I knew it was going to happen, but it still felt like a shock.
Last week I scrolled through Instagram and a big red “Trek” logo and trekbicyclepdx appeared where bikegallerypdx to be. Then I typed BikeGallery.com into my browser and it auto-forwarded to trekbikes.com/us/en_US/stores/pdx/.
It was the end of an era.
Bike Gallery was founded in 1974 by Bob Graves, who passed the stores onto his son Jay Graves in 1995. Jay built the business into one of the best retail bike shop chains in America and a mainstay of Portland’s dynamic bike culture before he sold the stores and retired in 2012. Since then the shops have been owned by San Diego, California resident Mike Olson (who initially partnered with former Bike Gallery employee Kelly Aicher, but Aicher moved on several years ago), who owned six stores of his own in California and New Mexico and had a long history as a top Trek retailer. Earlier this year Olson decided to “take the Trexit ramp” and sell all his stores — including six in the Portland area — to Trek Bicycle Corporation.
This past Saturday all six stores re-opened their doors as Trek Bicycle stores. On Monday Jay Graves drove into Portland to retrieve the last of his belongings from the rafters of the stores he once owned. He visited three of the stores and told me, “I was impressed with their clean look” and that he is, “Happy Trek is committing to retail in such a strong way.”
(Inside the new Trek Bicycle Store in downtown Portland.)
This commitment is a big move for Trek. One source said they’ve amassed about 180 locations which would certainly make them owners of what Bicycle Retailer & Industry News reported yesterday as, “the largest chain of bike shops in the United States currently, if not in all of industry history.”
“Trek gives us another level of professionalism and a lot of resources for getting things done.”
— Shannon Skerritt, Hollywood store manager
Shannon Skerritt manages the Trek Bicycle Store in Hollywood and has worked for Bike Gallery/Trek for 23 years. “Overall it’s a positive change,” he said when I talked with him a few days ago as he feverishly prepped for the big grand re-opening. Skerritt said the biggest change he’s noticed is how professional and supportive Trek has been thus far. They’ve flown in scores of top-level staff from their headquarters in Waterloo Wisconsin to oversee the transition and train employees on their retail and service vision. “Trek gives us another level of professionalism and a lot of resources for getting things done,” Skerritt said. “As opposed to how things were before which sometimes felt like we were trying to build the plane while flying it.”
Will customers notice any other changes? Skerritt said you’ll still see your favorite employees: All but two or three Bike Gallery employees in the Portland area took Trek’s offer to stick around (with at least one deciding to move to the corporate office in Waterloo, a step in the career ladder not possible prior to the sale). And Skerritt thinks you’ll appreciate a more structured and thorough approach to repairs and customer service.
Part of that boost in professionalism is a new 24-hour turnaround for all service jobs. If you drop your bike off to get fixed and they can’t meet that timeframe, you’ll be given a free loaner bike.
Owning stores directly gives Trek complete control over their brands (which include Electra and Bontrager). That means everything from marketing and merchandising to sales software and apparel offerings — all reflect Trek’s vision.
And that vision didn’t include hundreds of items on the shelves when Trek bought the stores. Instead of liquidating the products, Trek opted to make a massive donation to the Community Cycling Center. “It was very generous,” said CCC Executive Director Momoko Saunders when asked to confirm the gift. “We haven’t had time to property sort through it and understand the value, but we greatly appreciated it.”
A visit to the downtown store on Monday gave me a taste of Trek’s new vision. The displays were on-point and very organized. The showroom floor felt sparse. Part of that was by design (a clean and uncluttered aesthetic is what Trek wants), but part of that was because not all the new bikes and products had arrived.
Trek’s Director of Brand Marketing and Public Relations Eric Bjorling told me he’s excited for the chance to carry on Bike Gallery’s legacy of service and community involvement. “Bike Gallery has long been an important part of building Portland into an incredible place to live and ride,” Bjorling said, “and we plan on continuing that work.”
You’ll see Trek’s commitment to help local nonprofits at each store. From now until April 4th, they’re encouraging customers to drop a coin in one of three boxes labeled with either Northwest Trail Alliance, The Street Trust, or Community Cycling Center. The one with the most donations will receive a $5,000 grant, second place will get $3,000 and third will get $2,000.
It will take more than better service and nonprofit donations for Trek to be wholly embraced in Portland, a city famous for our devotion to small, locally-owned businesses. In the past week I’ve seen criticisms leveled at the company for their role in supplying bicycles to police agencies across the country. Trek was urged to break those contracts during the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer, but they refused to do so and their statements have not satisfied activists.
I expect more skepticism to come. As the biggest bike brand in America, Trek is used to it. And they’re banking on the fact that even if you don’t like their politics, you’ll appreciate having a quality shop nearby that will fix your bike overnight and sell you a new set of tires with top-notch customer service and a smile to go with it.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and [email protected]
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