Profile: ‘Hobby business’ becomes booming recumbent retailer

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (BRAIN) — When Mark Acosta moved to this southwestern Oregon town, he had decided the time was ripe for a change. “When I moved here, I wanted to start a hobby business,” he recalled.

And what could be a better hobby than opening a bicycle shop. But soon he decided competing with the local stores made little sense. But he had been riding recumbents—first an Easy Racer and then later he switched to a Rans, so he knew the category.

In fact, Acosta enjoyed riding recumbents so much that he and his wife rode the STP (Seattle-to-Portland) on their Rans recumbents and then kept riding another 775 miles to their home in Caruthers, California.

So the decision to sell recumbents made sense. Today, Acosta says with a smile, that he’s the biggest seller of recumbents between Northern California and Eugene. Not bad for a one-man operation working out of a 400 square-foot shop selling TerraTrikes and Catrikes.

But, as Acosta notes, the region is sparsely populated — a wide-open expanse with much of it mountainous state and federal forestland. Grants Pass, for example, has a population under 40,000. “This is basically a retirement community with a lot of Californians who have moved here,” he said. Still, he has customers who drive from California to visit his shop.

Acosta, who is 63, plans to either sell his shop or shut it down in the next three years and retire. “If I were 20 years younger, I’d look for a bigger space, quit doing repair work, and just sell recumbents. You can make a lot of money with them,” said Acosta, who has enjoyed an eclectic career as a pilot, aviation instructor, schoolteacher and now a retailer. “I did quite well last year and my (federal) taxes reflected that,” he added.

Lest anyone think Acosta jumped into retailing without a clue, think again. He spent six months working with Don Hendricks at Don’s Bike Center in downtown Grants Pass. Hendricks, celebrating his 25th year in business, is a Specialized dealer. The two often refer business back and forth when the need arises, Hendricks said.

Acosta also spent a year doing repairs out of his garage before opening his shop — E Street Cyclery — four years ago as a TerraTrike dealer.

Both retailers said the ongoing supply chain disruption has posed a variety of issues for them. Hendricks said his son, Ted, spends hours online looking for parts. “One night I woke up at 2 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep. I had a customer who needed a new STI shifter so I went online, looked everywhere, and finally found it — in Portland,” the elder Hendricks said.

For Acosta, finding repair parts has also been a challenge even though J&B and QBP are his primary parts suppliers. But getting a steady flow of recumbents to meet demand has been a larger issue. Still, he said, a steady trickle of repair work has kept him profitable.

At the moment he has a KHS road bike in the stand, a Specialized Rock Hopper nearby and a badly assembled, bright blue, three-wheel trike that a customer bought online. As for stock on-hand, he has several Catrikes and two used Bachettas on the floor.

“This was a fun little retirement job until COVID,” he said. “My biggest disappointment is when I see the look on people’s faces when I tell them it could be months before I can get them what they want.”

Overall the recumbent market appears to be booming, Acosta said. And he could sell more if he could get more, and if he had more space. But larger recumbent dealers like Portland, Oregon’s RecumbentPDX enjoy a smoother flow of product from suppliers due to its size and ability to floor a variety of models.

Randall Marshall, TerraTrike’s director of sales and marketing, said the market for the laid-back bikes is on fire. “Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd,” he said. And, he speculates, during the pandemic more people saw recumbents on the road and that has sparked more interest.

Catrike is booming as well with sales up 70% in fiscal 2020. Plus demand for e-motors is skyrocketing. Marshall said some 50 percent of his orders are for e-bents fitted with Bosch motors. “We were the first recumbent supplier in the U.S. to offer Bosch-equipped bikes to our dealers,” he said. Catrike launched its e-Cat line last year also using Bosch motors.

Motorized recumbents have become so popular that retrofit kits have blossomed using mostly hub motors. Marshall said that trend tends to be driven by an older demographic. E Street Cyclery’s Mark Acosta agrees. “They are very popular,” he said, noting that many of his customers are older and retired.

TerraTrike, which bought Australia’s Greenspeed shortly before the pandemic, gets fully kitted recumbents from its Taiwan supplier who ships them to Grand Rapids, Michigan. TerraTrike then ships them to its 350 dealers.

“We’re planning for growth in 2022,” Marshall said, based on forecasts he’s received from dealers. The company is up more than 30 percent in sales from 2019, he added.

Before the pandemic TerraTrikes had been sold online as well as through dealers. But since the pandemic the company sells only through its dealers. But TerraTrike, like most suppliers, can’t get the number of recumbents that dealers are demanding. And, in effect, is forced to ration them as they arrive from Taiwan.

“We try to be really fair about that but it’s an issue,” he said.

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