Strictly Bicycles Assures Smooth Riding For Cyclists
Fort Lee's Strictly Bicycles is a full service shop specializing in custom bikes.
People say riding a bicycle is one of the best ways to excercise; it also requires constant maintenance and upkeep of your bike.
Hence, co-owners Nelson Gutierrez and his wife, Joanna, opened Strictly Bicycles at 521 Main St. in Fort Lee in November 1993 to make their customers happy and keep their bikes in good shape.
Gutierrez’s grandfather lent the couple $20,000 to open the shop; they've since paid back the loan with full interest.
The shop was small but living proof, even in the middle of a recession, that making a dream come true is always possible.
After putting success and desire first, they had their Grand Opening in January 1994 in the middle of a snowstorm that generated feet, not inches.
Then, in February 1994, the Gutierrezes found out they were pregnant. Great news – though it did add to their level of stress.
Gutierrez, a junior bicycle racer, started competing in local races when he was 13. Lots of training was involved including traveling from West New York to Nyack, helping him get in shape and getting ready for a race. His idol was Greg LeMond.
Mrs. Gutierrez is a former director of the medical staff at Palisades Medical Center and a former employee of Pascack Valley Hospital.
The popularity of cycling emerged with such a rage that riders started riding over the George Washington Bridge from New York City to New Jersey to ride the Palisades and the River Road stretch. To meet the needs of b-riders, the husband and wife team took on one busy, challenging and profitable business.
In Fort Lee and before suppliers around the area were available to them, they would have to drive to Long Island and look for suppliers to buy bikes to sell.
The Gutierrezes opened shop when roller blades were big, but they stuck to selling bikes.
They rode around Fort Lee for a year, being the perfect location for their shop, and founded 527 Main St., which created more space. It took 11 years to outgrow Main Street, bringing them to their current location at 2347 Hudson Terrace.
By reinventing himself with his investment of time, money and energy, Gutierrez increased his floor space for apparel, created a second floor where all types of bikes are kept, installed sidewalks, landscaping and parking. He has even created a patio to the side of the shop with tables and benches, all on 1,200 square feet of space.
It was a struggle purchasing the new locations, both during the tanking of the economy. Zoning ordinances were a problem at their present location; they had to have the commercial zoning changed to retail zoning, which took about two years.
After renovating a kitchen/bathroom showroom at their present location for $2 million, Gutierrez finally fulfilled his childhood dream after 15 years.
“The move happened to be great" said Mrs. Gutierrez. "Life was stressful and cramped at the store in Fort Lee. Our business increased even though the economy was down. Here it is different. It’s hard, but fun, it feels like a community more than a business. We all feel like family. We still get all the cyclists coming in from the city and the entire area.”
The glass enclosed shop is much bigger at the current location. The store supplies new bicycles, bike paraphernalia, apparel and nutritional snacks. All reps are closely in sync with the store, with the store’s needs and getting employees familiar with the products, added Mrs. G. Nutritional drinks are also sold and counter space with stools is provided where one can rest while quenching their thirst - while conducting business.
“Being in business is always a struggle with balancing out the inventory and keeping availability of products and still being able to compete with on-line service companies and other similar businesses,” said Mrs. G.
Gutierrez pays employees benefits and, he said, "Because of Obamacare, we do offer health insurance."
"By creating more revenue we can give them better benefits," he said.
Strictly Bicycles is of course available for the Fort Lee community but is, for the most part, considered a New York City store, with people from New York making up a large part of the store’s traffic. Competition mainly comes from New York City bicycle shops.
“We are the go-to shop for on the stop emergency repairs for the road cycling community,” Gutierrez said.
At their locations on Main Street, high-end bikes were sold between $8,000 and $16,000 to investment bankers and other executives. That sector alone accounted for 50 percent of business. Business increases through word of mouth and through the various sponsored cycling events.
“Business has become so diversified,” Gutierrez said. “Cycling is more of a lifestyle as opposed to a hobby that includes professionals, intellects and a health conscious people. Business has really grown in such an intellectual way.”
Adam, a part-time employee who stopped in on his day off commented, “People do come out of their way on Saturday’s to come to the store for our products and service. In terms of our location, it’s great exposure. We’re a community here.”
A freelance photographer for Fort Lee Patch, John Ford has also been a part-time worker for Strictly Bicycles for the past four months.
“It is easy working at Strictly Bicycles; I love bikes," Ford said. "There are so many beautiful bikes, it’s like a candy store.”
Ford is retired from the Fort Lee Police Department. Now in his 50s, he said it's tough looking for a job.
But he describes the experience of working at Strictly Bicycles as "great."
Gutierrez finds that a friendly, patient sales approach works best with his existing and new customers and keeps customers coming back.
Thirteen full-time employees work at Strictly Bicycles, including Freddy, Nelson, Anthony and Paul, who were trained in the business at Strictly Bicycles. Being cyclists themselves enables them to lend their specific knowledge to seeling the products. There are also six part-time employees.
Upstairs, where most of the bikes are sold, the staff often demonstrates different bikes, derailers and gears.
"Working here is always busy," Adam said. "Joanna and Nelson treat me like family, they are friends of my father’s. When I moved back home from school, I was able to get a job here."
Mrs. G said that although Strictly Bicycles has customers of all incomes, cycling can be an expensive hobby, but that "we take care of all bikes."
“There is no language barrier, and all nationalities come to Strictly Bicycles," she said of doing business in such a diverse community. "We deal with, for example, Dominicans, Spaniards, people from New Zealand, every nation is big on cycling. It’s a multi-racial sport.”
When the Diabetes Race stopped by, the shop provided mechanical support at no charge. Going forward, there will be a gala in New York for the Challenged Athletes Foundation to which Strictly Bicycles will donate kits, including a $250 outfit to be included in the silent auction.
Gutierrez continually contributes to the Fort Lee community as well, donating to the tricky trays at the schools, and they are in charge of helping out with the Tour de Fort Lee taking place on Sept. 30, 2012. They are still active in trying to get more participants. Gutierrez also donates bikes to the raffle at the DARE basketball game.
The Tour de France, which started on June 30 and continues for 21 days, was prominently advertising for free on the pavement in front of the store.
Tim Ford, a Fort Lee Police Captain, was one of Gutierrez’s first customers on Main Street.
Ford said, “Strictly Bicycles is an asset to the Fort Lee Community. The Gutierrezes are civic minded, and we’re glad they’re still around.”
Mrs. G. lived in Puerto Rico until she was about nine years old, and her family, with five children, felt there was a better opportunity in the United States. Puerto Rico was very poor at the time. Joanna speaks two languages and understands French and Italian.
The Gutierrezes have two boys, ages 17 and 14, who both help out in the shop on weekends.
Mrs. G. takes care of accounts payable, payroll, the coffee bar and inventory.
Gutierrez, who is of Cuban descent, manages staff, does the major buying, is responsible for overseeing sales and handles his own clientele. He seemingly is in 16 places at once from the moment he opens the store and getting busier as the days wear on.
“I just try to make money,” he said.
You can get in touch with Gutierrez for any issue concerning bikes by calling 201-944-7074.