Bike n Hike: bicycling for the long-haul
I was fortunate enough to secure a block of time with Kevin Chudy, owner of four greater Portland-area “Bike n Hike” retail stores, last week. Kevin kindly met me an hour before his store on Grand and Oak opened for business, ensuring me the quiet and comfortable chance to hear his history in the bicycle industry. We pulled up chairs made from recycled bicycle frames with old tire-tubing stretched across to suspend upon. I held my intrigue for the chairs for the time being.
“Well, Kevin, I would love to hear your story about how you got into the bicycle-industry.” Kevin smiled and explained that it all started when he was a teenager growing up in Albany. He had picked up a paper route for a little extra cash and regularly delivered papers from his old Sears “Stingray.” It was a fitting job for him at the time, but he explained that after a year or two he had grown interested in picking up a real road-racing style bike. While saving his money, he studied vigorously, wanting to know exactly what he would be getting. When the time came he made the trek into Corvallis to visit a couple shops. What Kevin did not know was that his experiences with these bike shops may very well be the reasons he has spent nearly forty years since in the industry. The first shop paid him no attention, not knowing the rock of money he held in his pocket, ready to purchase at will. When they did finally ask him what he needed they proceeded to criticize his research instead of helping him to see why he might appreciate something different. It was not until the third shop, a “Bike n Hike”, that Kevin was helped out in a way that made a lasting difference. Before the front door could even shut he was greeted by smiling employees and was ensured that they’d love to help him as soon as they could. He took great note of how warm it felt to be greeted in the way he was. When he got his chance to be helped, Kevin rolled out his bike research and soon found that he knew more about the kind of bike he wanted than the employee did. Quickly, a manager was brought over and Kevin not only received quality and considerate service, but he received his first real bicycle. Kevin quickly became a regular at the shop, and a year later he was offered a job. Kevin has worked for the company ever since.
Today, Bike n Hike has four locations in the greater Portland area along with locations in Albany and Corvallis (six total). Its commitment to providing a quality and intentional customer service experience plays a huge role in its success. Kevin explained,
“It can be intimidating walking into a bike shop, everybody knows that. We want people to know that they’re welcomed, and when it comes time for them to depart, to have simply had a warm and positive experience.” I thought about this as Kevin explained it. It sounded so simple, but it made sense. A friend once told me that more than what you do or say, people will remember how you made them feel. This simple philosophy has been a guiding principle that Kevin has taught his employees and has extended to his customers for nearly four decades.
“Besides,” Kevin continued, “like my experience, you never know who your next customer could be. He or she could be the next Lance Armstrong!” In addition to providing a welcoming environment to his customers, Kevin is also dedicated to great relationships, both with his vendors and with his employees. He said,
“Some business owners like to see things short-termed, and they might profit greatly on the front end in basing them on how big they can grow. But I see things long-termed. I might break even one year, or even lose a little. But in the long run Bike n Hike has always been better for having a ‘long-term’ perspective.” Truly, and even Kevin’s employees have a long-term perspective, many of whom have worked for him for over ten years (which is very rare in the bicycle industry). Many others have gone on to begin their own local shops, extending the lessons and wisdom that Kevin has taught them. In addition, Kevin has also been helpful in getting Portland’s children on bicycles. In 2007 he was given an “Alice B. Toe-Clip” award for partnering with the Bicycle Transportation Alliance to help provide 300-plus bikes for their cycling education work with 4th-6th graders.
As we began to wrap up I realized that I did not really need to ask Kevin my traditional “final question” (what does your business contribute to Portland’s overall bike culture?) because he had basically already told me. Kevin and his teams’ dedication to providing Portland’s everyday commuters, weekend warriors, and occasional riders with sound advice and a warm bicycle-shop experience in general has undoubtedly added to the city’s overall presence/population of bicyclists. Without shops like Bike n Hike, who seek to make a customer feel welcome and to understand specific needs, Portland could very well be just another metropolitan city with over-crowded streets and an under-appreciated understanding of the bicycle.