Eight years ago Bennett Gibbs of Bennett's Cycle, in Minneapolis, sent a couple of mechanics from his then $200,000 retail store to lend a hand at an American Lung Association- sponsored bicycle race. Gibbs figured that in addition to helping a good cause, his mechanics could hear what bike enthusiasts had to say about his shop and his competitors.
To his surprise, after the race many of the riders started showing up in his store. So Gibbs began to get involved in other events; today he participates in 100 annually, sending his staff members to 30 of them. He even has a full-time employee dedicated to hunting down projects that will increase traffic at Bennett 's Cycle.
Project coordinator Jameson Viljaste regularly attends state bicycle conferences, where he meets with transportation-department officials and advocates of bicyclists' interests to discuss such issues as the use of government lands for riding trails. Because of its contacts, Bennett 's Cycle is often asked to participate in events like bicycle rodeos, health fairs, and silent auctions at schools.
Like most small bike shops, Bennett's initially couldn't afford to participate in many annual projects; it started out small, donating a couple hundred dollars' worth of mechanics' services or water bottles at each event. Now, with bigger, more costly events, Viljaste makes sure that riders notice Bennett 's Cycle's involvement. For example, at a recent Iron Man ride, a 100-mile event for 5,700 hard-core bike riders, Bennett 's opened its doors for registration prior to the event and offered participants six seminars on fitness and bicycle maintenance. At the ride, the company gave away bags filled with bike accessories and discount coupons on bike tune-ups and helmets. Also, printed on the bags was an offer for a 20% discount on all the merchandise shoppers could fit into their bags when they visited Bennett 's Cycle. Within a week 30 participants had come into the store. Shortly after last year's Iron Man ride, Gibbs discovered that 2,500 of the 5,300 participants bought goods at Bennett 's Cycle. "I support them, and they support us," says Gibbs, whose business has grown to be a 16,000-square-foot retail and repair shop with annual revenues of $3 million.