Shop Profile: It's Always Sunny

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Sunnyside Bicycles won over California’s Central Valley with courtesy and customer engagement

Words by Peter Koch

The sign beside the door at Fresno, California’s Sunnyside Bicycles reads, “Free High-Fives: Inquire Within,” and it’s no empty promise. When you step inside the front door, there are beach cruisers and townies on your right, and some hybrids on your left, but hardly any carbon dream bikes to be seen without going to the back of the store. It’s bright, clean and orderly, and it’s just a matter of seconds before you’re greeted by a friendly, easily identifiable sales associate—they all wear polos embroidered with the shop logo—who, in the course of conversation, asks your name, where you’re from and what kind of bike you ride. You get the feeling that she really cares about your needs, rather than giving you the hard sell. On the way to the cash register, she asks about your next ride—ensuring you’re stocked with lubes, tubes and GUs—and, when you reply that you don’t have one planned, she invites you to join an upcoming shop ride, and throws you that famous high-five. Walking out, you feel engaged in a community and excited about riding.

“You’re going to get the same high level of service, no matter which employee you work with, no matter which service guy you work with,” owner John McCracken says. “It’s really important to us that we all tell the same story, that we all treat every customer with integrity, courtesy and respect.” While the name over the door—Sunnyside—may just be that of the surrounding neighborhood, inside the shop it’s also a state of mind.

Opportunity Knocks
“We’re not your standard ‘Hey, bro’ shop,’” he continues. “We’re trying hard to avoid that attitude.” One reason Sunnyside places such a high value on providing a friendly, unintimidating atmosphere is because McCracken and his co-owner/wife, Vanessa, experienced the opposite as beginner cyclists, and know how awful it feels. It was around 2002, and McCracken—a motorcycle salesman and motocross racer—decided to take up road cycling to train for motocross. Vanessa thought it’d be fun to join him out on the road, both for training and recreation, so they walked into a Fresno-area shop (one of roughly 10 at the time), ready to spend a bundle on two new road bikes and two full kits.

“We were saying yes to everything—the shoes, the pedals, the pump, the seat bag, the flat repair kit, the helmet,” he recalls. “We had this giant pile of product on the counter, and the salesman was all but giving a thumbs-up to the store owner—it was a total home run for him.” Everything went smoothly enough, until they tried on gloves. Vanessa, who’d never worn cycling gloves before, put hers on upside-down, with the pads on top. The salesman not only pointed and laughed at her, but called over a colleague to enjoy the moment, too. “Her eyes welled up a little bit, and she said, ‘I’m going to sit in the car.’” The McCrackens weren’t about to suffer being laughed at, so they walked out on the sale. “‘You blew it, man,’ I told him.”

At the next shop, they went in with less enthusiasm, but still determined to get the gear. “We didn’t know the jargon, we didn’t know the technology, and again we weren’t treated great as beginner cyclists looking for entry-level stuff,” McCracken says. Exasperated by the experience, they drove 2.5 hours out of town (past eight other shops, remember) to a store where they knew the owner, and he took care of them with the respect and humanity they deserved. It’s an experience that stuck with the couple, and it’s become a cornerstone of their new employee onboarding to tell that story while talking about what it means to treat customers with integrity, courtesy and respect.

It was only a few months later when, sensing an opportunity in the market, John suggested to Vanessa that they open a bike shop of their own. He’d opened and run a local shop, Sanger Bicycles, for three years during high school, working alongside his mom the whole time, and had enjoyed the pace of shop life. The very next day, they learned that a shop in nearby Madera was for sale. It felt like fate, and so the McCrackens leapt at the opportunity, cobbling together money from family, friends and an SBA loan to buy the shop. On September 2, 2002, they opened Sunnyside Bicycles for business, and set about creating a shop where everyone, cyclists and non-cyclists alike, would feel welcome.

Engaging Everyone
Ever since then—for eight years in Madera, before relocating closer to home in Sunnyside in 2010—has seen steady annual growth as Sunnyside has earned a reputation throughout the Central Valley for its friendly, knowledgeable service and high level of customer engagement. And those are really the two keys to the shop’s success—being approachable and courteous, and constantly engaging their customers through events and social media, so they feel like they’re part of a community.

