A little while back, we ran a little contest to see which bike shop had the best promotional video. You can see the entire string of videos here. The ultimate winner was Big Poppi Bicycle Co, based in Manhattan, Kansas, and you can check out their video here.
We followed up with Big Poppi after things had time to settle down from all the hoopla, pomp and circumstance that comes from winning such a *cough* prestigious award to learn a little more about the shop. Here’s their story…
1. How did the shop get started and how long have you been in business?
A lot happens fast. We are now in our fourth year of operation and entered the Manhattan, KS, market at time when it was under-served for quality bicycle equipment. Aaron worked his way through college at the only other shop in town, and once he graduated from KSU it was time to make some choices. Law school, or open a shop in a place that he really loved and saw a ton of potential in as a diverse cycling destination.
Through an unusual set of circumstances, and a year after Aaron had visited a location to open a potential bike shop, future business partner Pat went into the exact location for the same purpose. The landlord told Pat that there was interest expressed about a year prior at this location but he did not remember by whom.
A couple of days later, Pat went into the only outdoor store in Manhattan and asked if anyone knew of someone who was looking to open a bike shop in town. Aaron happened to be standing behind the counter.
He warily looked over his shoulder and said, “Yeah, that was me,” they struck up a conversation, and afterward Pat invited Aaron to lunch.
Less than a week later, Pat brought his longtime friend and business partner Jeff into the mix at a lunch meeting. From that moment on, Big Poppi Bicycle Co. began to emerge. About one month later, Aaron quit his job at the other shop and the three began working full-time on opening the new shop four weeks thereafter. It took us 8 weeks to go from “Are we doing this?” to “What have we done?” But Big Poppi Bicycle Co. has proven itself to be the right thing at the right time.
We found great industry brands to partner with. We quickly got plugged into organizations at the local, regional and national level. And, we grew much faster than anyone expected.
We have started a couple of other local organizations, too, including the Flint Hills Area Bicycle Club and Manhattan Trail Works.
Yet, our real history is still made every day with our customers. We are under no illusions that the locally owned bicycle store cannot disappear. In fact, industry research proves that it is disappearing. The biggest reason is that too many shops don’t give people a reason to come back. Having your needs met through self-service in store aisles or in solitude online is not what leads to great cycling experiences.
So our story will always remain one about old-fashioned customer service and being a place you want to return to.
2. Why do you own/run a bike shop?
If everyday I woke up and had to go to a job, I would quickly find myself in a grind that would require some kind of recreational relief to allow me to escape my mundane life.
Luckily I don’t wake up everyday and go to a job. I wake up everyday and get to work really hard selling, fixing, riding, and loving my favorite machine. I find that extremely gratifying and it brings with it a multidimensional industry that always offers new challenges to overcome.
3. What’s your specialty
The phrase on the handwritten sign in our shop window, ‘I WILL LISTEN’, is our top priority. We may not be that old, but our values are. It does not matter to us how novice or experienced you are in cycling. We will listen to your wants & needs, meet them appropriately, and treat you like family.
Unfortunately, too many retail businesses leave customers to figure things out for themselves, or you are otherwise treated the same way that Alex Désert’s character describes to Jack Black and John Cusack while standing in their record shop in the movie High Fidelity. Our goal is to pleasantly surprise an American mass market that views bicycle shops as snobbish and unfriendly.
In addition to excellent customer service on the sales floor, the Big Poppi Bicycle Co. service department’s goal is to be second to no one in the Midwest. We pride ourselves on the work we do and take our bicycle repair seriously, which is why all of our full time mechanics are professionally trained and certified. We believe repairing a bicycle, in large part, is systematic and has repeatable results no matter who is working on the machine. It is a science. There is also a great respect in our little shop for old school craftsmanship and, as necessary, outside-the-box innovation & critical thinking, both concepts which have an intrinsically artistic side.
I guess that, in a word, our specialty is passion. Passion for people, for the machine, for the sport, for the utility, and passion for the ride.
