Owner, RV&E – Fairport and Canandaigua
Your dad, Howard, opened RV&E in 1972. Tell us about your family business history and how the industry has changed since then.
He started fresh out of high school. At the time, he worked at a lawn and garden business, which carried apparel and snowmobiles. He thought, “I can do that.” So, he started selling mopeds, CB radios and bicycles. But bicycles weren’t the top item. His passion is motorsports, so bicycles turned into something he could make a living on, and motorsports was something he could spend his money on.
We moved to Fairport in ’76-’77. In the original store, they put everything in at night and outside during the day so we could have space for customers. It was that small. We purchased our current building a couple years later. Since then, we’ve been in the same location in Fairport and have done multiple additions. I bought the business from my father five years ago, but I’ve been working here for 30 years.
Bikes continue to take off. In the ’80s it was a craze; it was the new form of exercise. Mountain bikes regenerated and reinvigorated the whole industry. Along with that came the growth of villages, towns and municipalities with trails, plus we’re very lucky to have the Erie Canal path right here.
In 1986 you had two choices: a road bike or a mountain bike. It was simple. Now, the new thing is e-bicycles. It’s the new craze. Our store has had to continually expand. We don’t just have road bikes, hybrid bikes, e-bikes or kids’ bikes — we have them all.
Tell us more about e-bikes. What are the pros and cons of an e-bike versus a traditional bike?
There are no cons to an e-bike — they are the best! Some people think it’s cheating, but that’s not true. Every bike that we sell is e-assist, which means there’s no throttle. It’s only when you start peddling that you can pick levels of assistance. As soon as you stop peddling, the motor shuts off. It coasts like a regular bike, and if you don’t turn the power on, it peddles like a regular bike. You can gain 20%, 50% or 100% more power than with a regular bike, and you’re able to ride longer and faster. You will do everything faster with the assistance, because you have superhuman power when you’re riding your e-bike. They’re smooth, they’re quiet and they’re very much maintenance-free. If you haven’t ridden one, you need to get out and try one!
RV&E has two locations. How do you effectively manage multiple storefronts?
This summer will be our 15th summer at the Canandaigua location. We have a great team there. Andy has been there the whole time; he was one of the major reasons we opened a store there. He was a part-time employee, on and off for years, and he just knows everything about bikes. Sometimes I’ll go down there and a customer will say, “Who are you?” and I’ll say, “I’m the owner,” and they’ll say, “Well, I still want to talk to Andy [laughs].” Each store has a different culture, which is a good thing.
Dan is our store manager in Fairport, and he’s been here for over 40 years. He feels it’s as much his store as ours. It’s like a close-knit family. I don’t know a day that he hasn’t been in the store.
Your Main Street, Fairport location is close to the canal. How do Fairport Canal Days and other popular events in Fairport affect your business?
The canal brings in a significant source of revenue. It’s a vital part of our business. Continual development of the canal path has occurred over the years. Now it’s called the Empire State Trail. It used to just be a single dirt path, but now it’s two or three paved lanes.
Fairport Canal Days is still the largest event. It gives visibility to all the businesses in Fairport. So, when someone comes for Canal Days and they see a bike shop and a shoe repair shop and a chocolate shop, they think, “I didn’t know that was all in Fairport.” That’s the exposure we get. We’ll have people stop in who didn’t buy something during Canal Days, but they come back later and buy something because they remembered us. There’s also Fairport Octoberfest, Scarecrow Festival, Fairport Music Festival, Come Home for the Holidays, and small pop-up events like the Saint Patrick’s Day pub crawl. There’s always something driving people to Fairport, whether it’s 10 people or tens of thousands of people.
How do you help a new customer interested in biking or outdoor sports who doesn’t know where to start?
It’s about taking the time to understand the customer. We really strive to do that. The internet and our website are really helpful, too. You can view our inventory and learn about all the bikes. If we can narrow it down to one or two bikes to test drive, we’ve basically already sold a bike without showing them every type of bike in the showroom.
Test rides are very important, especially to verify that it’s the proper size of the bicycle and the proper fit. We can make adjustments or add parts to make it more comfortable or accommodating to you as the rider. I would say more than 90% of our customers take the bike out the door and try it before they buy it. And why not?
Tell us about the group riding events you host.
We do Farmall Hill Mountain Bike Challenge, which is an offroad mountain bike race. My parents have about 20 acres in Perinton and it’s all wooded land that I grew up on. We hold the race on about 45 acres of land between three property owners. They’re gracious enough to let us use their land. There are five and a half miles of offroad trails. This year we’ll hold the challenge on Wednesday nights in May. It pulls in typically around 100 riders for each event, which is really good for a local weeknight event. We time the riders, and they’re eligible for prizes.
We’ll start doing monthly rides again in the spring, like an e-bike night and a family night. And we’ll partner with the local coffee shop and the brewery. For many cyclists, it’s all about, “Where can I get a beer after my ride?”
How did COVID-19 affect your business?
Everything hit the fan around the start of our busy time of year, the middle of March, although we were lucky because we never shut down. We were deemed essential by New York State because we provide transportation. We did have to switch to appointments only, so the door was locked and everyone had to wear a mask. Eventually, we were able to start having a limited number of people in the store. The first day we had the door open, it was like we were having an end-of-year clearance sale. There was a line down the side of the building. The world said, “You should go out and buy a bike because that’s all you can do,” and that’s what people did. We quickly ran out of bicycles. We had over 500 bicycles between the two stores, and by the end of April, we were effectively out of bicycles.
And then we couldn’t get any more bicycles. We had to order them and wait three or four months, or even a year, to get a bicycle. It took that long because of overseas production, freight, shipping containers, you name it. But a lot of people who bought bikes were never cyclists before, and that has continued. Now it’s about reaching out to those people who bought bikes three years ago. Maybe they need their bike serviced, or maybe it’s time for a new bike. We’ll service any type of bicycle. It doesn’t have to be one you bought at our store.
Where’s your favorite place to ride in the Rochester area?
Typically, I do mountain biking, but my wife got me into road riding. On our road rides, we usually go on Wayne County roads, where there’s a little less traffic but still some good hills. Sometimes we head up to Lake Ontario to ride Lake Road. It’s pretty out there. On the mountain biking side, my favorite place to ride is still the backyard at my parents’ house. The trail system is super demanding, but it’s smooth. For open public land, Dryer Road Park in Victor [Ontario County] has done a phenomenal job at building a park. They have multiple trails in a small area. It’s fun because you can take anyone there and they’ll have a good time, whether they’re a beginner or advanced. Ontario County Park also has a great trail network — it’s a long trail, so you can ride for miles and then loop around to the center of the park.
What is something every cyclist should have when they’re going for a ride?
The one thing I tell everyone, whether it’s kids or adults, is that you never ride a bike without a helmet. That is the go-to accessory. Helmet technology is so much better than it used to be. You should replace your helmet every five years.
You also need safety items like a flashing light on your bicycle. That’s key for everyone, whether it’s a kid riding in the neighborhood or an adult riding on the road for 20 miles. We also sell a lot of bells, especially to people riding the canal path.
What do you sell other than bikes?
We sell ice skates and snowshoes, and we rent cross-country skis. Obviously, we have a lot of bike accessories and some clothing. We also sell darts, which is random!