How to Break Into the Cycling Industry – Dan Powell of PDW, plus bonus PDW Shop Tour
Last week I had the opportunity to swing by the new HQ of Portland Design Works for a shop tour. While there, I figured it would be a great idea to hit Dan up for round two of our new industry insider interview series. Past the jump you’ll find some great answers to our questions, as well as a photo tour of their “mothership.”
BIKERUMOR: Who are you and what are you doing here? (ie. who do you work for, what’s your job title and a short description of your role in the company. In other words, what do you do?)
Powell: I’m Dan Powell and I’m one of the co-founders/owners of Portland Design Works (PDW).
BIKERUMOR: What was your first job or experience in the cycling industry? How did you “break” in?
Powell: Most of my cycling industry training/experience has been on the job. I started working at a shop in the mid 1990’s when I was in college in Lansing, Michigan. I was getting into racing mountain bikes and was really looking to learn how to fix my own stuff, and get equipment for cheap. I bounced around several shops over the years and liked the industry.
BIKERUMOR: What’s your educational background?
Powell: I’ve got a bachelors degree in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. I wanted to be a journalist. I did train as a cycling mechanic at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO.
BIKERUMOR: After that first experience/job, what was the path to your current position?
Powell: After graduating college, my wife and I landed in Madison, Wisconsin. There is quite a bit of cycling industry there, and I eventually managed to make my way out of retail and into the business/manufacturing/brand side of industry. I interned at Bike Magazine, then scored a job at Saris Cycling Group and then found work at Planet Bike. Having worked for 7 shops, 3 brands and a cycling publication over 15 years has taught me quite a bit about the inner workings of cycling.
Powell: My business partner at PDW Erik Olson and I first met in 2003 at Budget Bicycle Center in Madison. The friendship morphed into a professional relationship when we found our skill sets were very different but at the same time complementary when we later worked together at Planet Bike. We moved with our significant others to Portland in 2008 and founded our brand immediately.
BIKERUMOR: What’s a normal day for you?
Powell: A normal day for us is probably like a normal day for anyone with a small business. It is sort of like having a child in that it is always on your mind, and always needs your attention. I check my phone for emails when I wake up around 6:30 or so and go from there. A typical day in the office finds me answering consumer emails, picking/packing orders, installing/testing/riding prototype product designs, and working on marketing our brand.
Erik handles the dealings with our vendors, international distribution, the books and a bunch of the design. I handle the marketing side, customer service, shipping/receiving and domestic distribution. We’ve now hired a sales manager, Kevin Murphy, who manages most of our shop interactions. We all wear many hats.
BIKERUMOR: What are the highlights of your job?
Powell: The highlights would certainly be doing our own thing(s). If we want to buy a mini bicycle track, we can. We are building the brand we have always wanted to work for. We make only the products that we’d want to use. We’re small enough that we can make a change to a product based on customer feedback in a few months. We keep it pretty casual around the office, which is very nice. Also, being in Portland is pretty handy because there are some great minds here we can pick from time to time, and we do whenever possible. And the bicycle culture here is second to none.
BIKERUMOR: What could you do without?
The paper work of owning our own business I know I could do without…Otherwise, seriously, we know we’ve got a pretty good thing going with PDW.
BIKERUMOR: What advice would you give to someone looking to follow your path today?
Powell: Lesson #1 of Dan Powell’s School of Start Up Bicycle Business : Ignore the “haters.” The haters hate their lives/jobs and will just try to bring you down. If you are doing what you love, keep on doing it. Lots of folks will tell you what you shouldn’t do. You shouldn’t listen to most of them.
Lesson #2: Take pride in your work. Love your job. We do the best we can, and our policy is to treat folks like we’d want to be treated. As a result we have lots of happy customers and good relationships with everyone from vendors on down to our UPS guy, Norm.
Lesson #3: Bikes are fun, that’s probably why you got into them. Don’t lose sight of that. We’re not in this business to become millionaires. However, making a living AND having fun is pretty darn fulfilling.
Lesson #4: This is probably the most important lesson of them all. You know the guys down at your local bicycle shop? Next time you stop down there, take them a 6 pack of beer, and say thanks. Those guys (and gals) work hard for little pay because they love bicycles, and they rarely get the respect they deserve. These are the unsung hero’s of the bicycle industry. There is a wealth of knowledge at any bike shop you walk into. A little respect can get you access to all of it.
And now for your bonus photographic shop tour: