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Summit Cycles

Columbia, South Carolina

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Interview with Summit CyclesMeena Khalili
00:00 / 15:45

Interview recorded:
September 22, 2021

Henry Mandrell, Co-Owner

​It was good—and then, it was bad.

 

Meena

How long has summit cycles been in business?

Henry

Seventeen and a half years.

Meena

Have you always been interested in owning your own business? I mean, was there a series of events that sort? Of brought this.

Henry

No, I mean. Originally I was in the textile industry for 25 years, worked my way up to an engineer, what they call us in the sewing factory. Worked for a couple of different companies and I got out of it right at the right time because basically everything went overseas and whole industry is gone now. So I went and started building houses my brother up in the mountains of North Carolina, and I've been riding with some of the local folks here in town and moved up to Bryson City, NC. My co-owner, Tim he uh he was in Atlanta working in a bike shop and he's always been in bike shops. His wife was from here. And she wanted to come back home. They thought about who might be interested in opening the business with him. He called me up. That was back in 2004 that we opened up, yeah, it was. And it helped at the time my soon to be wife, my girlfriend, was living here.

Meena

So where are you from?

Henry

I’m originally from Sumter, not very far from here, so it's close to home.

Meena

OK. In terms of your business, who are the people that you work with here or the people that you serve, I should say, are they mostly local, regional?

It was a huge break for us when they announced we would have to close the doors.

Henry

Yeah, I mean most of them are. We do get some people from out of state here, especially since COVID because bikes are hard to get. I mean, we've got people from Atlanta and Augusta and Raleigh and in North Carolina...

Meena

About how many people are working here?

Henry

You know my partner, he's actually got a full time job somewhere else, so he's only here four days a month. So it's just me. And Will, yeah.

Meena

What are some other places that your career with regard to summit cycles has taken you? Have you been primarily focused local and regional? Has there been any outreach any further? There aren't any franchises. It's just y'all, right?

Henry

Yeah, we did have a second store for a while over in West Columbia. That didn't work out.

Meena

Going back for a moment to March of 2020, people started to get really afraid of being inside spaces with other people and not even knowing what was going on. What were your initial thoughts as a business owner? And what were your greatest immediate concerns.

Henry

Initially we were very worried that we would be shut down. Because a lot of businesses were. You know, restaurants and things like that. But they said we were necessary business. So it was a huge break for us. They announced that we wouldn't have to close the doors. We had bikes and a lot of bikes and people started coming in. I mean, it was like shooting fish out of a barrel. I mean, we're just selling left and right. We had huge days and huge months record months.

​We were a necessary business.

But then we ran out of bikes. Industry ran out of bikes. Because you know, a lot of plants were shut down overseas. The factories that make the parts they were shut down. And, you know, if you make one part, you can't ship a bike and it's continuing right now like that.

We had to get other brands that had a few bikes—not a bunch of beach cruisers around here, but we sold two yesterday. There's not a lot of bikes out there to get so people are buying whatever. The repair business got crazy. People bring in their old bikes that they can’t ride and scramble to try to find parts. For a long time, we couldn't find tires or tubes. We're out. We couldn't change a flat tire for a kid. So it was good. And then it was bad.

Meena

How did those concerns evolve? And that sounds like they evolved with regard to supply chains. Like an overflow and then sort of like a bottleneck.

Henry

Shipping is a problem for the brands and you know they got some bikes built, but they can't get containers or if they do, they have to pay, you know, five times what they normally would pay. Then you got all the cargo ships sitting out the bay not being unloaded. Bunch of bikes and parts and stuff like that on them. Spend a lot of time looking for parts online.

Meena

Primarily, and this is not on my list of questions, it's just you know, something that now I’m interested in—Are your bikes are made in the US?

Henry

Very few are anymore.

Meena

How has it looked in the past year for getting bikes in.

Henry

I mean we're getting a few bikes in that we ordered over a year ago. They're trickling in. And then again, we found another brand to bring in, a local brand. They actually manufactured or assembled them over in Manning and Somerton. So we can get a bike and there's another shop in town doing the same thing with those same bikes. Everybody scrambled to get stuff. And we've got a bunch of 2022 bikes on order already. But I don't have parts yet. I've got colors, but I don't know what they look like. Yeah. And so and we don't have ETA on those yet. So I don't know when we're going to get them. It's probably going to be 2022. Because normally, like cars you get them in the fall. So going forward, I don't know when the industry's going to catch up or if they ever will. Is the boom going to burst? So they don't want to ramp up production and then all of a sudden. It's gone.

