In 1985 Ted Thomas took $6,000 of his savings, borrowed another $4,000 from his best friend, and opened a bike rental business in Vienna, VA, adjacent to the Washington & Old Dominion Trail (W&OD) that goes from Purcellville to Old Town Alexandria (45 Miles) and connects to the Mt Vernon Trail (18 Miles) and ends at George Washington’s Mt Vernon Estate. He rented a location, bought 10 bikes and opened his first store in Vienna near an entrance to the W&OD Trail, where there is also parking, and near the historic Vienna Inn and a number of food and drink establishments. He has since opened stores in Old Town Alexandria and Reston, VA, where he sells, rents and repairs bicycles. The Vienna store is now his anchor store, and at 5,000 square feet, it is three to five times larger than his other stores. Ted estimates he sells around 3,000 new bikes a year. Because of the high use of the W&OD trail, especially on weekends, he also provides tune up and maintenance services at all of his stores for the many riders from up and down the trail.
In 2012, Ted leased a store in the heart of D.C., near the Smithsonian Museums and other tourist attractions. He uses this store to rent bikes to tourists and residents of the city, and does some repairs to his rental bicycle inventory in the back of the shop.
Although he has always made money, or he would not be in business, Ted has seen a decline in bikes sales of about 20 percent since 2008. He attributes this to the downturn in the economy and the growth in Internet sales. However, his rental and tune up and repair business has increased dramatically. Over the past few years, he realized that he must be more aware of expenses and decrease them wherever practical in order to preserve profits.
Ted has thinks that the one of the most important factors is the weather, but has no data to support that thinking. On rainy days, there are few customers in the stores, while on sunny weekends all of his locations are extremely busy. From spring through fall, Ted keeps all his stores open seven days a week, while in the winter months he opens his stores on the weekend when the weather is good for riding. Through observation, Ted figures his highest sales occur in May, and that June and September are his best months for rentals. He also sells many bikes during the holiday season in December, but in January and February, he often wonders if he should close shop and go to Florida for a couple of months.
Old Dominion Trail Bikes grosses between $5 and $8 million annually and earns Ted a comfortable six-figure income. Each year, he leaves a considerable amount of cash in the business so that he does not have to borrow money. He sells a wide variety of bikes (from tricycles for toddlers to sophisticated racing bikes) and accessories such as helmets, speedometers, bike racks, repair kits, and clothing. Bicycle sales have decreased to account for 25 percent of revenues. Accessories such as helmets, bike racks, gloves, and locks amount to another 5 percent. Rentals make up about 35 percent, and repairs make up the remaining 35 percent.
In recent years, he has noted that customers are less likely to purchase the high-end road and triathlon bikes, and are purchasing bikes in the range of $400 to $1,000. The lower priced bikes are also easier to sell and to keep the cash flow moving.
Most of the rental business is concentrated in the D.C. store in downtown and the Alexandria store, due to the tourists and university students located near those stores. Ted is excited about rentals, as they have a huge profit margin. He can charge as much as $50 a day, which means the bikes pay for themselves after just a few rentals.