Sports & Fitness

July 2, 2013

Cycling Through the Business World

2013-06-10 11.11.48

This is the long version of an article I wrote for the Valley Business Report’s July, 2013 issue.

Henry Roberts grew up in the Bahamas surrounded by a family of entrepreneur business owners. At age 10, Henry worked for his grandmother who thought him an instinct and a gut approach to retail management. Years later, his young bride, Kelly, longed to return to her hometown in the Rio Grande Valley, so they packed their belongings and headed back to Harlingen where Henry soon found a job. Within a short time, Henry felt unhappy, and like a prodigal son. “I wanted to go back and cut my dad’s grass,” said Henry. “But I had my true rock here. Kelly’s mother believed in this island young man without a college education. Then I said: I’m in America, and if I can’t make it here I’m useless.”

Henry and Kelly researched places and eventually checked into a bicycle shop that was available in Harlingen. The shop had been through three owners and Henry was not convinced believing there was nothing great about a bike shop, he reluctantly checked it out.   A previous owner handed him a bicycle journal that featured a Schwinn ad with a guy dressed in coat and tie that attracted Henry’s attention. He liked that new style of selling bicycles.  Banks were not sold on the idea because bike shops were closing everywhere. But Henry had a vision; he wanted a Dillard’s type of bike shop at a time when local bike shops where more like repair shops.  Finally, a bank authorized a loan for 6,000 dollars marking the beginning of the 36 year history of Bicycle World.

The original store was named Bicycle Peddlers, and having researched franchises such as McDonalds and Pizza Hut, Henry introduced sleek displays and employee uniforms. Things went well until 1982 when just two weeks before the Mexican peso devaluated, Henry signed the lease for a new store in Brownsville, Texas. “It was terrible. I remember him coming home for dinner telling me he’d only sold ten dollars’ worth of merchandise. I could not eat after that, and begged him to pay the lease and get out; but he wouldn’t do it.” said Kelly recalling the 13 years they worked long days prior to having their two children. “We had no reason to go home, and everything we made we put back into the business.” Kelly said she even took a second job, but they stuck to their goal of increasing inventory, and buying property for their shops.  They thrived and opened a third store in McAllen, Texas, where they faced strong competition. By this time Henry was motivated and full of new ideas. The first step was to change the name. After several options like Bicycles Unlimited which his friends thought was too British, Henry decided the new name was Bicycle World. “I felt empowered,” said Henry. Soon after that, the competition closed down, and two beautiful babies complicated the management of three stores forcing Henry to sell the Brownsville shop which they reacquired just three years ago.

The introduction of ATARI replaced the bicycle as the favored children’s Christmas gift. These electronic games changed everything and negatively impacted sales until younger adults discovered Lance Armstrong. But cycling was a man’s world, and shoes, seats, stems and helmets had to be adapted to fit women, and the baby boomers that were also rediscovering cycling. These two huge markets triggered a change in the industry which began addressing women’s and older adults’ needs about ten years ago.  “The perception of cycling has totally changed and is no longer weird to wear tight shorts and a helmet, but it is actually cool,” said Henry when talking about changes in the form of the internet and larger retailers.  People are purchasing bicycles on the internet bypassing the personalized service offered at local shops that bear the weight of overhead expenses, but that has not deter Kelly and Henry from supporting multiple cycling events assisting cyclists in peril providing everything they need.  Both were the organizing force behind the Jalapeno 100, which raised 20,000 dollars for charity this year.

Henry said he got his education by visiting numerous bike shops all over the state.  “There was never a time we did not learn anything, regardless of how small or large a store was,” said Kelly.  Bass Pro Shops, Cabbala’s; they all have a marketing lesson for Henry, and he  signs up for related courses every chance he gets, even one he truly enjoyed in Disney World. “It was over the top.  A peer said to me; why go there when Disney does not sell bikes?” Henry smiled. Both Kelly and Henry are firm believers in education and sponsors courses on merchandising, fitting, mechanics and customer service for their employees.

After 36 years in business, both enjoy that third generation customer who got his first bicycle as a teenager, and now brings his grandchild to the store. Both are avid supporters of safe riding education and the creation of more cycling trails throughout the valley. Henry looks forward to meeting new customers who see the value in what they have to offer, and said he is now semi-retired and doing less work but “I’ve still got the key,” he concluded.

For more information please visit or call Henry Roberts at (956) 423-3168

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About the Author

Tapia - Gonzales
La Vida Valle is where I write about "la vida" living in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Life, art and culture, poetry, prayers, travel, and camping! yes, that's my new thing. I blame the heat and high humidity for the madness. Contributions and comments are always welcome .



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