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Rim Cyclery: Moab mining family creates new business.

RIM CYCLERY Moab Mining Family Creates New Business

Moab's Rim Cyclery didn't create the mountain-bike craze, nor did the company invent the area's spectacular scenery. But the little family-owned business certainly deserves a lot of the credit for making their hometown one of the world's premier destinations for mountain-bike enthusiasts. It wasn't an accident, said partner LaVona Groff. "It was basically just a lot of hard work, real hard work."

The idea for the business started taking shape in the winter of 1982-83. John and Nancy Groff had moved their family to Moab in 1963. John and his two sons Robin and Bill worked in the uranium mining industry. But by the winter of '82, the uranium industry in Moab had gone bust, and the men had been laid off.

Tough Times Inspire Opportunity

LaVona, Bill's wife, recalls that tough winter. "Our family was going to have to move away because there was no work. We had no savings, and unemployment benefits would not last forever, so we had to develop something or move. We wanted to stay. At the time we weren't really serious bikers, but we were biking a lot.

"Bill spent that winter repairing and tuning the family's bikes, trying to fill the time until something else happened. He read everything he could get his hands on and learned everything he could about bike maintenance and repair. In just trying to find something to do, we decided to get into bicycle maintenance a little bit. We looked around town and decided if we were going to do it we might as well do it right and get a storefront. We found this place, and that's it; we started the business."

Rim Cyclery is a Moab landmark today, but eight years ago the building was a bank repossession begging for $200-a-month rent. It was cheap, but it had to be. The family started Rim on a short shoestring. The Groffs scraped together $4,500 in starting capital--not exactly big bucks, especially considering the costs of inventory.

LaVona admitted there were a lot of sacrifices. "At the time, Robin's wife was teaching school, so they lived off her income. Mom was working, so she and John lived off that. Bill and I just sort of went without," she laughed. "We only took money when we had to, when they threatened to turn off our water or lights. But just about everything else went back into the business to help build it."

Experience Is the Best Teacher

Bill, LaVona, and Robin were the mainstays of the business that first year, working what has become their standard 12-hour day. None of them knew very much about business when they started, but they learned. "We'd start out buying two bikes. When we sold one, we'd buy two more. That's how we built up our bike inventory. We did basically the same thing on parts. We ordered every day, small orders, and paid them off quickly. Almost everything then was C.O.D. before we got our credit established," LaVona said.

Bookkeeping was also a new experience. "Robin and I sat down and figured out what we wanted to know from the bookkeeping," said LaVona. A sister who is an accountant gave LaVona some good advice, and she learned from there. "When I was ready to advance to double entry, she helped me out again. Now we're computerized, and I'm amazed how far we've come."

To promote the business and the area to cyclists, the Groffs started with a little advertising on a very modest scale. They first put an ad in the directory of Bicycling Magazine. "We wanted to let people know there was a bike store here in Southern Utah."

The second thing they did was to form a local bike club and start inviting members of out-of-town clubs over for group rides and events. They sponsored a road-bike race for many years, and when the mountain-bike craze began, the premier event evolved--The Fat Tire Festival.

"The first one we did," said LaVona, "was just a group ride with friends and a Halloween party. We invited people from a couple of different bike clubs to come in. It was a Saturday, and one of those October nights that ended up being 70 degrees. It was gorgeous, and there was a full moon. It turned out great. There were maybe 50 people, and the party was fun. We thought, |This is great, let's do this again, keep it low key, no big hype.' Everything was word of mouth, and we'd make it an annual event.

"A friend of ours was publishing Mountain Bike Magazine, and we told him about the festival and how fun it was. He thought he would help us out so he wrote a half-page story on it telling how much there was to do and all we offered. That was in August, and then we knew we really had to jump on it and get something organized because we started getting calls from all over the country. We knew then it was going to turn into something big. Now we usually have about 600 participants that actually sign up with the club to do the activities, but a couple of thousand more come to town just to ride and join the party."

Friendly Style Means Good Business

The Groffs have proved a good team. Hard workers with a keen sense of organization and meticulous mechanics, they have developed a good reputation in the industry and among enthusiasts. But perhaps their greatest asset is their style. They are likable folks who make friends easily and include everyone in the fun. Spend 10 minutes in their store, and soon you'll be included in the family joshing. Their loyal friends and customers include people of all ages, biking abilities, and levels of interest. Perhaps that's because the Groffs aren't intimidating bike jocks to novices. They're just nice folks who do good work and happen to have a talent for making friends and throwing a good party.

LaVona agrees that the friendliness of the place has helped its success. "It's probably a lot the personality of the brothers. People feel comfortable here. The year before we opened the shop, we went up north to buy some bikes. Every place we walked into felt uncomfortable because we didn't know anything about bikes. We didn't know what we wanted, but we sort of got the attitude that cycling was an elitist sport and that if you weren't in the know the sales clerks would help if and when they had time.

