Mark Trudeau runs a cycling palace in Naples today, but he started with a 280-square-foot bike shop on Marco Island 20 years ago.
Trudeau has accomplished this even in the face of a flood of cheap imports sold through national “big box” retailers, offering a good lesson in customer service and innovation.
For example, Trudeau opened Fit & Fuel Cafe in June, a coffee house combined with a bicycle fitting room next to the Naples Cyclery bike retail store he owns in Naples. “We needed a nice place to hang out,” Trudeau says. “It was done to complement what we do.”
The point is Trudeau isn't just selling bikes; he's selling the lifestyle that goes with bike riding, which includes socializing with fellow riders before and after a group ride. Besides coffee specially roasted by Miami-based Panther Coffee, the cafe serves organic and healthy food. “The cafe brings that full circle,” he says. “You're taking good care of people.”
The Boston native moved to Marco Island in 1991 after a career in forestry, wholesaling New England lumber to yards and woodworking operations in Florida. Trudeau started with the small bicycle shop on Marco Island, eventually moving to Naples where his store now measures 5,000 square feet with eight salespeople.
Cycling has become a huge sport in the U.S., especially since Lance Armstrong became widely recognized for his Tour de France exploits. In addition, healthy lifestyles and high gasoline prices have also helped. “There's a lot of things working for us,” Trudeau says.
“I've grown with the sport,” says Trudeau, who declines to share revenues or the number of bikes sold. But the custom bikes he sells can cost as much as $20,000, though he also sells cruisers for as little as $250. “We've held up through the recession,” he says.
The key to maintaining bike sales through the downturn has been the customer service, Trudeau says. A piece of that is the creation of an elaborate fitting system that takes as long as three hours to complete. A fit analysis costs from $175 to $350 and staff uses special equipment to measure details such as leg length and hamstring flexibility. The fit analysis also includes a video of your pedal stroke, much like a gait analysis might be useful for runners.
When a real estate office in the same shopping center closed in 2010, Trudeau jumped at the chance to lease it for a fitting room. But he knew running a coffee shop would be different from a high-end bike shop. “You can lose your shirt out there,” says Trudeau, who rides at dawn five times a week.
So Trudeau hired a professional chef and baker. “Nothing's Mickey Mouse,” Trudeau says. Although he won't say how much he invested in the cafe, he says the government obstacles proved more challenging than he expected.
Naples and Collier County have reputations as some of the most difficult places to do business on the Gulf Coast. Trudeau's experience was no exception.
The build-out of the cafe took eight months because of lengthy and costly permitting. “It should've been half that,” Trudeau says. What's more, Trudeau says local government forced him to pay about $7,000 in water and sewer “impact fee” taxes.