Geared for Success: Senoia Cycle Works
by Clay Neely - firstname.lastname@example.org
In the summer of 2010, Ty Ridgeway left San Diego on a 3,000-mile charity bicycle ride when, halfway across the heart of Texas, a revelation washed over him that would change his life forever.
“We wound up right next to this huge windmill farm with vast fields of soybeans that spread out for acres beneath it,” recalled Ridgeway. “I called my boss right then and there and let him know that I wasn’t coming back to work.”
Prior to this moment, Ridgeway had been working in the Clayton County School System as a choir and band director following his graduation from the University of Georgia in 2006.
“I spent four years in a fine arts magnate school, so I had my summers off and, subsequently, some free time for myself,” said Ridgeway. “I had become jaded in my profession in such a short period of time.”
“My mindset and respect toward my students was an entirely reciprocal one. When I realized that I wasn’t capable of putting in 100 percent anymore, I feared that I would impact a child’s love for music in a way that I wouldn’t be satisfied with,” said Ridgeway.
Upon his return to Peachtree City, Ridgeway found himself without a job but certainly maintained his passion to work. His neighbor owned a bicycle shop and offered Ridgeway a part-time job.
“I had learned a bit about bicycles over the years and he had just lost a few employees that were headed to college. He asked if I’d like to come by, hang out and get a paycheck until I found another job. After three months, he sold the company (Bicycles Unlimited) and I became shop manager,” said Ridgeway.
During his tenure at Bicycles Unlimited, Ridgeway befriended Deborah Tyler.
“She came in looking for equipment and information. Due to our proximity to one another, we found ourselves riding to different events together and found we had many similar interests,” said Ridgeway.
One morning on their way to a bicycle ride in Dahlonega, Ga., Ridgeway expressed his idea of possibly opening a bed and breakfast with a cycling aspect to it that would be based in the Dahlonega area.
“I thought it was a good idea,” said Deborah Tyler. “But I wondered, why not just try to do something closer to home?”
That’s when Ridgeway began researching different regions to open up a shop, and Tyler would act as a business consultant.
In the end, Senoia appeared to be a perfect fit for the fledgeling company. A little over a year since opening their doors, it appears it was the right move.
“When people have a very finite time to get their riding done, Senoia is one of the best places to ride from,” said Ridgeway. “You’ll have people coming from all over the Atlanta area to come ride down here.”
Ridgeway feels that Senoia offers a unique experience where cyclists can safely do large loops in an idyllic, country setting.
“People out here really share the road well. Once they get back into town, they know there’s good food, good shopping and it’s really laid back. They really feel comfortable out here,” said Ridgeway.
“You have The Veranda and Culpepper Houses. People come from all over the country to spend time here,” said Ridgeway. “If you’re a hardcore bike rider, you always look for a good shop in the area with quality routes. Senoia really supports the shop.”
Ridgeway feels that one of Senoia’s greatest assets is the overall attitude of its citizens.
“You might be a local or you might be a movie star. It doesn’t matter who you are. People just want to be treated like people. Maybe that’s why they like us. We don’t make a big deal about celebrity,” said Ridgeway.
“Riders have said for years that if you’re smart and able to run a bike shop in Senoia, you’ll be successful,” said Ridgeway.
Tyler, an avid bicyclist, agrees wholeheartedly, which is why she invested her time and energy into helping secure the success for the new company.
“I’d worked for a long time in the corporate world,” said Tyler. “In my view, small business is the same as a large business. You’re utilizing the same principles of big business only with fewer people and less overhead.”
However, Tyler wanted this small business to avoid many of the pitfalls that are far too common, especially among new companies.
“The importance of constant communication cannot be understated,” said Tyler. “Communication keeps everyone on the same page when the tendency to start chasing down all these little different ideas. Then you’re off on some kind of tangent and it’s not successful because everyone isn’t on the same page and your focus gets lost.”
“When you’re living paycheck to paycheck as a small business owner, you want to ensure that you're not deviating from your initial vision,” said Ridgeway. “We’re specialists. That’s who we are.”
“We understand that some people might want us to expand our inventory and offer different styles like mountain bikes, kids’ bikes or hybrid comfort bikes — but you can’t integrate everyone’s wants.”
Regardless of their business model, both Ridgeway and Tyler acknowledge the importance of being a community-oriented business. While they may specialize in a certain demographic in a business setting, their doors are open to every member of the community who may need a helping hand.
Recently partnering with their neighbor, Katie Lou’s Cafe, they helped co-sponsor the “Ride for Lonnie,” a charity bike ride for one of Senoia’s citizens who had recently experienced some hard times.
“To me, that’s all part of what being a local business is all about,” said Ridgeway. “I think a responsibility to the community you serve is part of running a successful business.”
So after one year of being up and running, both Ridgeway and Tyler like what they’re seeing. Business is good, they’re busy and every day opens up a new opportunity.
However, even with a successful business model in place, Ridgeway notes that the weather will ultimately play a large role in their success.
“Last year was a difficult year to predict anything,” said Ridgeway. “There are general trends due to seasonal changes and holidays, but the weather was so unpredictable. We had so much rain early in the riding season and then a mild summer, so people continued to ride into the fall so during a normally lull time. We kept moving along nicely.”
“Weather has been the biggest and will continue to be the biggest factor in our business. People need good weather to participate in what we offer. No matter if they’re purchasing, upgrading or getting repairs done. If the weather isn’t nice, you’re off the radar,” said Ridgeway.
“We’ve been fortunate with diehard riders,” said Tyler. “We have people who will get out in the cold and rain.”
Ultimately, both Ridgeway and Tyler see endless possibilities for the company and hope that the demographic for cycling will expand.
“Cycling in our area is almost a middle-age phenomenon,” said Ridgeway. “The Dutch have children and elderly people riding around, side-by-side without a second thought. It’s just a part of their culture.”
“It’s a great way for families to start sharing time together again. People have become so pulled into their own space with smartphones and social media,” said Tyler. “When families can just put that world away for a little while, cycling does wonders.”