A great business idea creates a solution, bringing something unique that the community wants and needs. This can be something brand new, but it can also be something that already exists but just isn’t represented yet. Shelly Walker, owner of Fairmount Bicycles in Philadelphia, hadn’t always dreamed of opening a business—she discovered a need and followed through. Her path to entrepreneurship shows that it’s not necessarily about fulfilling a lifelong dream, but rather taking an idea and finding success through determination, dedication, and a strong sense of community
“Where can you get your bike fixed?” The question was simple. Shelly was helping a friend with a bike business that would take old, dysfunctional bikes, fix them up, and then sell them on Craigslist. As she became more familiar with the industry, she did some boots-on-the-ground research and realized that her neighborhood of Fairmount didn’t have an actual bike shop. So she hired her bike-fixing friend Chris George and started building what is now Fairmount Bicycles. Business inspiration can come from your everyday life—it doesn’t necessarily have to be something you’ve been manifesting since childhood. Look for inspiration all around you, and ask the community: What do you need?
After the shop was up and running, it was Shelly’s priority to make her shop more than just a place of business. She wanted it to be a place where people felt welcome, where they belonged. In Shelly’s experience, bike shops can sometimes have a reputation for “being holier than thou with the condescending bike mechanic,” as she put it. She wanted to ensure that their shop was never seen as that: “No matter what line of work I have been in or would be in, it’s just crucial to me that we treat people as humans.”
This may seem simple, but a genuine respect for all customers can sometimes be hard to come by, especially when there is potentially a negative connotation around that type of business. Yelp reviewer Aelita P. specifically noted the shop’s great service, but she even more so felt that it was a comfortable space people enjoyed being in. That is the shop’s key to success and what kept customers coming back each time.
Many business owners take an untraditional path to entrepreneurship, and as we see with Shelly, it can sometimes result in even more passionate business owners. Here are a few other lessons from the episode:
- Understand your audience. When it comes to something like a bike shop, there are two very different sides of the spectrum. There are those who use bikes for daily transportation, from going to the store to getting to work. On the other end, you have cycling enthusiasts and competitive bikers. The price range and experience varies greatly between these two, and Shelly had to know her audience to make sure that the shop and its inventory met the wide range of needs and expectations.
- Be clear with your pricing. One thing that really drew Aelita to Fairmount Bicycles was the price transparency. Shelly and her team are very upfront with all costs, which removes confusion and frustration and also helps them attract customers who might be price sensitive.
- Provide more than a transaction. Think beyond the individual service. As a consumer, there are so many choices, which is why it’s essential for business owners to create an experience worthy of a consumer’s dollars and time. If they are just treated as another line item, they may be inclined to take their business elsewhere.
Interviews by Emily Washcovick
These lessons come from an episode of Behind the Review, Yelp & Entrepreneur Media’s weekly podcast. Listen below to hear from Shelly and Aelita, or visit the episode page to read more, subscribe to the show, and explore other episodes.
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