Tom Hammett: A Business Model To Envy

Friday, August 16, 2013 - by Tom Hammett

About 30 years ago my wife and I purchased a couple of department store bicycles which were sufficient for occasional riding.  A young man at my church insisted that we investigate purchasing serious bikes for more intense riding in the hills of Chattanooga. I didn’t see the need in spending $500-$700 for a bicycle.  After all, bikes were only $30 bucks when I was a kid.  We did purchase two new bikes from a dealer who was going out of business and we got a good deal on excellent bikes.
  We still have those bikes and I recently logged 1800 miles on mine.  Since it had not been ridden very much in the last few years, it was time for a tune up…new tires, cleaning, a few new mechanical parts.  I had occasionally dealt with Owen Cyclery in Hixson, so I returned there for service.  To my pleasant surprise, the new owner, Erik Hunt, actually remembered me as a long-time, yet infrequent customer.  Erik and his business partner Brian Lowery purchased the dealership from Tom Owen in 2002.
 
That background brings me to the focus of this article which is to share my profound appreciation for a business and the individuals involved who exemplify a perfect and successful business model in today’s difficult era of entrepreneurship.  Neither business nor bicycle sales and service are rocket science, but through rather extraordinary gifts, talents, hard work, customer relations and quality products, the management and staff have built a solid, successful customer-oriented business.
 
My recent saga with Owen Cyclery began in January when I began serious riding again and commuting to both of my part-time jobs.  One ride was 16 miles and the second was 27 miles roundtrip.  My 25 year old bike needed servicing to handle the extensive rides.  After 3 or 4 trips to Owen’s for service and for the purchase of whistles and bells I, like all little boys in a bike shop, caught a case of new bike fever.  I learned that it is possible to spend $400 to $20,000 for a new bike.  I have discovered there are two things in life that are difficult for me to purchase: a pair of shoes, and a bicycle!  About once or twice a week I would visit the bike shop for a tweaking of my bike’s mechanical operations, or just to shop or just to hang around.  Faces became familiar; I learned the first names of the sales and mechanical staff and would often watch their work in the shop.  The more I watched the more I was mesmerized by the mechanics’ high-level of proficiency.  I realized that bicycles can no longer be repaired with just a screwdriver and adjustable wrench as I did when a kid.  They are technically complex machines made from some advanced alloys and carbon fibers which require a great deal of knowledge, mechanical ability and specialized tools.
 
Mr. Hunt serves as CEO of the company as well as sales personnel and master mechanic.  His personal attention to customers is a rare gift indeed.  Whether a customer is an entry level, casual rider or competitive professional, his knowledge is extensive at every level.  He is intuitive as to which style of bike would best serve the needs of the customer, and there is a large variety of bikes from which to choose.  In retrospect I find it amusing that after shopping for a bike from January to August, I finally settled on the very first bike that had been recommended to me.  The sales staff endured 7 months of my shopping, questioning, test-riding and shop-lurking.  Erik, Brian, Tom, Corey, T.J. and Justin have all been friendly and accommodating for many months now, and each is a seasoned professional in one or more areas of the bicycle business.
 
I write this article not as an extensive commercial advertisement for Owen Cyclery, but as an encouragement to all customer-oriented businesses in Chattanooga.  My background has been in Choral Arts and Church Music Ministry, so my knowledge of business theory and management is very limited, but I do know what attracts my initial and repeated business.  It is a complex combination of elements that make a success.  A desired product, a wide variety of various levels and qualities of products, extensive accessories, knowledgeable and experienced personnel, friendly customer relations, the ability to make the customer feel important, and that the customer is receiving an outstanding deal on the final sale.  Owen Cyclery has it all together as a textbook example of outstanding business practices.  I am a satisfied customer!

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