Mikel Madison on His Journey as a Black Bicycle Shop Owner in a Mostly White Industry

With more young adults and gainfully employed people looking to leave the suburbs in favor of the inner city, bikes are becoming the preferred mode of transportation

How much was your initial investment in getting this shop off the ground?

It’s been a constant investment. It’s not a thing where I had $50,000 or a loan to use. I was open for a year and a half before I even got a wholesale distributor and a bike frame company to mess with me. I would buy frames off eBay or search for discount stuff, from the same people. I’m going to get them and strip and repaint them anyway. That’s how I was able to get distributors. I took those bikes, made better ones, took pictures and showed them my work and that I had a brick and mortar. It was a two year process to get to that. We are now in year 3 and my shop is looking the best it ever has. People are calling me now because I’m an authorized dealer for a certain company now.

Would you say that the bike business is one that more entrepreneurs should consider entering?

Yes. Rich people used to live in the suburbs, now they are moving in to the city because gas is high and they don’t want to make the commute. Then, people who aren’t as rich, want cheaper rent so they move out to the suburbs. So, as more rich people move into the city, they are going to want status symbols. It is a smart business to get into, gas is not getting any cheaper and people are looking for alternative transportation, period.

You have to be smart about it. Especially the racial thing. The bike community has been predominantly white for the last 80 years. They keep the price points at that. But don’t be mistaken, there are so many black riders out there. If you have a black store and you’re a good owner and can hustle up the black riders, you will have a solid clientele. I don’t know of many other black owned bike stores. I’ll say we are one percent. We only have two black owned bike stores in Atlanta and I am one of them.

You don’t have a “black owned” sign hanging up anywhere, but did service to that community play a part in wanting to open the shop?

Yes. A lot of black people ride bikes, but when we go to a bike shop, we don’t get treated right. I know this from experience. I expect it. When I was doing R&D in Atlanta, I played dumb. I wanted to see who was going to really help me, who was going to sell me something I know I didn’t need or want, or see who was going to have time for me. Those are the things I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want a store with a bunch of inventory that I had to get rid of just to make a dollar. And I didn’t want to be a bike snob, treating people who didn’t have nice bikes like they weren’t good enough.

Boutique shop owners, especially in clothing, have claimed that some brands discriminate against them. Does that also apply in the bike world?

Yes, but it’s all about how that company wants their product perceived. Coming from a branding background, I totally understand that. A lot of times when I come to these companies, I ask them a lot of questions so they are more comfortable with me. I have Brooks Saddles on all of my show bikes. I have Leaders and Brooks on my site’s frontpage. Companies love that type of product placement. Sometimes you have to do that and our counterparts understand that. They know that when I get Leader Bikes, that I‘m stripping and painting them; but they are cool with that. But you have to be cool on how you treat people’s stuff, they put a lot of work into their work too. With Brooks, I can sell some of their products, but they won’t even send me certain lines until I get my shop looking a certain way so that their product can be highlighted.

Tell us why you chose to open in this neighborhood, this space specifically.

When my wife moved out here to join me, we saw this place. I needed to open a brick and mortar, and the way it is built, I could live upstairs and work downstairs and design it however I wanted to. Plus, I didn’t have to worry about two rents — here I’m just paying one rent. This was before the area underwent its makeover. There weren’t any other cool restaurants or hangouts here. I’ve been trying to stay on this block because I think it’s important for something like this to be in this neighborhood. I think it is important for black business to be in this neighborhood, especially with Sweet Auburn being gentrified, I want to keep my little foothold in the community.

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