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Success.
Editorial by Tom Demerly.

 

Man sorts through screws to repair bike.

More than any other retail industry you have to earn your living in the bike business. You have to come in early, work late, and do things that make other jobs seem easy. There is no such thing as a truly “easy” job in today’s workplace but the bike industry is a historically unforgiving brand of retail with little margin for error and a very hazy career path. If you want to make a good living in cycling you have to live your work and work for your life.

Success in a career is defined differently by different people. For some it is a bottom line figure. For others it is wielding influence and power, and for others it is a modicum of peace, tranquility and freedom from compromise. Few careers that I am aware of return all of those things.

The bike biz is most commonly viewed as a stepping stone. It is the job people have during the summer while they are in college on their way to a “real” job where they wear Dockers and earn six figures. As a result, the bike business has a bad rep as a career path. When I tell people I work in a bike shop, their voice lowers an octave and they say, “…Oh, I see.”

The irony is that it ignores the sometimes intangible rewards of a life well-lived. Another irony is that if you do something you love and you are good at it, you will almost certainly “succeed” in at least some sense of the word- and maybe more than you every dream.

Take the interesting and wonderful case of Mr. Dave Koesel, a.k.a., Superdave.

Dave Koesel went to school for engineering. And dropped out. He did know how to ride a bike. His father built dragsters in their pole barn where Dave had access to tools and became mechanically inclined. Eventually Dave earned the credential “Bachelor of Group Sciences” from Eastern Michigan University. While Superdave may not have crossed the stage to collect his engineering sheepskin I wager he retained more knowledge about engineering than most of the guys who did. As a result, a young Superdave came to know bikes. He rode bikes, he built bikes, he raced bikes. Soon he was selling bikes, talking bikes, ordering bikes- everything that had to do with bikes.

Dave’s college career may not have put any letters after his name, but his work in the bike industry put five letters in front of his name: “Super”.

Superdave also earned his “Super” moniker on the bike. He is a racer- a champion. Superdave held the record at the Mike Walden Velodrome for everything: Flying 200 meter time trial, Kilometer Time Trial, 4000 Meter and 3000 Meter Pursuit, NASTRACK Champion, State Champion, etc. etc. Superdave Koesel has been the State Champion in virtually every cycling discipline: Road, Time Trial, Mountain Bike and Track. His time in the 3000 meter pursuit may have earned him a bronze medal at the Master’s World Championship had he not been too busy selling Felt bicycles.

When you swipe Superdave Koesel’s Visa you can see the credit card actually says “Superdave Koesel”. It’s his real name. Superdave Koesel earned a name normally associated with red Lycra clad comic book figures by working harder, faster and smarter than any other guy in the bike industry. Koesel began working for Felt bicycles in 2002 after the Interbike Bicycle Trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada. At the time Felt was a long-shot minor bike company barely on the radar of the industry. Now Felt has earned one of the highest honors in the business by being “blacklisted” by the industry’s major player as one of the brands their own big dealers are prohibited to carry for fear of being overshadowed on the sales floor. Since 2002 Felt vaulted past other “competing” brands by offering high quality road and triathlon bikes with superb frames and excellent component spec for 20-30% below the prices other comparably equipped bikes are selling for. In Michigan, part of Superdave’s Felt territory, seven bicycle retailers simply closed their doors and went away. None of them were Felt dealers. As this unfolded Superdave’s Felt business exploded. His territory sales passed other regions of the country that have no winter. He seemed to have the magic touch. Everything Superdave touched turned to gold, or at least, to Felt.

Throughout 2005 Felt sales continued to grow at a dizzying rate in our region despite a terrible economy and escalating concern over the job market in the automotive industry. Superdave seemed to ward off the economic bullets with the same armor as his comic book namesake.

What was his secret? Really, there was no secret. Felt President Bill Duehring may have said it best when he told me, “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”

When I called Superdave at 10:30 PM on a Friday night for a bicycle he would arrive at our door that Saturday with the bike if it was in our territory. When we needed something fixed on a Felt, and sometimes on another brand, Superdave came through. He was the fireman, the go-to guy. When we were pinned down and needed an air strike we radioed Superdave. Dealers reward a guy like this with orders. Superdave worked super hard. When the other reps in the industry had their feet up after what they thought was a full day Superdave was at the wheel of his rusty Ford Focus station wagon, cell phone plastered to his head, coming back from Ohio with a bike for a customer that had to be here tomorrow. If a sale could be closed and a bike delivered, Superdave would do it. It was never too late, never too far. If it meant selling a Felt bicycle, Superdave made it happen as best he could regardless of the time of day. Superdave ran his 2005 sales campaign like Central Command ran the Gulf war: Relentless, unyielding, around the clock and with blinding speed and superior firepower.

Such an effort doesn’t go unnoticed for long. The higher ups at Felt, a seasoned group of industry experts at managing a successful brand, noticed the numbers Superdave was putting up. They started asking Superdave’s opinion. The writing was on the wall, a guy with Superdave’s talent, drive, intensity and ability to innovate was destined for greater things. The insiders at Felt Bicycles in Lake Forest, California knew this. They knew that if they didn’t employ Superdave’s greater talents and insights that someone else eventually may.

On September 1, 2005 Superdave Koesel went from being an independent sales rep for Felt Bicycles in Indiana, Ohio and Michigan to being Felt’s new Western Regional Sales Manager. In the bike industry, this title carries enormous significance. He is the boss of the hottest sales region in the world: Everything west of the Mississippi. He commands a force of 12 outside sales reps in states west of the Mississippi. Superdave now manages the bulk of Felt’s domestic U.S. sales. Additionally, he now stands alongside the helmsman of product development steering the future of the Felt brand. Superdave’s influence is already seen in Felt’s 2006 product line and much more significantly in the 2007 line already well in planning.

Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, Superdave was able to leap tall rungs on the bicycle career ladder with a single bound, or more accurately, a decade of tireless devotion to the industry. Superdave simply worked harder and smarter than anyone else. As a result, he succeeded.

As I write this here in Bikesport Inc. at 10:59 PM on a Wednesday night, Superdave Koesel works quietly behind me building a Felt bicycle for one of my customers. I wager he is the only sales rep doing that right now, and I know he is the only Regional Sales Manager doing that anywhere in the bike industry. He sorts through a pile of bolts and nuts on the ground looking for just the right one to make the bike perfect. And that is how Superdave Koesel became Superdave, Western Regional Sales Manager, Felt Bicycles.

When Superdave leaves Michigan for California he takes with him a battered up Ford Focus, some well used bike shorts, several felt bicycles and one of the most important minds and personalities I have ever met in this industry. Superdave has done many things for the industry, Felt bicycles and for Bikesport, Inc. But perhaps the most significant thing he has done is lead by example, from the front, at all hours of the night and day. He taught by example: There is never an excuse for underperforming, there is never a reason to not work harder, there is no such thing as being off work. Superdave has been an enormous inspiration for everyone he worked with. For those wise enough to learn from his counsel, his insights have been invaluable. Learning to do business with him over 2,500 miles away will be difficult. We got spoiled assuming we could hit the speed dial on our cell phones labeled “Superdave” at any hour and magically make bikes appear and problems go away as though he popped out of a phone booth dressed in red Felt Lycra.

For anyone who ever doubted there is success, by anyone’s definition, in the bicycle industry even in the toughest of economies I present Superdave Koesel as proof of the contrary.

If you love what you do, do what you love, work hard and never give up good things can and do come. Superdave is a perfect example.

 

© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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