Lance Armstrong, famed or infamous depending on your view, may not inspire many entrepreneurs these days.
But for Shaune Huysamen a visit to Armstrong’s Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop in Austin, Texas, planted the seed to one day open a similar shop in the Atlanta area. Armstrong’s shop sells coffee drinks in addition to bikes, apparel and gear.
That was five years ago. It took some time, but Huysamen finally found his spot.
Last July, he opened Whitetail Bicycles & Coffee Shop in Milton, a suburb roughly 30 miles north of downtown Atlanta.
With the opening, he tapped into a long tradition of coffee helping fuel the cyclist community.
“We are seeing a trend toward more bike shops adding café options to make the retail stores more of a gathering place for cyclists,” said Fred Clements, vice president of the National Bicycle Dealers Association.
In a recent survey of dealers, the association found that nearly 15 percent of bike dealers have a coffee bar in their stores.
Not all shops are created equal. Some are fairly simple, like Whitetail, while others offer more variations on the theme, like Café + Velo in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood next to downtown Atlanta.
Café + Velo opened a month after Whitetail and rents bikes to ride around the urban area. It also sells a variety of bike parts in a vending machine and a has 20-bike corral out front.
Located in a 60-year-old building, its décor pays homage to the cyclists of yore. It regularly live streams cycling races from around the world and projects them on a wall.
“We got tired of turning coffee places into bike friendly places,” said co-owner Jeff Demetriou, explaining how the café got its start.
Like Demetriou, Huysamen wanted a space that was unique and had character.
“I didn’t want to be in some strip center,” said Huysamen, a South African who came to the U.S. 18 years ago.
Early last year, a building that is more than century old became available in an area that is known as historic Crabapple but is part of Milton. Nearby, the City of Milton, which was incorporated a decade ago, is building a new city hall next to ongoing commercial development.
Huysamen, who also is a regional director for Atlanta-based TriBridge Residential, had competition for the building. He was among a dozen possible tenants to interview with the building's owner.
“I didn’t even have a business plan yet,” Huysamen said.
He put one together, won over the building owner and opened four months later.
It took quick work to get the suppliers lined up. But he met his goal of ensuring he had bike brands that were made in America, saddling up with Seven Cycles and Parlee Cycles. Both are considered boutique brands. Those are sold along with Cannondale bikes.
Potential buyers can go in and relax with a coffee drink and simply hang out while they shop or get fitted for a new bike. The coffee shop also helps drive foot traffic into the store.
“I wanted a small, more intimate experience for the shop,” Huysamen said.
Huysamen’s mother works the shop during the day. Adding to its uniqueness is the Whitetail’s bike mechanic who also helps sell bikes – Wayne Nix. Fans of Discovery Channel’s Moonshiners will recognize him from his stint on a single season a couple of years ago.
In his first week open, Whitetail sold a Parlee custom tandem bike for $19,000. It took seven weeks to build. Later, a buyer called the shop and ordered a Parlee TTiR Disc custom bike over the phone. Price: $11,500.
Those are the big-ticket bikes. On average, though, the shop sells mostly Cannondale bikes, averaging about $1,500 per bike.
Huysamen had to adjust his business plan when people kept asking for kid’s bikes, and he had none. Now, Whitetail sells those, too.
“We sold out the first shipment,” he said. "We now keep a regular stock."
Huysamen said the biggest challenge is tapping into general cyclists, the avid but casual rider who isn't hitting the road to prepare for a race. He noted that they tend to be loyal to their bike shops. But those cyclists do come to his shop for some Stumptown coffee.
“Coffee is the great equalizer,” he said.