Austin’s losing another home-grown retailer.
Hill Abell announced this week that after 35 years, he and his wife Laura Agnew are selling Bicycle Sport Shop to Trek Bicycle.
That means Austin is losing its sole Specialized dealer. Bicycle Sport Shop also sells Santa Cruz, Fairdale, Salsa, Yeti and Surly. When Trek takes over in January, it will sell only Trek bikes.
Twins Claire and Cody Stevens opened Bicycle Sport Shop, which specialized in cruiser-style bikes, early mountain bikes and sportswear, at 1603 Barton Springs Road back in 1983. Abell bought his first mountain bike there and then joined the staff as a part-time salesman.
He bought the shop in 1985, and put the focus on mountain bikes and cycling gear. His wife Laura Agnew became co-owner in 1987. Over the years, the company added new shops, shifted the location of existing ones, and generally became a fixture in Austin’s bike scene. Today, there are five Bicycle Sport Shop locations in Central Texas, including the flagship shop at Lamar Boulevard and Barton Springs Road.
Yesterday, Abell shared the news with friends and customers.
“All good things must come to an end, including the very best rides, and the time has come for us to explore different paths in our life adventure,” a statement sent to customers and posted on social media read. “We have decided to sell Bicycle Sport Shop to Trek Bicycle, as we consider them a partner who shares our values and passion and would be the best future caretakers of our cycling community.”
Three of the bikes locked up in the shed in my backyard came from Bicycle Sport Shop, and I count Hill and Laura among my friends. We’ve ridden at Big Bend Ranch State Park together, hula-hooped away many an evening, camped in the desert and sipped margaritas. I’m sad the shop is closing, but happy for their new freedom. I caught up with Hill by phone this morning.
What can you tell us about the sale? It came together really quickly. Trek has been in retail business for about five years, and they now run 118 stores across country. Adding five more will bring it up to 123. Initially they were buying distressed retailers – shops going out of business, owners that were ready to quit. Now they have a whole retail services team. When we do the transition starting the week of Jan. 11, they’ll have 25 people in town doing merchandising, training, building bikes, and assessing the market.
Will the shop’s name change? It will be Trek of Austin. The Bicycle Sport Shop name is going away. It’s had a good 37-year run, but its time has come to an end.
What will customers notice? The new shop will only sell Trek. Specialized is going to look for a new distribution in Austin.
What about the employees? We’ve got five shops in the Austin area (including Bee Caves), and 150 full and part-time employees. Trek’s intention is to retain almost every one of them.
How has the pandemic affected the shop? The demand for bicycles has been absolutely phenomenal, to the point we’re struggling to have enough bicycles in stock for the holiday season. It’s been an incredible year, and that’s true industry wide. We expect to be up a little over 20 percent. The downside, of course is a fair number of our staff decided not to come back after we closed (briefly) in mid-March. We were deemed essential, so we were able to reopen. We pivoted to curbside only, and our e-commerce business absolutely exploded. We continue to operate curbside, and just three weeks ago opened on a limited appointment-only basis.
What are Trek’s plans? They’ll continue to do rentals. It will be a full-line bike shop, and service is a big part of the offering. They also have incredible program for training technicians, which is a real need. They won’t do things like the Real Ale Ride; they’re not as event oriented. But the CEO committed that they’ll be deeply involved in the advocacy scene in Austin, both for trails and bikeways.
How are customers reacting? It’s been amazing. I’ve had so many phone calls, emails and texts from people with stories about how the shop and its people have improved and changed their lives. It’s so fulfilling to hear that.
Got any funny memories? Our original landlord at Lamar was this amazing character. He came home from the Continental Club after a performer was going to do an Ozzy Osborne thing and cut the head off a rooster. The guy chickened out and tossed the rooster into the crowd. (The landlord) ended up finding the rooster and sticking it in the building right before we were going to occupy it. We found this rooster that had pooped all over the place…
How many bikes do you think you’ve sold? Last year we sold 7,800. This year it’ll be 10,000. It’s got to be in the hundreds of thousands over the course of 35 years.
What will you miss? I love the industry. The technology fascinates me. More than anything, it’s daily interaction with customers and staff. It’s like one big family.
What won’t you miss? The stress of trying to figure out how to keep the business viable. There’s so much competition, and the cost of doing business in Austin, property taxes and rent. The biggest challenge is the ability to pay our people a living wage.
I heard you had an employee ownership plan. Thirteen percent of the company was owned by about 135 employees. It was reappraised at the end of October. We saw a nice increase in value, and we’re adding a premium and buying them out at the end of the year.
What’s next? Laura has requested I take a year off, let things kind of settle and reflect on the last 35 years, travel, and maybe find some creative pursuits. I’m going to double down on bicycle advocacy. I have ideas on trail access initiatives we need to be working on in Central Texas, and I’ll keep working with people like Ted Siff and George Cofer to make sure the new $460 million active transportation bond is spent efficiently and quickly and on the right facilities. About $330 million of that is for urban trails, bikeways and bicycle enhancements.