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Fire Story

Branford Bike
Retail Store

Branford Bike store in Emigrant, Montana in 2005

Our first customer bought the store

In December of 1997 I closed our retail store in the center of Branford, Connecticut and reopened in January 1998 on the web. Ironically my new physical location was in basement of my parent's house; the same basement that housed Branford Bike from 1976 to 1984. The web business flourished and Branford Bike gradually entered the list of top 10 dealers for many manufacturers and distributors. However, as folks in the wholesale end of the bike industry discovered that Branford Bike was mainly a web based company many refused to continue doing business with us.

One of the most peculiar aspects of the bike industry is that many manufacturers and distributors require that you have a retail store in order to be seen as a "legitimate" business. You can sell millions of dollars worth of merchandise over the web or out of your basement, but most wholesalers will not sell to you unless you have a storefront. Branford Bike was no exception.

Opening a store in the middle of the woods...

Moving into my new home and shop

In July of 2005 I packed Branford Bike and my belongings into the back of a 27 foot ABT trailer and headed west to my new home in Emigrant, Montana. During August of 2005 I built shelves and created an efficient warehouse and shipping area for Branford Bike web based sales. When September rolled around I was confronted by two distributors who demanded that I open a retail store or they would cease doing business with me. I could never understand the logic of opening a retail store to be considered a "legitimate" business. I explained that I already had a thriving web based business that served thousands of cyclists around the world. Is Amazon.Com an illegitimate business I asked? Is there no room for other business models in our industry I queried? Despite my best arguments many wholesalers previously forfeited hundreds of thousands of dollars in business by refusing to sell to Branford Bike after I closed the Main Street retail store in 1997. Fortunately a handful of long term suppliers chose to ignore the dictates of the bike industry, continued to sell to us and were rewarded with a steady stream of profitable business.

Absurdity breeds absurdity

Branford Bike in Montana
Tim is the mechanic too

In deference to the absurd logic that only storefront businesses in the bike industry were legitimate and able to serve customers effectively, I decided to open a retail store. I did not expect to see many customers. The dirt and gravel road that steadily climbed the mountain I lived on was 8 miles from any paved road. In winter it was impassable to all vehicles without 4 wheel drive, good tires and a driver with steady nerves. Undeterred, I opened the new store as an extension of my home and existing Branford Bike warehouse. I hung an old Branford Bike sign on the back porch and announced the Grand Opening on the Branford Bike web site.

A Grand Opening and no customers show up...

World Jerseys
Team Clothing

The big day came and I waited for walk in customers. None arrived but I kept busy by filling a steady flow of online orders. Meanwhile two of my distributors threatened to stop doing business with me unless I could prove I had opened a retail store. So I practiced taking pictures of myself posing as a customer. That is me in the Eddy Merckx sweater, my first customer at the Emigrant retail store! I posted that photo and most of the others on this page in September of 2005. My cranky distributors were satisfied and continued supplying me with bicycle goods. Over the next nine months the business thrived despite only two customers visiting the retail store. One drove from Seattle and another came from Bozeman, Montana. Meanwhile 3,000 people a day were perusing the BranfordBike.Com web site store.

Shop and Home
The new home in Emigrant, Montana for Branford Bike and Tim Brockett

Branford Bike occupied the walk in basement of my new home. The entrance to the shop was from the lower deck through a set of sliding patio doors. The doors opened to a 30 foot wide and 12 foot deep room that held most of the merchandise, my desk, an area for processing orders and a shipping bench and supplies area. A gas fired cast iron stove heated the basement during the winter and it was naturally cool in the summer. Two smaller rooms in the basement were used for additional stock while a third was used for repairs. An spiral staircase connected the basement to my second floor living quarters and third floor loft.

Garage and loft storage area
Green House
Greenhouse and photo studio

A large, 900 square foot garage with a walk in loft provided more storage. Mailing cartons, extra shipping supplies and many of my personal possessions fit neatly in the garage and left plenty of room for my Jeep, snow plow and gardening tools.

