Address: 426 S. Tejon St.
Years in business: 37
Number of employees: 10
John Crandall doesn’t have a business model, just a philosophy: Treat others right, take care of the environment and sell quality products and services.
When the 70-year-old enthusiast started Old Town Bike Shop 37 years ago in Old Colorado City, Crandall didn’t know that much about business — he just loved bicycles.
“When I started this, I had no idea that it would be a career; it was an experiment,” he said.
Somehow it worked out, and he’s still at it four locations later; selling his cycles, components and accessories from a 100-year-old brick building on the corner of Tejon and Cimarron streets.
Born and raised in New York, Crandall moved to Colorado Springs in 1973 after graduating with a degree in engineering and began working at Western Forge, a local tool manufacturer.
“I had grown up somewhat of a motorhead and had a fair amount of interest in small business,” Crandall said, also expressing his increased interest in exercise, mechanics and nature as he migrated to the Springs. “It just seemed to make sense.”
Starting in a shop half its current size, Old Town grew gradually as the years passed and the venue changed. The number of both square feet and employees have increased, but the core values remain the same.
“The basic philosophy of the shop has not changed and how we deal with people has not changed,” said retail manager Tim Halfpop, who has worked at Old Town since 1989. “Although our inventory has increased and our square-footage has increased, we haven’t cut corners on putting out a quality product.”
Although Crandall said he’ll always have a soft spot for the west side of town, he chose to move in 1997 after the owner of Criterium Bikes relocated that shop from downtown.
Old Town, first operated by Crandall alone, now has 10 employees with a combined average experience level that he says exceeds 15 years. And he takes care of his team.
One aspect that separates Old Town from many small, independently owned businesses is the employee benefits. For more than 10 years, Crandall has offered his workers full-coverage health insurance with a 50/50 copay.
“It just seemed like a good idea,” Crandall said. “I have some long-term employees, and I value what they’ve contributed, so it seemed like something to try to do.”
Then there’s the environment. The shop has been eco-friendly and fairly sustainable since the start. Crandall said he began recycling cardboard in 1976 and the shop now recycles pretty much everything it can. There is also a solar array out back, built a few years ago to compensate for the electricity not covered by Utilities’ wind-power option.
Perhaps as a symbol of Old Town’s devotion to the planet, there is an enormous globe hanging down from above. And it seems to fit the mood nicely.
Business is steady for the bike shop. It currently sells between 12 and 15 bikes a week, which Crandall said is unfortunately less than this time last year. But although business is sometimes down, Crandall said he typically orders 20 bikes a week to keep the shop stocked and prepared for the next rush.
Although some bicycle brands have changed since ’76, the companies he now deals with — Cannondale, Trek, Gary Fisher, Giant and Pivot — have been staples in the shop for between 12 and 37 years. But he said that even if you get the best bike, it still must be assembled and adjusted delicately.
Although many customers are focused on bang for their buck rather than quality, others are loyal and tenured shoppers.
“John is compassionate, a smart businessman, everything is professionally run, the service is top shelf, and I also appreciate that he and many members of his staff are so committed to improving the community,” said Mike Kenny, a customer for more than 15 years.
Crandall says Old Town must remain price-sensitive to compete with big-box retailers, but attention to detail is as important as ever.
For this reason, his shop mechanics may spend two-and-a-half hours on a bike assembly that may take a competitor only 40 minutes. Old Town’s team is also very serious about assuring that every cycle is adjusted and tailored to best fit the rider.
“On an individual basis, we try our best to give every customer the most enjoyable experience you can get,” said Halfpop. “It’s not like buying a computer, or a television set, or a pair of shoes — it’s more personal than that.”
Crandall wouldn’t have it any other way. He recalled moving to Colorado in the fall of 1973 and taking a trip to Aspen over Independence Pass. As he and his wife drove on, they saw cyclists riding up the west side of the pass.
“I thought it was impossible,” Crandall said. “I thought that was just so fascinating.”
Now, 40 years later, he and his employees are dedicated to enabling an entire community of bicyclists to make similar treks. Crandall himself, recovered from a debilitating accident a few years ago, continues to commute daily on his Cannondale hybrid.
He suffered a broken wrist, shoulder and femur in the crash, but he keeps truckin’ along, conscious of the community and ecosystem he is very much a part of today.