Name: Kevin Gambini
Business: Breakaway Bikes
Kevin Gambini was due to become a licensed property surveyor when he noticed that inventory was unusually low at his favourite cycle shop. Turns out the owner was getting ready to either sell off all the inventory or find a buyer for the business. Something clicked—and Kevin decided to buy the store.
Suddenly, in addition to being a newly minted business owner, Kevin was also a manager, a merchandiser, a salesman, a marketer, an accountant and an HR department. He tells us about the challenges he’s faced and why learning to accept his own shortcomings was critical to his success.
How did you go from cycle enthusiast to business owner?
It was a steep learning curve, for sure—and there were a lot of hard knocks. Early on, I got advice from people who wanted to see me succeed. A friend of my dad’s was a business coach, and he helped me as I picked my way through understanding purchasing, sales trends, inventory, everything.
One thing that was really hard, in the beginning, was choosing merchandise and ordering it at the right time. When I got it wrong, I ended up either with a short supply or an oversupply of product. Fortunately, it’s a lot easier for me to get it right now.
How did you approach being an employer?
I never thought I’d be doing HR work! But I’m better than I expected at picking good employees. I think it’s important to make a real connection, to see a light in their eyes. I want to know—will they be passionate about their job? Are we able to communicate easily? Our industry has a high turnover rate, so I know it’s important to keep people incentivised. Fortunately, we’ve had a really good retention rate.
What is your online sales strategy?
One of my employees has been selling vintage toys on eBay for years, and that got me thinking about using eBay for our stale stock. We only move 2-5% of our product this way, but it helps us sell outside our immediate market.
What’s your best marketing strategy?
Getting involved in the community. I used to coach a local mountain bike team. Now, I have a young family, so I needed to shift my focus. We sponsor the team and help them with repairs and maintenance, and we run cycle repair clinics.
I’m always looking for ambassadors for the shop. If someone is passionate about our brand and wants to get involved, I try to plug them into the community. They might do trail work or help out at the local food bank on our behalf, or maybe coach or lead rides for the local team.
What your biggest learning as a small business owner?
I’ve learned the importance of finding trusted people to support you, particularly in areas where you’re deficient. For example, I knew I didn’t have time to learn the financial side of the business. I hired a professional accountant right away because I needed help.
I figured out my shortcomings pretty quickly. If you’re afraid to ask for help, things are certain to fall apart fast.