In regards to the first part of the equation, it’s all about that customer experience when they first walk through the front door. The McCrackens understand that people are intimidated by bike shops, so they go out of their way to make the shop bright and welcoming, ensuring it’s cleaned (floors mopped, windows washed, racks and bikes dusted) top-to-bottom every week, and organized to keep clutter to a minimum. And they hire and train people who want to get more butts on bikes. “We hire people based on their values (because they want to do better, or because they want to encourage people to ride) rather than their bike expertise,” McCracken says, so customers don’t have to worry about being condescended by a know-it-all bike jock. Instead, they’re greeted by a former IT worker, a grocery store butcher, a chef and a teacher, among others.

And the other half of the equation is all about being constantly engaged with customers, whom they refer to as “Sunnysiders” on social media, and encouraging them to ride. “At Sunnyside, we try to address whatever is keeping you from riding your bike,” McCracken says. Need gear? They’ve got it. Bike’s broken? They perform 48-hour turnaround repairs. Not confident in traffic? The McCrackens are League of American Cyclists-certified instructors. Need a winter training partner? They’ve got gnarly weekly trainer nights hosted by a former pro racer. Looking for education? They host flat repair and skills clinics. Want someone to ride with? A wide variety of rides—from a weekly social ride that’s 8 miles in each direction, to the hardcore 20-plus-mile-per-hour Chili Ride (aka “The Pain Train”), to a monthly mountain bike ride—roll out from the shop each week. Just want a community? There’s yoga night every Tuesday, too.

It’s a lot of work to keep up with it all—recently, McCracken’s average day has been 13 or 14 hours long, starting at 6:30am—but it’s also a lot of fun. “We are living our dream,” he says. “We love encouraging people to ride their bikes, no matter what their level is. And we love sharing the joy of cycling with our customers.” And, at the end of each ride, there’s always a high-five available.

SPECS
Sunnyside Bicycles
Fresno, California
Locations: One
Square Feet: 4,800
Years in Business: 15
Number of Employees: 7-9 full-time; 1 part-time
Average Bike Sale: $1,100
Gross Annual Revenue: $1M
Major Brands: Trek/Electra
Online: sunnysidebicycles.com
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John's Quick Tips

A little friendly advice from John McCracken, the nicest guy in the Central Valley

Offer faster service. “We’re the only shop with 48-hour turnaround in a town where most shops are 1-3 weeks in service repairs. It’s pretty easy to accomplish; we don’t go home until they’re done.” That led to a 57% year-over-year gain in service labor from 2016 to 2017.

Listen to your customers. “Engagement is what’s lacking in retail. Everybody’s got a story, and people just want to be heard. That’s why I’ve got my three questions—name, where you’re from, and type of bike you ride.”

Get a sales training program. “We’ve worked with Dan Mann at the Mann Group, and his GEAR process is great; it’s been huge for us, and it helps us get to the sale.” At the end of the day, I’ve got to sell product, because encouraging people to ride bikes alone doesn’t pay the bills.

Set up an optional shop-wide text alert list. “If people don’t want it, they won’t sign up for it. I’ve got between 350 and 400 people who receive a text from us every Tuesday afternoon that tells them what’s coming ahead at the shop. It’s a great reminder, when our customers are starting to plan their weekends, that we’ve got rides coming up.”

Be available, and engage. “80% of people who walk in our door tell us they’re ‘just looking.’ They didn’t say, ‘Leave me alone,’ so we keep the conversation going: ‘Sweet! I’ve got a lot to look at. What kind of bike do you ride?’ I don’t walk away; I just keep going and engage them. I don’t necessarily try to sell them anything, but I find out what they’re doing with their bike, and why they came in, and then I have an idea of what they might need.”

Plan each customer’s next ride. “Find out what their next ride is—it could be a century three months down the road, or it could be one of our shop rides on Saturday—and if they don’t know, invite them on one of yours.” Not only does it encourage them to ride, it also gives you selling opportunities. “‘Do you everything you need? Are your tires in good shape? Have you had your bike maintained recently? Do you have your ride nutrition? Do you have a spare tube?’ We do really well with units-per-transaction by asking these questions at checkout, and it’s with that idea of planning their next ride.”

Use SmartWaiver for shop rides. “We have people fill out waivers for every ride via SmartWaiver, whether they’re in the shop or doing it ahead of time via our website. That way, I have names, phone numbers and email addresses for all of these people who are interested in our shop and our rides. Man, that’s a great contact! They may not be our customers…yet.

Post what people like to social media. “I scope out other shops’—local competitors and non-competitors alike—Facebook pages, and see that pictures of people riding bikes get a lot of likes. Pictures of the hottest new bikes with the latest technology? They get hardly any traction. So I post what people want, because those likes speak to what people care about, and that’s the experience of riding.