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
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.