Originally from Lake County, FL, Sherry Lynn Bechtel, owner of Inverness Bicycle & Fitness, started her business because she saw a need for a place where women could feel comfortable shopping for a bicycle and talking to staff. This came about because of the way she had been treated in many bike shops. Bechtel shared the story behind her journey and how, in six short years, she went from "stalking" bicycle reps to running a well-established bike store with plans for future expansion.
"Before I started Inverness Bicycle & Fitness, I worked as a Planner/Recreation Director for the City of Fruitland Park," Bechtel said. "I reached a certain point, after seven years, where I wasn't happy. I wanted something else."
Bechtel always had a passion for cycling, so the idea to start a bike shop wasn't too far outside of her comfort zone. Perhaps the most challenging part, at least initially, was identifying the right location. Nevertheless, Bechtel was persistent and eventually found exactly what she was looking for.
"I first looked at opening a shop in Lake County," she said. "I'd ride my bike around and speak with people about bike shops in the area. After additional research, I confirmed that Clermont was too saturated with existing shops and that Leesburg didn't have the bicycle mentality to support a bike shop. I even met with The Villages, in Sumter County, but they wanted to remain loyal to another local bike shop."
Bechtel continued, "From my experience biking, I knew where the Cross Florida Trail started and where it ended, that's how I discovered Inverness. I took a trip to Inverness to check things out and met with some people at city hall to talk about my idea. They were all so positive and welcoming about a new business coming in. That's when the idea of opening a bike shop in Inverness became a real possibility."
After meeting with a SCORE mentor and getting some great advice, Bechtel found the perfect location in downtown Inverness. She was only a few blocks away from the trail and the visibility was good. She secured a lease and got to work cleaning and painting her new space. When it came time to stock the store with merchandise, Bechtel had an uphill battle.
"When you're a new bike store and you start from scratch, trying to get set up with new accounts is a huge challenge," she said. "I literally had to prove I had a storefront. From there, I knew that in order to be successful, I had to get with the top five brands. Through local events, I found out when and where the Cannondale representative was going to be. After meeting and speaking with him a few times, he agreed to sit down with me to discuss a possible contract. From there, I had to find a good mechanic. That was a pretty frustrating process. I'd get 15 applications and 14 of them never touched a bike. It wasn't until two weeks before opening the store that I secured a good mechanic."
Inverness Bicycle & Fitness officially opened its doors in October 2013. Once open, Bechtel worked hard to develop a customer base and eventually learned how to order inventory based on the wants and needs of Inverness and the surrounding area. As an avid cyclist, Bechtel knew the basics of bicycles, but knew nothing on the mechanical side. After her mechanic taught her the basics over a few months, she took a three and a half week course at Barnett Bicycle Institute in Colorado Springs, CO.
Bechtel shared what she loves most about running her bike shop and how she's different from the competition. "I love my customers," she said. "A bike shop is a social retail shop. I get to know my customers on a first name basis. And, I sell happiness!!! It's very satisfying to sell and equip a bike for a customer who thought they had to give up riding due to a health issue. Nothing beats the smile on their face during that first ride, and I love the follow up calls I receive from many letting me know I have given them their life back. We also don't sell on commission, which completely eliminates sales pressure. That allows us to make sure our customers get the appropriate bike for what they are trying to accomplish."
Looking ahead, Bechtel is excited about expanding the fitness side of her business. The 5,000 sqft building she's in is divided into 2 equal spaces. Her plans include taking over the second space and turning it into a fitness studio. She'll start with ballet and hip hop type classes before eventually adding spin bikes. She's targeting a December or January time frame. Additional goals are to become more knowledgeable regarding her social media accounts and learning how to use them to her advantage.
What advice doe Bechtel have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "Do your research and write up a business plan," she said. "Then, realize that your business plan may change 10 times. Talk to SCORE and get a mentor. Talk to others that may be in the same line of business you are in. I traveled all over Florida talking to different bike shops. Also, read everything you can about the industry you are interested in."