plenty coops up there to model it on).

    Forget this stuff with sending money to Wisconsin so they can trash workers and the environment over in China/Taiwan — let’s keep it local.

    I’ve got my $100 membership buy-in ready, and some more investment cash for later. Just gimme my one vote. 🙂

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    Fiona August 6, 2010 at 7:22 am

    Hi there,

    I just found this post via Google and was wondering if someone could help me out.

    I lived in Portland 9 years again and I recall that close to Yamhill Market there used to be a bike business that catered to Bike commuters with secured bike storage,showers and a space for DIY bike repairs?

    Can anyone recall the name of this business, if its still open or if I dreamed this?

    TIA
    Fiona

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