Name: Kevin Gambini
Business: Breakaway Bikes
Kevin Gambini was due to become a licensed property surveyor when he noticed that inventory was unusually low at his favourite cycle shop. 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, Kevin was also a manager, a merchandiser, a salesman, a marketer, an accountant and an HR department. He tells us about the challenges he’s faced and why learning to accept his own shortcomings was critical to his success.
How did you go from cycle enthusiast to business owner?
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.
How did you approach being an employer?
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? Our industry has a high turnover rate, so I know it’s important to keep people incentivised. Fortunately, we’ve had a really good retention rate.
What is your online sales strategy?
One of my employees has been selling vintage 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 immediate market.
What’s your best marketing strategy?
Getting involved in the community. I used to coach a local 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 cycle 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 local team.
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.
After acquiring a stinker of a cold I have only managed 3 hours this week, I don't do well working through streaming eyes and nose, and driving with a completely fuzzy head is not my most favourite thing to do!
And rain tomorrow.... Well, that's ok, a rainy day is a good day for a gardener to have a cold.
How did I make my hobby into a job? I did it gradually. My career kind of grew by itself. I've always grown plants, and after doing some shabby jobs for a while after school/college I worked at a garden centre, then spent a few years messing around and finally worked again at a garden centre. From there I was poached by a landscape gardener to do his garden maintenance, and after about 1½ years I'd gained the confidence to strike out on my own. I had to be self-employed to work for the landscaper anyway, so I was halfway there.
I inherited some of his customers, and advertised with Thompson Local to keep a flow of customers as needed. Since then I've advertised also with leaflets, and at the moment with yell.com. I've also got some magnetic signs on order for my van so I can target certain areas where I work.
Not very complex I'm afraid, but that's about it in a nutshell. The main thing is, be a genuine and honest worker, don't ever imagine that anything less than that will give you ongoing success and a good reputation.
I hope you're feeling better today and your cold has cleared a little.
The sun has been shining today in the South! So, I am very happy!
That's an amazing journey and it sounds like the experience you have gained over time has really helped you build upon your confidence and other assets. This story is really inspiring, it's great how things have organically grown with a little help from some inherited customers - BUT, amazing nonetheless!
Great feedback to end your comment, Karsty. I completely agree. The challenges shape us and they shape our pathway.
One question though, is there anything you wish you had known when you first started out on your own? *It can be so daunting!*
Thanks @Jess W, the fuzzy head cold is just starting to clear.
I think my type of business is pretty straightforward compared to many others. I mean, don't get me wrong, it's still way too busy, and it can in many ways go from zero to 100, and 100 to zero without any notice at any time.
The thing that might have made a difference early on is getting my charges right, I didn't charge enough and if you don't get that right nobody wins.
Maybe knowing more about my work vehicle could have helped. But I started off with a Ford Transit which are top notch except for the rust. I believe the newest version - the Custom - is much more rust resistant (needs confirmation). The trouble with Transits is once they start rusting, if you don't do something about it you might just as well set fire to them. I spray all vulnerable parts of mine (Ford Transit Mk7 2007) with Corrosion Block (developed by Lear Aviation Corporation) once or twice a year. It reduced my welding bill by 90% in the first year I used it.
The more I think about this the more I realise I could probably write a book
Hope you have had a good weekend.
Yes, that's the same with my freelance writing business. Things can radically progress overnight and I will be inundated with offers and then some weeks, things are a little slower. I suppose this is the nature of some businesses.
How do you cope with the slower months? Especially in the winter, is this something you prepare for?
The fact that you have mastered the pricing is brilliant. I am sure this is a huge benefit and allows you to feel more in control of your business! Amazing work with the van too! I know that's been a long journey.
I am sure you could definitely write a book. I know I would love to one day. Nothing stops you from thinking about it. Let us know if you branch out on this idea