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Our Customers, Their Stories.
Editorial by Tom Demerly.

Tom Demerly at Eco Challenge.

I love triathlon bikes and triathlons, and that is the reason I come to work each day early and wind up staying very late. But another huge benefit to this job are our customers.

Yes, as you may imagine, occasionally our customers are a source of frustration (like any retail job), but largely our customers are very interesting and fun to work with. I'm not a social person so really the only way I interact with people is here in the store in conversations about triathlon stuff.

Let me tell you about some of our customers, they are fascinating:

 

A number of years ago a guy named Paul walked in and announced he "wanted to try a triathlon". He was a little overweight, didn't really "look" like a triathlete but he was a friendly guy and was enthusiastic. Paul bought a bike, a Kestrel. Paul and his wife Sue are super nice. They have two boys, Lance and Connor- great kids. The lady actually bakes us pies and brings them in for us- about the only food I ever get that doesn't come from a wrapper. I've been to their house for dinner. When Paul got his super-cool new Mini Cooper S he brought it up here and took me for a ride. A couple years ago Paul and his family were in a hotel room next to mine at Ironman Canada. Paul and I decided to go for a swim one morning before the race. Paul turns to me and asks, "Any tips on open water swimming?" Now, we're at Ironman, three days before the race. Clearly Paul has the "swimming tips" down if he's gotten this far. So I laugh and ask, "Hey, how many triathlons have you done so far?" He tells me, "Oh, I did a couple duathlons… this is my first triathlon."

Ironman was Paul's first triathlon. He never swam open water before today. And he did fine. Several times since then too. When Paul first came in our store he was a bit overweight. Not anymore. Paul is doing two Ironmans this year.

Mario came into our store on an old bike dressed in sweats and told us he "Rides a lot". We mentioned he should consider a new bike and some bike shorts and he did. We sold him a LeMond. Mario started showing up on group rides, actually, our group rides started crossing paths with Mario. Our ride would start at 7:00 a.m. and Mario would ride to the ride. Then he would ride home from the ride. Then back. Then he might do the ride over again. Some nights Mario rides downtown- not a good place to ride by yourself, but he does it. This year I think Mario will log just a little less mileage than a top pro cyclist. Mario is also an expert on edible plants. During almost every ride he will stop along the way and start eating a bush or something. One day last summer Mario pointed to some weeds growing between the cracks in the sidewalk in front of our store and said "That is the so-and-so plant, they are excellent this time of year." And he started pulling them up and eating them. I was so fascinated I tried it too. Mario and I ate almost all the weeds. A customer walked into my store during the middle of this, saw the store owner and Mario eating weeds and probably thought times were really tough.

My buddy Dawn runs a swim shop for her boyfriend Shannon. Dawn and Shannon are excellent swimmers. She's also a babe. She's like a 5'10" version of Anna Kournikova. Dawn got hit twice last year by cars while riding. Dawn's brother suffered a closed head injury from being hit by a car some years back and speaks with sign language now. Dawn is doing Ironman next year, this year was her first full year in triathlons. Dawn and Shannon know how to have fun too. They manage to balance some pretty late nights with some pretty early morning rides and swims. Dawn and Shannon are two people who have learned The Balance. The other thing that has always impressed me about Dawn is she is a strong, determined, well trained endurance athlete, a rampant party girl and a brave person for confronting cars on the road even after the tough luck her family has had with bike accidents. Her boyfriend Shannon D. is a class guy too, they run Different Strokes swim store in Livonia. If you need swimming stuff, go there.

We have people visit our store from all over the U.S. for fittings on triathlon bikes. Yesterday I was excited to fit Capt. Chad Randall, Company Commander, 1776th MP, Michigan National Guard. Capt. Randall is a triathlete and the man in charge of securing the super secret NSA building on the Potomac River near Washington D.C. since the September 11 terrorist attacks. The NSA is the enigmatic Security Agency that Tom Clancey frequently writes about.

Some of our customers were "Ironmen" before they ever did a triathlon. Marcia Bennett is Vice President of Banking for Visteon. The hours she works and the responsibility that carries is boggling. She is routinely in charge of the transfer of millions and millions of dollars. One morning she was in our store, business suit, brief case, buying energy bars and in a hurry at 10 a.m. She told me she had already run 20 miles that morning.

Jim Austin works for one of the Big Three, Ford actually. He also owns three Burger King restaurants and has a done a ton of Ironmans. He has a couple cute kids- where does he find the time? And there is Ken Gutowski. I think Ken is in Japan right now but we still get occasional e-mails from him. Same story, huge job, big title, Fortune 500 exec, multi-time Ironman. He, along with Geoff Fletcher, Dave Reimenschneider, Leslie Blackburn and a number of others over at Ford are largely responsible for the local Ironman "craze".

Two years ago we fit Ozzy Osbourne's throat doctor. We also built a bike for former Mafia Kingpin John Gotti's physician while Gotti he was in Federal Prison. This summer we made three bikes for the newly reunited Van Halen, one of which was for David Lee Roth. These were all interesting customers and make this job very exciting. There have been two occasions in the last ten years when we entertained requests to fit customers outside of business hours with no one else in the store due to their notoriety and recognizability. Both times it was on the condition that we not reveal who they were or when they were here. So we never have. We've built bikes for ballerinas, contestants on "Survivor", fighter pilots, airline pilots, famous chefs, Bill Gates' former personal food server and many other fascinating characters, so there is rarely a dull moment in here.

But the most interesting customers are the ones who come in, new to the sport, having never owned a triathlon bike and are at the beginning of a journey that may change their life forever.

A few weeks ago another customer, we'll call him Grant, came through the door. It was within a couple weeks of the NBC telecast of Ironman. I have a feeling he saw the telecast. He said, "I want to do Ironman". He was pretty stoked. We measured him, sold him a bike. He asked for some resources for training and we recommended some good books. Imagine the richness of experience that lay ahead of him. It is hard to imagine anything more exciting.


There is no more exciting customer than the one who comes through the door and says those magic words "I'm thinking about trying a triathlon…" We get so many of those every week and I am so excited to see them go from that to see them at the swim start of their first race and then a few months later when they start asking questions about how to get into Ironman and which race is the best, where to stay, how to train, etc. It is incredible to watch someone go from interested spectator to participant to competitor.

Every customer who comes through the door brings a story with them, all of them fascinating. There are way too many to list, these are just the ones I could fit in 1400 words and 30 minutes of writing. That is why there is never a dull moment in here.

 

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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