Meena

Are you seeing changes in prices?

Henry

Yeah, and mainly shipping. They're having to pay a lot more for shipping, and that's where those prices are jumping up.

Meena

Did your business wind up working remotely at all? No, because you were deemed essential. Who makes that call?

Henry

I don't know if it was national or state.

Meena

Moving forward into the pandemic and like March of. March of 2021. And we saw a lot of folks beginning to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and things starting to open up. What kind of impact did you see that have on your business?

Henry

Yeah, not a lot. We were steady, you know. With repairs and things like that and people looking for bikes and they, they're still looking for bikes and we still got it. It's not as crazy as it was last summer with repairs where we were three weeks behind. I heard some of the shops downtown were, you know, a month and a half, two months behind on repairs. That's slowed down a little bit from what it was, but it's still, it's still been steady. We had, you know of record year for labor. This year we're a little bit behind that number but not a lot from what I'm hearing.

The industry ran out of bikes. And the repair business went crazy.

Meena

It seems like the arc of 2020 was maybe normal at the beginning, then slowed down? Maybe halted and then it went right back up. Or did it even slow down?

Henry

Winter time, you know it's slow anyway, but it was it was fairly normal, but then when folks were at home it just it went crazy. It was like they were feeding off each other, you know? Gotta get a bike, you know, maybe a neighbors got a bike. Let's go get a bike. They just kept on going.

Meena

So the impact on your business sounds like it was good. Had a record a record year in 2020. How has 2021 been so far?

Henry

It's slowed down, but mainly because we didn't have bikes. One point this year we probably had eight bikes in the shop.

Meena

So what kind of bikes are people buying?

Henry

Around here anyway used to be road bikes we sell some gravel bikes. That's the thing now. Dirt roads and a gravel bike. It looks like a road bike just a little bit wider tires. Because sometimes you have to get on the pavement too!

Meena

We have lots of good trails here.

Henry

We have mountain bike trails. Harbison is probably the best mountain bike trail, Harbison State Forest Trail over here at Sesquicentennial, which is very, very sandy. It's better in after rain like today or in the winter time. But it's doable. It's close. And then there's paved trails downtown Timmerman Trail is a really big trail.

Meena

This is also why I wanted to do this project: Because I get to meet people and really and truly, I have no idea about the area but I know South Carolina's got lots of good outdoor stuff to do. But for somebody like myself that, you know, sort of felt a little isolating. So going back to this last question that I have. With regard to COVID impact—I think that this is a good question even though your business seemed to really have a boon in in some ways—

Henry

The whole industry.

Meena

—was there any hard decision that you as a business owner had to make? And conversely, was there any really easy decision that you had to make?

​Folks were at home...feeding off each other. Gotta get a bike! Let's go get a bike!

Henry

There wasn't really any hard decisions, I mean we weren’t required to do anything really different than what we were doing. So wear a mask every once in a while, but easy decisions were to keep on selling and fixing bikes. Keep riding.

We did shut down our group ride when it first hit. I think we got one or two rides in and then COVID hit. We decided, OK, we shut it down because if no one knew what was going on as far as how contagious it was and how it spread. So, we shut it down for about a month and 1/2 or so started back up. That was a hard decision.

Meena

But no letting people go. No, bringing in new people.

Henry

It was just me and Tim when it first hit and then he got his other job so we had to bring somebody in.

Meena

Are you hopeful about the future of this business and what's on the horizon for summit cycles?

Henry

Well, yeah, I mean I think it's going to slow down and it has, but once we get bikes back, hopefully most of those people that got into cycling will stay or there are probably going to be a whole bunch of used bikes after everything calms down, if it ever does. It's been fun, so I hope it keeps going.

​Hopefully most of those people that got into cycling will stay.

Meena

Well, that is another good point though, that there may be a whole lot of used bikes, and that repair is something that folks you know had started needing more and more of. Do you think you'll expand the business at all?

Henry

Yeah, we tried that. Yeah, did it. It didn't work and the main reason location. People were just on the other side of the river in Cayce and people don't come to town on the weekends that much, so we weren't getting the weekend business traffic. It was an experiment.

Meena

Did you find yourselves using social media or other forms of communication more for any outreach?

Henry

We do a little bit. We don't do enough.

Meena

But I mean, it sounds like you didn't really need that much.

Henry

We never pay for any advertising.

Meena

The location that you're at right now has it served you pretty well?

Henry

When we first opened the village of Sandhills this was not here. This side of town is just blowing up.

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