Friday, June 1, 2018

Mobile Bicycle Repair By The Numbers

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This article discusses the earning potential, market research and operating costs involved in starting your own mobile bicycle repair business


Ever thought about starting your own mobile bicycle repair business? Tired of working a dead end job at a bike shop and looking for something that will grow your experience and industry knowledge? Are you a competent bike mechanic and a self taught learner? Are you self managed at the workplace? Then maybe it's time to consider owning your own mobile repair business. This article discusses the real numbers in terms of profit, operating costs and the customer base you will most likely be dealing with. The purpose behind this article is to either convince someone to take the first steps into launching their own business or consider whether a career in mobile repair will really suit them. This article discusses how to start a non-franchised, non-incorporated sole proprietorship.

Start Up Costs:

The first thing you will need to work mobile is a vehicle. There are many ways that you can go about this, but the best vehicle for the job is going to be a cargo van. That is because a cargo van has plenty of room to install shelves for parts and tools as well as room to haul bicycles. There are many good options out there for a cargo van. The Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Econoline, Ford Transit, Nissan NV200 and Dodge Pro Master are all good options. I personally own a Ford Transit Connect I purchased lightly used from a dealer. With only 20,000 miles on the odometer, I was able to purchase this vehicle for a little over 15k. Van Shelving cost another 500-800 dollars. Vinyl lettering cost around $450. Tools cost around $2,000, although I had quite a few tools already purchased when I went into business. Let's add up our start up costs.

Van:$16,000
Shelving:$800
Graphics:$500
Tools: $2,000

Total: $19,300

This is what you will need to start a mobile repair business. I am not going to discuss inventory, but it helps to have plenty of inner tubes in all sizes, cables and housing, cable crimps and housing ferrules, linear pull brake pads, grips and bar tape, and 7-8-9-10 and 11 speed chains in stock for any situation. Most everything else can be ordered as needed. Until you understand your market, only carry the essentials so as to not have inventory sitting without being sold. 

A bicycle mechanic on a shoe string budget will have to make priority based choices depending on how funds for the business are procured. For the first year, most of what will be earned will go back to paying start up costs and putting the business in the black. It is imperative as both an entrepreneur and a sole proprietor to have assets paid for. Do not expand while in debt. We are bike mechanics and we cannot leverage that kind of debt. This is a seasonal occupation that will have busy and slow periods and we will not always have a continual revenue stream like other types of businesses. So have all your startup costs bought and paid for by your first year of business. 

Profit: 

This is the part most of you have been waiting for. What is the earning potential as a mobile mechanic? I was fortunate to land a contract for developing and maintaining rental bike shares for a company very soon after I went into business. That along with customer house calls brought me a take home pay of about $22k for my first year of business. I did not put in the hours most entrepreneurs put in and worked the business on a semi part time schedule. Had I been more ambitious that figure would have easily exceeded $30k. In case you were wondering, you will not get rich repairing bikes for a living. You will, however have the independence to work the schedule you want, schedule appointments based on your availability and need and work as much or as little as you desire. This job is simply a means to an end and hopefully an avenue for more bike riding and living a simple life. 

If you want to make more money, go to law school. If you want to live more, be a mobile bike mechanic. The choice is yours.

Your Market:

Depending on the area that you live in, the median age and demographics of your market will vary. Also worth noting this will vary on the prices you charge. If you are undercutting your competition by a lot you will only get customers who do not want to spend money. If you are on par with your competition then you will get their customers. There is nothing wrong with testing the market, playing around with pricing, or cold calling other competitors and requesting a quote for services. There is an arbitrary number for how much to charge for certain services that the market will bear. You may choose to cover a larger service area and offer a broad selection of services, thereby charging at or slightly above your competition. You may also choose to cover a smaller service radius and offer 3 or 4 main services, thereby charging slightly less than your competitors. The price you charge can also be based on your experience. The more experience you acquire the more you can charge. 

In my personal experience, about 95% of my customers are homeowners. Most are over 40 years of age and live in middle to upper middle class neighborhoods. About 60% are men and 40% are women. Most of my customers have bikes for the rest of their family members, so most of my customers are actually couples with families. This is a good target market because they seem to have the best circumstances to have disposable income for bicycle repair. A younger audience will not want to spend money to get their bikes fixed. I have only had one young customer in the past two years that was a college student. This is the market that chose me based on the services and the prices I charge. Others might have a different experience based on their pricing and willingness to expand to other markets.

There are no suspension fork oil changes and electronic shifting repairs in mobile bike repair. You will do yourself a favor and pass on complicated jobs like these to a local bike shop. While you can learn how to do these things and while they are useful skills to have in your resume, you will never use them outside a shop environment. The only way to offer such services successfully is to be directly affiliated with a brick and mortar store. 

The number one repair that I get calls for is a basic tune up. The number one bicycle that I work on is a 7 speed mountain bike or hybrid bike. As plain and as simple as that sounds, this is where actual money is made in mobile bicycle repair. Parts can be bought for cheap and marked up at a profit, while labor is charged the same as if it were a more complicated bike. What bike mechanics must realize is that most people are happy with their 90's 3x7 speed mountain bikes. Most will continue to fix them forever, and ever and ever. So have no illusions of fixing exotic Colnagos as a mobile repair mechanic. The Trek Antelope is your friend in the business.


So are you ready to cut your teeth in the industry and become a mobile bicycle repair mechanic? This calling isn't for everyone, but maybe its for you. If you work to live and not live to work, if you are not defined by a title, if you value experiences over possessions then I would say you have found the right career to be in. Hopefully this article will convince the reader one way or the other. Stay tuned to my blog for more informative articles.