ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
John and Helen McMinn have been in the bicycle business for the past 20 years, but the couple is pleased-not offended-when customers leave the shop to “pedal” their products.
That’s because they own McMinn’s Bicycle Service in Hillsboro, the area’s only full-service bicycle shop.
In this age of superstores and discount giants, the McMinns have managed to hold their own in bicycle sales because of their commitment to customer service.
“We don’t just sell bikes, we service them,” John said. “We’re not like discount stores, where once you buy a bike and walk out the door you’re on your own.”
Located at 204 S. Cedar from the start, the couple began their part-time business at the urging of Hillsboro residents who loved to cycle.
“There was an older gentleman in Hillsboro who had a bike shop, and before he passed away, he asked John if he’d be interested in helping him out,” Helen said.
“He wanted me to come to work with him, but I didn’t have the time,” added John, a full-time mechanic with Unified School District 410. “Then he passed away and so many people asked me to work on their bikes, I decided to open my own shop.”
The couple also decided that if it was worth doing, it was worth doing right.
“I made up my mind that I was going to go all the way and not only sell bikes but service them,” John said. “I made sure that if I couldn’t sell a quality product, that I wasn’t going to sell bikes at all.”
That commitment is what customers have come to expect from McMinns over the years. And it has paid off for both parties.
“We’ve ordered and sold about 1,700 bikes in the past 20 years,” Helen said. “Now we’re averaging about 55 bikes per year, but in our biggest years we’d sell about 150.”
Prices range from $285 on the low end to $3,000 for serious bikers.
“The higher-priced bikes just have better components,” John said. “The shocks and shifting are better and they weigh a lot less.”
When it come to bicycles, as with many products, you get what you pay for, he added.
“There’s a world of difference, like night and day, between an $80 bike and a $300 bike,” John said. “But I can’t stop people from buying at discount stores. If they want a cheap bike, that’s where they’ll go.”
Added Helen, who maintains the books, makes out tickets and sends orders: “We had people educated for awhile that quality is very important, and they were buying quality. But finally it’s getting to the point of whatever is cheaper.
“And I can understand that for younger kids, because you don’t want to put a lot of money in a bike they’ll out grow very quickly.”
Quality also comes with guarantees.
“The bikes we sell have lifetime warranties on their frames against defects,” he added. “These bikes will last as long as you take care of them; if you take care of it, it’ll last almost forever.”
Over the years, McMinns have been dealers for numerous brands, including BCA, Mongoose, Schwinn, Lightning, SUN, Takara, Ross, FreeAgent, KHS and GT, in addition to several brands of recumbents.
“When we opened 20 years ago, we had three bikes in our showroom and we were scared to death we wouldn’t sell them,” John said. “Now on average, we have about 50 bikes at any one time.”
Choosing the right products to sell is key to their success.
“We found some good companies to work with and we’ve just stuck with them,” Helen said. “Right now our best seller is the GT Timberline.”
As with most recreational products, bicycle sales run parallel to the local economy.
“When the stock market was good around 1999, that’s when we sold bikes,” John said. “Our sales haven’t been affected much by high gas prices because people seem to be saving their money to buy gas rather than bikes.
“About 10 years ago, there were way more people riding bikes than there are now,” he added. “We’re not selling that many new bikes right now, but we’re seeing people bring their old bikes out of their sheds and use them.”
McMinn Bicycle Service will repair bicycles whether or not they sold them.
“I can do anything from a major tune up, which means the bike will leave here like new, to just doing a minor which means adjustments and lubrication,” John said. “I can’t stand to send a bike out needing work of any kind.”
Most service appointments require the bike be left with McMinn from one to three days.
“I’ll fix anything from replacing spokes to fixing flats, whatever it needs,” John said. “I try to keep parts on hand and just because we may not sell the brand of bike you have, doesn’t mean I won’t have the right parts.”
Scheduling a regular spring check up is recommended by McMinns.
“People seem to be riding their bikes until they break down and then it costs them a lot more money,” John said.
The McMinns’ customer base ranges beyond the borders of Marion County.
“Right now we get customers by word of mouth or when they look up a brand on the Internet, they see we’re dealers,” John said. “We have customers from Kansas City, Derby, Salina, Ulysses and other locations.”
In addition to selling and servicing bikes, McMinns offer a full line of competitively priced helmets, tires, tubes, speedometers, water bottles, chains and lights.
“We emphasize safety lights,” Helen said. “We also encourage people to register their bikes with the police department.”
“Sometimes we sell our products cheaper than the discount stores,” John said. “But people just don’t think to check with us first.”
With the motto “We don’t just sell them, we take care of them,” the couple knows their survival is predicated on customer service.
McMinn Bicycle Service will celebrate its 20th anniversary with an open house this Saturday, June 3, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Refreshments and reduced prices are included in the event.
The McMinns appreciate the customer support they’ve received the past 20 years. The rewards have been more than financial.
“One thing John said when we started in this business was ‘if a kid walks out with a smile on their face, it’s worth it,'” Helen said. “We feel like we’re basically fulfilling a community service.”