In 2016, Erik Alston started yearning for his next career.
“I’d been working in the tech industry since 1990 and wanted a change,” said Alston, co-owner of Singletrack Cycles in North Bend. “I’d just moved my parents into assisted-living, and it started me reevaluating.”
Alston said he looked at the Amazons and Googles, but he’d just “had enough tech.”
A trained photographer, Alston was contemplating a studio until Singletrack, a retail fixture in downtown North Bend since 1994, became available. He’d never run a business, but Alston knew the bike shop was a natural fit.
“I talked to my wife,” Alston said, referring to co-owner Stephanie Alston. Stephanie confirmed: “We can do that.”
An avid mountain biker, Alston has been riding since age 3. “I’m active in the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance and do a lot of biking,” he said. “I lead group rides and annual group trips.”
Coming in, Alston didn’t hesitate to make updates. “All they had was a cash register,” he recalled. “There was nothing tracking inventory, and they were still writing things on paper.”
He emptied the space, painted, and added a counter made from reclaimed old-growth barnwood. He also incorporated artwork featuring prints from his photography portfolio and rough-sawn wood frames from Alaska. He designed a new logo and added a point-of-sale system that included inventory management.
“We closed for two days and scanned everything we had,” Alston said. “We worked the first year with estimates, and I was so happy when we had a full year of data to compare to. We grow every single year, and the data helps me make decisions and also drive our employees by letting them know what the goals are, how close we are, and how well they’re doing individually.”
Singletrack’s product line is mainly centered around mountain-biking. Alston believes the top-line gear, staff knowledge, and special services are what draw in cyclists, young and old, from everywhere across Western Washington.
The shop offers classes, specialized fittings and testings, and hosted trail rides. In addition, Singletrack partners with local health providers for specialty classes covering strength training, mobility, nutrition, and more.
“We also have a kids’ buy-back program,” Alston shared. “Depending on condition, they get trade-in credit, and we work with local youth programs to donate bikes to families in need.”
The Alstons also ensure every technician attends United Bicycle Institute programs and/or factory-specific clinics. “We try to pay them well, train them, and show that we value them,” Alston said. “If we hit our goals, everybody gets a bonus.”
On the learning front, Alston recommends small retailers delegate. “Outsource your payroll and bookkeeping, because sitting in the back doing bookkeeping, payroll, and quarterlies stops you from working the store, talking to customers, watching your data, and building trainings,” he advised.
Expansion also regularly occupies Alston’s mind. “Since day one,” he said, eyes gleaming. “I’ve been contemplating where the next shop will be and am now looking at two locations.”