It’s not unusual for Geoff Forshag to wear several hats – banker, accountant, management consultant.
Now that he runs Two Wheel Transit, though, he may have to add another item to his wardrobe: gloves.
“I go to meetings sometimes in business attire and realize I have grease under my fingernails,” Forshag said.
No one has commented on the dirty nails yet, “but someone did mention I had a smudge on the side of my face from putting a bike in a car.”
Two Wheel Transit was among seven recipients of Greater Spokane Incorporated’s 2013 Agora Awards recognizing business excellence.
Forshag and Bruce Abbotts purchased the downtown bike shop in 2009 and moved it to 817 S. Perry St. last fall. Abbotts, a Spokane Valley pediatrician, oversees the shop’s bike-fitting services, while Forshag focuses on day-to-day operations.
Forshag recently discussed why they bought their favorite bike shop and what they’ve done to improve it.
S-R: How’s business?
Forshag: Our move has been very popular. We’ve attracted new customers while maintaining others we’ve had for years.
S-R: What’s your background?
Forshag: My dad retired here when I was in high school. I graduated from Mead and went on to earn a business degree from WSU. Then I returned to Spokane and worked in stocks, technology, accounting, community banking and consulting. I waited 30 years before getting into the bike business, but I was always a cyclist.
S-R: Why the most recent career switch?
Forshag: Over time, cyclists develop very close relationships with their bike shop. And because of my entrepreneurial streak, whenever I spend much time with a business, I start looking for ways to improve it. So when I discovered Two Wheel Transit was for sale, I sketched out a business plan of what I would do if I owned this shop.
S-R: What needed improving?
Forshag: The shop needed focus. It carried 13 different bicycle brands when we purchased it. Now we have three. Also, it needed a stronger commitment to quality of service. But the essential bones were there. It was just a matter of fine tuning and paying attention to details.
S-R: Such as?
Forshag: One year into owning the business, we implemented a full inventory control, work order and point-of-sale system. I don’t think you’ll find another bike shop in the state that has more computer terminals and people using them.
S-R: Anything else?
Forshag: We re-engineered our service approach. Before, tune-ups and repairs that required parts could take as long as two weeks, and that’s unacceptable. Now when you bring your bike in, we follow a very systematic check-in process, where the bike is evaluated from one end to the other and recommendations are made. What the customer wants done and when they need the bike back drives our scheduling and parts orders. When the job is done, the customer gets either an email, a phone call or a text message saying the bike is ready for pickup.
S-R: How difficult was your transition from customer to owner?
Forshag: I had to do a ton of work to get up to speed on brands, components and the clothing aspect. But I’ve been analyzing financial statements and business plans my entire career, so I already knew about the things that can take you down, like cash flow and banking relationships. The rest was a matter of relying on employees to teach me the nuances of this business.
S-R: What are your busiest months?
Forshag: May, June and July. Our slowest are January and November.
S-R: Is there any way to smooth out those peaks and valleys?
Forshag: Not without branching into other lines of business, and we’re not planning to do that.
S-R: What do you like most about your job?
Forshag: Interacting with customers – particularly bike fittings. That’s a great way to understand how people ride, why they ride, and then make sure their new bike is properly set up to help them achieve their goals.
S-R: What’s the hardest part of your job?
Forshag: Not having grown up in the retail industry, I wasn’t used to working within manufacturers’ time frame, and preseason orders are a huge part of this business. We have to identify which models we’ll be carrying six to eight months in advance, as well as inventory levels and how we’re going to market our merchandise.
S-R: What’s been your best idea so far?
Forshag: Listening to my employees.
S-R: Have ideas you thought were great not worked out?
Forshag: We’ve had times when Bruce and I would come back from the annual dealer conference thinking a certain bike was going to be the category killer of the year. Like one particular $2,000 Trek road bike – we didn’t bet the farm on it, but we made a significant investment that didn’t pan out.
S-R: What’s your most popular model today?
Forshag: Our Trek Domane (pronounced doh-MAH-nee) road bike. Its top tube and seat tube (move independently), so the seat tube can flex for a more comfortable ride while the drivetrain and platform remain stiff for efficiency. It starts at around $1,400 and can go all the way up to $6,000 for a customized version.
S-R: Do you primarily sell road bikes?
Forshag: We have three main categories: road, fitness and mountain. Almost half of our sales are road bikes, and the rest are divided equally between the other two categories.
S-R: What features sell a bike?
Forshag: First of all, fit. Second, suitability for purpose. And third, quality and components.
S-R: Then why do manufacturers spend so much making high-end bikes look sexy?
Forshag: That’s what catches your attention, but it’s not what ultimately determines whether you’re going to be happy with a bike. Having said that, Trek does offer something called Project One, which allows customers to customize wheels, decals, frame colors and handlebar tape at no additional cost.
S-R: What comes closest to being the perfect bike?
Forshag: If I were limited to only one, it would be a cyclocross – a beefed-up road bike that’s light and responsive, but has aggressive tires and more powerful brakes for off-road conditions.
S-R: How much does a cyclocross bike cost?
Forshag: Anywhere from $1,000 to around $10,000 for a custom-built.
S-R: What advice would you offer someone who hasn’t bought a bicycle in a while?
Forshag: Start with an independent bike shop that really listens, and ask a lot of questions.
S-R: What’s a common mistake shoppers make?
Forshag: Buying a used bike that costs less but doesn’t fit, either physically or for its intended use.
S-R: How about maintenance-related mistakes?
Forshag: The biggest mistake is not having your chain regularly assessed for wear. If it becomes too worn, it wears out everything it touches, and that’s a very expensive problem to correct. We’ve all learned that lesson the hard way.
S-R: What’s the latest bicycle technology?
Forshag: Electronic shifting. It’s already in the road-bike market, and it’s moving into other categories.
S-R: Any changes ahead for Two Wheel Transit?
Forshag: We’re instituting a trade-up program, where we’ll give credit for bikes that kids have outgrown, and then resell those used bikes.
S-R: Is Spokane a good bicycle town?
Forshag: It is. You have a variety of riding possibilities. If you choose to commute, you have access to safe routes, and there is a master plan under way to tie all those together. Plus you have the recreational side of bicycling here.
S-R: What’s your favorite local bike ride?
Forshag: The loop out Aubrey White Parkway to Nine Mile Dam and back.
S-R: If you could change one thing about Spokane’s bicycle culture, what would it be?
Forshag: Smoother roads.