4. What are your key brands?
When we do business with a bicycle brand, we don’t care how many units they sell nationally year to year, who their sponsored riders are, or any of that other stuff that really has nothing to do with providing the customer with the correct bike for their needs with the best total value.
We have chosen each bicycle we stock based upon which model in each category will give you the best bang for the buck.
Featuring 7 brands in-store and 10 more we can order from, there is no need we can’t satisfy! With that being said Giant is currently our anchor, with a nice mix of Scott, Fuji, Eastern, Premium, Electra, & Masi alongside.
5. What have been some of the surprise best-selling products over the years?
At first we couldn’t seem to sell kids’ bikes. As we became more established, we have seen kids’ bike sales skyrocket as we have helped people understand that kids who like riding their bikes (because they actually work well) keep riding.
That aside, not too much has surprised us. Rather, a lot of what we have sold well has surprised others in retail cycling because they had already given that category up to online and discount chain stores. There is still great potential in having the right P&A always available to explain, demonstrate, and sell.
But if anything stands out as a singular high end product that has surprised us in its acceptance in a less high end market it would be custom built wheels, and high end high output rechargeable lighting systems.
6. What do you guys do to get more people on bikes in your area?
We feature shop-led group rides for all surface types six days a week. We advocate heavily in local and national government for additional infrastructure. We build trail. We organize or contribute to dozens of charity and race events each year. We facilitate a very large and active community connected via our Facebook site and email. And, more uniquely, Jeff serves on the board of the NBDA with an interest in helping disseminate information to bicycle shops at a national level toward long-term sustainability of the IBD.
7. What’s the cycling scene like in Manhattan, KS?
Well, where is Manhattan, Kansas, and why on earth would anyone want to live there or ride a bike in Kansas?
Manhattan is located in the Flint Hills region of Kansas, designated as a distinct ecoregion because it has the most dense coverage of intact tall grass prairie in North America. Due to its rocky soil, early settlers of European origin were unable to plow the area which consists of continuous rolling hills covered in tall grasses. The city of Manhattan is built on a broad, flat junction of the Kansas and Big Blue rivers and extends north and west into the Flint Hills.
Manhattan’s cycling scene is growing fast and wide in its scope. Because the terrain is not flat like most people would assume and it is not seriously steep, commuting in this Big 12 college town is easy and encouraged by our recent advancements in cycling infrastructure.
Recently Manhattan and Big Poppi Bicycle Co have been awarded a bronze level bicycle friendly community and business respectively by the League of American Bicyclist. Check out a recap here.
Being a relatively rural community, there are endless miles of great two lane roads that wander out of the density of the city in minutes and into the country side for hours, in any direction, to the enjoyment of any road cyclist.
The country’s premiere gravel road race, the Dirty Kanza 200, is right in our backyard.
Mountain biking is easily the most popular subcategory from a recreational standpoint. Lots of land that is not good for anything else because of all the rock that lies just below the surface of the seemingly tame tall grass, makes for a great starting point for technical, flowing single track. Over the last three years the Flint Hills region and Manhattan have gone from roughly four miles of single track avaliable to ride for public use to over twenty miles. There are an additional twenty in progress through a number of unrelated projects. If you expand your willingness to travel to an hour and a half the amount of single track opitions ballons to over sixty miles. For a complete overview check out this link.
Kansas Cyclist does a great job of summing up what happens on a yearly basis via its website and everything it features has Big Poppi’s hands on it, one way or another. We love the advocacy side of our shop. It’s great getting outside and seeing people enjoy the sport we all love.
The honest answer to the quality of the scene in Manhattan is that we are still young but advancing quickly.
8. Who made your video?
502 Media Group is a local marketing organization. We work with them on a number of projects every month. They are big fans and an extension of Big Poppi Bikes, focused on advertising and marketing. They also took the photos we are sending along with these answers as well as the photo for the announcement for the video challenge.
9. What kind of camera do you use for pictures?
Cannon 60D (DSLR)
10. How many people work at Big Poppi?
We have 12 employees total including Jeff and Aaron as working owners, two are back office workers, three are sales specific, and the remaining seven are a mixture of part time bike builders, junior mechanics and full time professional mechanics.