A small, 15 foot geodesic dome greenhouse stood in the front yard and was used to grow vegetables and double as a studio for photographing small parts. The poly carbonate windows flooded the greenhouse with soft, diffused light which was perfect for still photography.

Pick up some tools or tires
Need spokes?
Three shelves held over 10,000 spokes
Campy Spare Parts
The proverbial Campagnolo
Spare Parts cabinet

The Campagnolo spare parts cabinet was so valuable that I carried it with me in the back of my Jeep when I moved from Branford, Connecticut to Emigrant, Montana. It held over $20,000.00 worth of spare parts that dated back to Campagnolo Nuovo Record days in the 1970's. The most popular items were replacement Ergo lever parts. Every day I pulled parts from the Campy cabinet to fill orders. Every Saturday the cabinet was replenished with fresh stock. It looks worn because this cabinet first saw service at Branford Bike in 1978.

I designed the warehouse to be efficient; not pretty like a retail store. Merchandise was organized around the shipping bench. What sold best was stocked closest to the bench so fewer steps were needed to pick orders. Packing materials were stowed under the bench for easy access. Every order was hand picked by me and placed in a plastic bin. Then each bin was double checked and the order was carefully packed. There was never more than one order picked or packed at a time so errors were reduced to a minimum.

I placed my desk next to a broad, open window in a corner of the warehouse opposite the shipping bench. A computer sat on my desk; printers were behind me and a multi line phone sat next to my monitor and in and out boxes. I processed orders, printed invoices and paid bills here. It was the nerve center of Branford Bike and one with a great view.

DVDs and Computers
Shelves were neat and full
Shipping Desk View
Entry doors and shipping desk
Hard to find items
Merchandise was
carefully organized
The view from my desk
Warehouse Bins
Plastic bins make
for easy order picking

On a typical day I would start work around 9:30 in the morning. I answered emails from the night before and then downloaded 30 to 40 orders from the Branford Bike web site. I processed those and usually had them picked by noon when I took a 30 minute break for lunch. The warehouse and retail store were in the open daylight basement of my mountain home and occupied about 1,000 square feet. I lived upstairs and thus had a short commute for lunch. When the weather was nice I often ate outside on the deck in the fresh mountain air.

After lunch I headed downstairs and packed orders while fielding calls from many customers around the world. Phone hours were on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from noon until 3 PM. This left me free on Tuesday which I used for ordering merchandise and Thursday which was a catch up day. At 3 PM I pulled my Jeep up to the back porch, loaded the completed orders and headed down the mountain to the Emigrant Post Office.

Stacks of Campagnolo
Stacks of Campagnolo

Stacks of neatly organized Campagnolo components were shelved behind the shipping desk and on the adjoining wall. I kept every size crank, all chain ring sizes, at least one of every Campagnolo component from almost every gruppo they offered in stock. If a person needed a specific size ring that I did not have in stock I took it off a crank for them. Sometimes I even took apart Record rear derailleurs to help a rider get the critical part he needed to be on the road again.

I made a point of communicating well with every customer throughout the order process. Good communication started with a friendly Email thanking them for their order. The next day I sent them another Email that told them their order status and if anything was back ordered and for how long. I aimed to ship 95% of all orders within 24 hours and that goal was consistently met. Backorders were usually shipped within 3 days and rarely were held for more than a week. I charged people's credit cards in the morning and shipped their order that afternoon. Backorders were given free shipping and the customer's card was not charged until the shipping day.

Branford Bike - Started in June, 1976 Branford Bike
129 Sagittarius Skyway, PO Box 1711, Emigrant, MT 59027 USA
Click on the underlined text to:
see what Lance, your shopping assistant, put in your cart
or send us an e-mail  with your questions or comments.
Phone Answering Hours M-W-F, 12 noon - 3 PM Mountain Time
Information: (203) 488-0482  FAX: (203) 643-8078

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