"That attitude made me crazy. Most people don't know, and if you make them feel like an idiot, they'll take their business elsewhere. We determined that everyone who came through the door was going to be treated the same whether they were king of the hill or not, and I think that's why we've made a lot of friends everywhere. In 1985, Bill's mother started working at the store a lot, so she was out front. I think a lot of people liked to see a Grandma working at the bike store. She was great with people, and we developed a lot of customers in every age range.

"We've shown everyone that it's not just a competitive sport, but a recreational sport, and that's what we've geared our activities toward, as far as the Fat Tire Festival--not to the hotdoggers and not to the champions, but to the recreational riders."

But the list of people who have come to the festival is incredible, according to the Groffs. "We've had all the big names in bicycling. It's been wonderful having those people here just riding with everyone else."

The Groffs' talent for making friends has especially paid off with the press. LaVona has two file-cabinet drawers full of worldwide magazines that have featured the area and Rim Cyclery. "We've just happened to impress the right people, because we work hard, we work really hard. We work to help make sure everyone has a good time and that their equipment is running. Bill and Robin take a lot of pride in their work and how it goes out."

Smart and Lean Financing

Rim Cyclery's success seems incredible in light of what they started with and how far they've come. Even more phenomenal is the fact that in all that time they've only taken out two loans, both related to the purchase of their building.

In 1985 after a fire that destroyed their store, the Groffs rented the other storefront next door in the building and were open again in two weeks. They repaired the fire damage, then made a deal to purchase the new space. They now have the entire building."

Along with the expansion in space has come more growth. "We didn't have any employees for two years until 1985. We have 12 now," LaVona said. Robin, Bill, and two other partners also started a company called Rim Tours. Rim Supply, which stocks farming and industrial supplies for local enterprises, was another addition and is largely the domain of John Groff, the patriarch of the family.

The Challenge of Competition

There wasn't much competition when the Groffs started, just a motorcycle shop that stocked a couple of bikes and a few spare parts. The pressure has increased in recent years, however. "It's coming," said LaVona. "A few years ago another bike store opened. At peak times, there is probably enough business to support two shops, but the rest of the year it can get a little frightening. They didn't survive, and I don't know all the circumstances, but now there are four or five other bike-rental places. They also do touring, and some weekends we call every one of them and send people to them."

Tourism Pedals Moab's New Economy

The biking boom is clearly visible when you drive through Moab. Mountain bikes and their riders are everywhere. Nearly every vehicle has bikes sprouting from a roof or bumper rack. Restaurants are jammed. Motels are booked. Camping spaces are at a premium for miles in any direction. Moab has always been a tourist town, but the biking boom is having a tremendous impact.

"There's always been millions of people going through this part of the country in order to see Arches National Park, but I think most of them just drove through and on to the next park, not really spending much time in town. You can drive through Arches in a day. The river business has been sort of the same way. A lot of the river companies fly their customers into Grand Junction, shuttle them to the river, get on the boats and go. Tourism has been here a long time, but biking has added a component that stays right here in the valley," LaVona observed.

Are the locals supportive? "For the most part," LaVona said. "Of course, there are always some who will complain. The growth is pretty substantial. But the economy here is improving. There is a huge new grocery store, and several new restaurants and motels have also opened. Some are screaming that the mountain bikers aren't paying their way, but I think many are benefitting indirectly in ways they don't realize."

LaVona noted the large sales-tax collections resulting from the tourist trade and the property and other taxes contributed by tourism-based businesses. She also noted the large donations that have been collected for trail maintenance and the excellent turnout for annual cleanups.

"But as far as the high-paying jobs there used to be here, it isn't happening. Moab has been boom and bust throughout its history. My father used to graze his sheep in Arches. When the park was formed, he lost all his grazing rights and sold our farm. A subdivision was built on it, and we moved into that. He then worked building exploration roads for the mining industry. But when I was growing up, I don't remember my father ever saying anything negative about the government or the Park Service. I do remember going on tons of picnics up into Arches after it was declared a national monument.

Regarding rural Utah's economy, Bill believes tourism holds the answer. "Moab is building on it; people are coming in from out of state to invest here; one woman is building a strip-mall for artists in Moab because of the new tourism base here. It's the old guard who doesn't believe tourism is a viable new way of life here," he reflected. LaVona agrees. "There is always going to be change, and things are going to change more and more. There is no way you can keep things the same, even if you try."

PHOTO : The Groffs turned pleasure into opportunity when they started their bicycle business.

Rose Gilchrist is a free-lance writer based in Salt Lake City.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Olympus Publishing Co.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:a history and evaluation of a Moab, Utah bicycle business, owned by the Groff family
Author:Gilchrist, Rose
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Jul 1, 1991
Words:2140
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