by Heidi Riley
“We sell smiles,” says Frank MacEachern, owner of Rising Tide Bike Shop in Charlottetown. “Many people who buy from us come back in to say how much they enjoy their e-bike and how much fun they are having.”
The walls of the shop are lined with rows of e-bicycles, and the price tags show the net price a customer will pay – subtracting the provincial rebate and adding the taxes. “We handle the application for the rebate – that is all part of the customized service we offer.”
The shop opened in June 2022. Along with e-bikes, the shop also offers service and repairs, and sells accessories like trailers, panier bags, helmets, locks, and air pumps. They also offer bike rentals. This coming summer, Frank plans to expand the shop’s rental offerings and to provide a shuttle service to the eastern end of the province.
How the business started
After working with the government for several years, and then self-employment selling software to large businesses and government agencies, Frank was looking for a career change. “I was not ready to retire mentally or financially.”
He was inspired to open an e-bike shop while researching cycle tourism online. He saw how popular e-bikes were and did some test drives before choosing the Wolff brand.
“I have been an avid cyclist most of my life,” says Frank. “Through the years, I had been riding alone with a backpack full of guilt because my wife said she couldn’t keep up with me and didn’t want to hold me back. Now we ride together, and she can go as far and as fast as I do. We can get the same amount of exercise and go three times as far on an e-bike.”
Help to start the business Frank was approved for the Self Employ PEI program with SkillsPEI. Self Employ PEI is an employment program developed to help job seekers who want to launch their own businesses. The program provides financial support and business counselling to new entrepreneurs during their first year of operation.
“The program is great,” says Frank. “It is a big help because it saves me from taking money out of the business during the early days, when cash flow is so important.
“If I could break even through the winter, and if I could make enough to pay my staff and my rent, I would consider myself successful. I had to squirrel away cash from the summer and fall to be able to do that. The Self-Employ program helps a lot.
“I spent a lot of time on the business plan and looked at the risks and the revenue potential and I knew if I could survive a worst-case scenario in that first long winter, I would be on the road to success. You have to be very imaginative and creative but also honest with yourself while doing a business plan to be able to identify the opportunities, pitfalls and liabilities.
“I invested a lot of my own money, and I was able to secure small loans from CBDC and from Finance PEI.
“In addition, our main supplier, Wolff E-bikes out of Montreal is very supportive in terms of establishing my inventory.”
“Understanding your cashflow requirements is very important,” says Frank. “I revisit my cashflow constantly, which keeps me in touch with how much money I have, what I can spend, and the requirements down the road. You may think you have a lot of money in the bank, but if you have a high ‘bleed’ rate in the first five months of the off-season with little business, that could leave you with a deficit.
“You may be inundated with offers to upgrade your social media or optimize your search engines, but that service costs money. Knowing how much cash is coming in will inform your spending investment decisions.”
Rewards of owning a business
“I spring out of bed in the morning. I love seeing smiles on people’s faces heading out the door. I get emails and Facebook reviews saying how well my staff performed and how knowledgeable they are, and they like our low-key approach to sales.
“We try to help people with a buying decision. I want people to say that they are glad they bought a bike from Rising Tide. That is the true sign of success.”
“I looked for almost a month to find the right employee. I advertised on Indeed and on WorkPEI and I was getting hundreds of resumés from people who were not qualified or who were from Toronto, Vancouver, India, or South America.
“The person I hired as Assistant Manager had just moved to PEI. He walked in the door with a well-written hard copy resumé. He could carry on a conversation and had retail experience and good customer service skills. He has a post-secondary degree in Theatre Arts.
“Comparing his qualifications to the job ad, he may have checked half the boxes. But I was sold by his personality and his willingness to go door-to-door to find a job. After checking his references, I hired him.
“That personal contact made the difference for me. We have to spend most of our day together, so I need to know if we are compatible. That is something you can only judge when you meet in person.
“I tell job seekers that employers receive hundreds of resumés, and they will stand out if they speak to the employer in person.
“Also, make your resumé stand out by printing it on coloured paper or a different font or paper size – anything that will make it pop out of the pile will catch the employer’s eye.
“Resumés can be works of fiction. Even the most honest people may embellish their qualifications. I would stress to job seekers that there is nothing like an in-person conversation so that the employer can read their expression and body language to help them decide if that person will work well in their business.”
In December, Frank had to lay off another employee who serviced the e-bikes last summer but plans to hire them back in spring.
“I will probably hire another bicycle mechanic, who will also drive the shuttle. I expect to have a very busy summer, and I will probably hire at least three summer students.”
Jobs will be advertised by word of mouth and will be posted on WorkPEI.
“I consider this business as an extension of myself, and I want to hire people who greet customers with a smile and take pride in the business and the product.”
Pay starts at about $17/hour. “I want to pay above-average retail wages and treat my employees well.”
Value of buying local
“My best advice when buying an e-bike is to buy locally. At least 10 people a month come into the shop who bought their e-bike at a cheaper price at a big box store off-Island or online and are having issues with their e-bikes. Of the e-bikes we sell, we have only seen one warranty issue.”