Founded: Kevin took over an existing business in 2014
Kevin Gambini was on his way to becoming a licensed land surveyor when he noticed something funny going on in his favorite bike shop in his hometown of Santa Rosa, CA. Inventory was unusually low, so Kevin, a mountain-bike enthusiast and weekend racer, asked the owner what was up. Turns out the owner was getting ready to either sell off all the inventory or find a buyer for the business. Something clicked -- and Kevin decided to buy the store.
Suddenly, in addition to being a newly minted business owner, he was also a manager, a merchandiser, a salesman, a marketer, an accountant and an HR department. “It was a shock to the system,” says Kevin, thinking back on his early days of entrepreneurship. Kevin tells us about the challenges he’s faced and why learning to accept his own shortcomings was critical to his success.
Kevin, you were passionate about mountain biking, but that didn’t mean you were ready to run a bike store. How’d you figure it all out?
It was a steep learning curve, for sure – and there were a lot of hard knocks. Early on, I got advice from people who wanted to see me succeed. A friend of my dad’s was a business coach, and he helped me as I picked my way through understanding purchasing, sales trends, inventory, everything.
One thing that was really hard in the beginning was choosing merchandise and ordering it at the right time. When I got it wrong, I ended up either with a short supply or an oversupply of product. Fortunately, it’s a lot easier for me to get it right now.
One of the first things you had to do was hire employees. How did you approach that challenge?
I never thought I’d be doing HR work! But I’m better than I expected at picking good employees. I think it’s important to make a real connection, to see a light in their eyes. I want to know, will they be passionate about their job? Are we able to communicate easily, right off the bat?
Our industry has a high turnover rate, so I know it’s important to keep people incentivized. Fortunately, we’ve had a really good retention rate.
You sell hard-to-move inventory on eBay. What’s the benefit of that online sales strategy?
One of my employees has been selling diecast toys on eBay for years, and that got me thinking about using eBay for our stale stock. We only move 2-5% of our product this way, but it helps us sell outside our market. Here in California, people don’t buy bikes when it’s cold or rainy, so it’s a good time for us to sell out of state or even out of the country.
Tell us about your belief that community involvement is a key marketing strategy.
It’s really about offering the best service we can. I used to coach the high school mountain bike team. Now, I have a young family, so I needed to shift my focus. We sponsor the team and help them with repairs and maintenance, and we run bike repair clinics.
I’m always looking for ambassadors for the shop. If someone is passionate about our brand and wants to get involved, I try to plug them into the community. They might do trail work or help out at the local food bank on our behalf, or maybe coach or lead rides for the high school team.
I want to be able to help out in this community, especially after the recent fires and disasters in Santa Rosa. It's about giving more than you get.
What your biggest learning as a small business owner?
I’ve learned the importance of finding trusted people to support you, particularly in areas where you’re deficient. For example, I knew I didn’t have time to learn the financial side of the business. I hired a professional accountant right away because I needed help.
I figured out my shortcomings pretty quickly. If you’re afraid to ask for help, things are certain to fall apart fast.
Before you go
QB Community members, what “shortcomings” did you discover as a new business owner -- and how did you compensate for them?