How a south side shop grew into a huge business with $1 million in inventory.
Vince Hanoski, owner of Ben’s Cycle, 1018 W. Lincoln Ave., is the third-generation owner in his family and has overseen the store’s tremendous growth since 1992. Sales have totaled half a million dollars since he took over the business.
Hanoski used internet sales to expand the business. “I hired eBay sales specialists to sell our older bikes in 2001 and eventually we made a website,” says Hanoski. “Sales have been going up by 20 percent (annually) since I’ve been owner. Two thirds of the sales come from the internet.”
The website and eBay sales also drew more walk-in customers, some from out of state. Hanoski now carries $1 million in inventory. The building where the shop is located was previously an apartment complex, but Hanoski took over all four floors in 2005.
“My grandfather opened the shop in 1928 as a two-employee business. My father took ownership in from 1955 until I did in 1992. I always wanted to take over because I was in and out since age 12.”
The cycling industry has expanded rapidly, he says, and now includes women. “We now hire only people who graduated college, former racers and people who want to sustain a career in the industry. I’m easy to work for and blessed with great employees,” he adds.
Walking in, customers see high-end bicycles on the sales floor and hanging on the walls. A women’s biking clothing section is in the front of the store. The fit room is in the back corner with a treadmill, model bike, exam table and chair to assess the customer’s bodily movements and whether they’re properly positioned on the bike.
Ben’s Cycle carries mountain bikes, road bikes, clothing, comfort riders, repair services, fit services and the largest inventory of replacement parts in the Midwest- all under two roofs.
The main location sells racing bikes, road bike tri-bikes, a women’s biking gear section, and a fit area towards the back. The three-story building include a basement warehouse (used to create custom frames), the main floor store, the second floor (internet sales and inventory) and the third floor (for back inventory).
There’s also a building across the street called the Milwaukee Bicycle Company, which is the brand manufactured by Ben’s Cycle’s. There you’ll find commuter bikes, mountain bikes, comfort riders and a warehouse that holds extra inventory which was once the Riviera (movie) Theater.
“Milwaukee is very neighborhood oriented,” he notes, so “it’s always a pleasant surprise to see people from different neighborhoods coming in based on word of mouth.”
Meinke controls store operations, processes orders, and hires associates. Summer is the busiest season where he has around 35 employees, as opposed to the usual 25. He takes pride in the products they sell.
“What’s unique about Ben’s Cycle is we manufacture bikes here under the brand Milwaukee Bicycle Company. Everything found online is in the store. We tailor to niche markets like women, children, we carry disabled adult bikes, and even offer wheelchair wheel replacement services,” he explains.
Meinke stresses the importance of having a fit station to determine whether people are using their bike ergonomically, and takes pride in carrying custom shoe beds to help people properly place their feet.
“I graduated college in Kinesiology,” he says and he’s learned that “the biking industry doesn’t have enough foot-related knowledge. When I worked with pro teams a foot specialist taught me that when someone doesn’t properly place their feet on a bike, it causes bodily instability.”
Hanoski believes in keeping his employees educated about the constantly evolving world of cycling: “We hire educated and experienced employees rather than kids now. One of our high-end bike brands, Specialized Bicycle Company holds Specialized University courses in marketing, repair, and management in California. Every year, I send select employees to classes to help broaden their knowledge.”
Ben’s Cycle reaches out to cycling enthusiasts by sponsoring the Downer Avenue Bike Race each year. It gives away between $6,000-$10,000 in prizes to competing racers. Ben’s also sponsors The Bella Donnas, a women’s cycling club whose goal is to get more women into the cycling sport.
Racing only accounts for “about one percent of the cycling market,” Hanoski notes. “It’s a low-impact and social sport anyone can enjoy whether for exercise or hobby.” And Wisconsin, he adds, is a good state for it, “without many gravel roads, but with paved roads — which are great for biking.”