Kent Eriksen talks about succeeding during a recession
Mountain bike manufacturer says business staying steady despite grim economy.
Kent Eriksen, mountain bike pioneer
Steamboat Springs bike maker Kent Eriksen talks about his start in mountain biking.
Kent Eriksen talks titanium
Steamboat Springs mountain bike maker discusses the advantages of titanium frames.
Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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The worst economic downturn in nearly 80 years hasn't slowed demand for Kent Eriksen's $3,000 custom titanium bicycle frames.
"So here we are in this recession and I'm surprised at how busy we are," Eriksen said Friday. "We can make 150 bikes a year so we need to get three orders a week and right now we're seeing five orders a week."
Eriksen owns Kent Eriksen Bicycles, in an orderly manufacturing shop on the alley between 11th and 12th streets.
He is too modest to bring the subject up, but it doesn't hurt business at all that Eriksen is a mountain biking pioneer. In 1980, when he produced his first mountain bike in the back of the old Sore Saddle Cyclery in downtown Steamboat Springs, his was one of just three shops anywhere that had built a fat-tired bicycle intended for the rough trails of the Rockies.
"I built a bike that won the very first (National Off Road Bicycle Association) race in 1983," Eriksen said.
He came to appreciate the need for sturdy but lightweight bicycles with aggressive tires on his daily commute to and from his house in the hills above Strawberry Park.
Today, Eriksen and his wife/business manager Katie Lindquist, along with a veteran crew of mostly part-time employees, build much more than mountain bikes.
It was a tandem bike that recently won Eriksen first place for best titanium bike frame at the annual North American Handmade Bike Show in Indianapolis.
"I'm stoked that we got best titanium frame," Eriksen said. "We're small potatoes, and there were a lot of big companies there."
The staff includes lead welder Chris Moore; seat post welder and bead blaster Bo Randolph; walking, talking encyclopedia of bike part history and welder Chad Eskins; and mechanic and on-call AutoCAD whiz Derek Leidigh.
They custom-weld highly sought after road bikes, unsuspended single-speed cycles, cyclo-cross and trial bikes, all out of expensive titanium tubing milled in the U.S.
How expensive? The raw tubing costs about $50 a foot. But after striving for years to build thinner and lighter bike frames out of steel, Eriksen became increasingly disenchanted with their durability. The titanium heavily used in the aerospace industries has solved the durability issue, Eriksen said.
Primarily, Eriksen builds custom bike frames, leaving customers to choose their own preferred components. But the shop is just as happy to turn out completed bicycles.
Although a complete Eriksen bike can price out anywhere from $5,000 to $6,000 depending on the components, they often cost less than the top-of-the-line bikes from industry leaders, he said.
It takes eight to 10 weeks to deliver a custom frame, a time period some customers perceive to be really short and others find amazingly long, Lindquist said.
The process begins with a fitting conducted in person at the shop or over the telephone. Eriksen takes down 20 measurements - 11 of them devoted to the frame itself. However, the conversation he has with the buyer is more telling than anything. Eriksen is curious about their riding habits and their wants and needs. Whenever possible, he guides his customers by helping them get a better fit on their existing bicycle by moving handlebars and seats.
So what's Eriksen's strategy for continuing to sell expensive bicycle frames at a time when many people are looking for ways to save a thousand bucks?
"I say 'yes' a lot," Eriksen said. "I'm willing to give customers almost anything they ask for, within reason. It's a lot easier to say 'yes' than it is to say 'no.'"
Beyond the magic of the word "yes," Eriksen and Lindquist try to provide ultra-personal service. When a Swiss couple came to Steamboat during a tour of the states, they placed an order for an Eriksen bike. They were invited to stay as houseguests in his home and invited to enter a Steamboat Cup cycling race. Before they returned to Switzerland, they found their way back to Steamboat and ordered a second bike.
That's one way small businesses are able to prosper through a recession.
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