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Episode 88: Buy This, Be Happy

By Chris Cooper & Greg Strauch

#ridebikesbehappy I’ve known Jan Roubal for probably 20 years. He's a personal friend who owns Vélorution, a bike store in Sault Ste. Marie, ON. What does a bike store have to do with owning a gym? As CrossFit gym owners, we are in the fitness industry. We own a service business, not a product business. We already KNOW that building a community is critical for our success. We also know: that's not easy. In the product sales business, that's even harder. Some would say it's impossible to build a community around a product when there are dozens of competing products in town. If a new cyclist can't tell the difference between a Cannondale and a Trek, won't they always make their decision based on price? Not if you're buying a bike from Velorution. You buy a bike from Jan because it makes you happy. His customers routinely show up to ride with him and help new cyclists. They tag him in pictures--#ridebikesbehappy--every weekend, wherever they are. I would never consider buying a bike somewhere else locally other than Jan’s shop and it’s all because of the atmosphere he has built around Velorution. Jan’s personality comes through in this interview--the first one recorded at the new TwoBrain Workshop. Jan strolled in wearing cycling shoes and jeans, and carrying two cans of his favorite beer. But this chill persona isn't innate: it's the person Jan has learned to be in order to become a better leader and business owner. And we can learn it too. Jan was born in Czechoslovakia and immigrated to Canada when he was just six years old. He started working at a bike shop at the young age of 13 and this is where his true passion for bikes was born. He was on National teams for mountain biking when he was a teenager. In 2008, Jan started Vélorution with a local physiotherapist. His goal was to transform the culture of the cycling business. He purchased the bike shop from his partner. Since then, Vélorution has grown into its own community and has become a hangout spot for local riders. More often than not you can find local riders hanging out and having a coffee, grouping up for rides, or just looking to help others get into biking. At Vélorution, Jan’s primary goal is to help educate customers--not to sell them a bike. This ultimately ends up driving the business. Jan also likes to hire his friends which makes working at the shop even more fun. He focuses on his staff first, and prioritizes people who hang around the shop and who are just outgoing as he is. Staff often shows up at the shop on days off to hang out. Jan is very transparent about his sales and numbers with his staff. They all receive online training in technical know-how, but really learn sales through Jan's example of "Help First" and follow the #ridebikesbehappy mantra. Jan visits other bike shops on the road. His experience (like mine) isn't always a great one. Jan doesn't look like a skinny cyclist: he's thick and muscular up top. Sometimes this means he isn't recognized as a hardcore rider, and shop employees don't give him their full attention. Jan recalls one instance where he didn't receive the help he needed simply because he did not drive a nice enough car. Shedding the elitist attitude of bike shops is something Jan takes very seriously. For example, some bike shops were reluctant to sell fat bikes (mountain bike frames with really fat tires, for riding on snow) because they were a novelty. But Jan says, "They make people happy. Why wouldn't I sell them?" When I visit his shop, I'm immediately offered a coffee and a spot to sit. Other cyclists are always around. There are usually donuts and "paleo" jokes. If my kids are with me, he offers them a new sticker for their bike--and then someone takes them outside to try the pump track. One great example of Jan's "marketing" strategy is the "Titty Tuesday" program. This is an all-women group ride on Tuesdays t

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