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Specialized snaps up a trio of beloved Santa Rosa bike shops

The year was 1995, and Glenn Fant had $130 in his checking account. He was looking for work in Santa Rosa as a bike mechanic.

Even before walking into Dave’s Bike Sport, he had a good feeling. That shop, which later became NorCal Bike Sport, was then located at College Avenue and Glenn Street.

“Glenn with two n’s, like my name,” recalled Fant, who stepped inside and asked for a job.

He was hired, and in that moment stepped onto fast-moving escalator, as sales of mountain and road bikes — and, more recently, e-bikes — boomed over the next two-plus decades. In 2007, Fant was given the opportunity to become a part-owner of NorCal Bike Sport and Bike Peddler, a few blocks east on College Avenue. He jumped at the chance.

It was a very good decision.

Earlier this month, both those businesses, along with Trail House, an inspired, hybrid establishment he and some partners opened in 2016, were purchased by Specialized Bike Components, a major player in the bike retail industry. Specialized, based in Morgan Hill, declined to comment on the transaction.

While Fant was unwilling to share the price Specialized agreed to pay him and minority owner Ben Vandevier, he did describe it as “an offer I couldn’t refuse. I mean, I’m 48, and now I’m retired.”

The offer from Specialized “was so good,” he added, “I knew that nothing like this was ever coming again.”

Consolidation in bike retailers

Fant benefited from the forces now governing the bicycling industry. In a quest to create their own distribution networks, large companies are gobbling up independent retailers at an unprecedented rate. Trek has been buying up bike stores for the past decade.

Last August, the Dutch company Pon made major waves in Northern California when it snapped up Mike’s Bikes, a 12-store Bay Area chain with a store in Petaluma and another in Novato.

“Mike’s Bikes was known to be one of Specialized largest U.S. retailers,” said Bret Gave, who opened a bike shop on Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa under the Trek brand, then sold it to Trek in 2015. “So yeah — that one hurt Specialized,” which is “absolutely playing catch-up to Trek in retail acquisitions.”

After absorbing that dent to its distribution, Specialized was especially motivated to ramp up its buying spree of stores. The dynamic gave Fant significant leverage late last summer, when he was being courted by a number of suitors. But he never seriously considered selling to anyone but Specialized, whose founder, Mike Sinyard, is “a personal friend,” said Fant. “They’ve always supported me, over the years.”

What effect will new ownership have on the shops?

In the near term, not much, said Fant. While Trek puts its stamp on each of the shops it buys — “they move in and make each store look kind of the same,” he said — the trio of Santa Rosa shops will keep their names, “and their personalities,” said Fant.

The managers will stay the same: Chris Wells at Bike Peddler, Matt Stewart at NorCal Bike Sport, Shane Bresnyan at Trail House. Employees will be retained, with a significant bump in pay and benefits.

Specialized’s deep pockets, said Fant, “will allow them to pay my employees really well. I’m super stoked.”

Upgrades and changes

Specialized also has the resources to beef up security at the three businesses. Bike Peddler had a window smashed one night earlier this week, and also had a bike stolen off the shop floor. Over the past 15 years, “I’ve had over 30 windows broken, between all the stores, and countless bikes stolen. But I never had $100,000 to throw at the buildings,” said Fant.

The new owner “has the resources to do that. They’re going to take the stores to the next level.”

They’ll do it without certain lines of bikes they’ve carried for a long time. Pon, the new owner of Mike’s Bikes, is also the parent of Santa Cruz, Cervelo, and other bike brands.

Companies like Specialized and Pon “don’t play well together,” said Gave. “They’re not friends in the sandbox.”

Now that Fant’s shops are owned by Specialized, Pon will no longer allow those stores to carry Santa Cruz bikes, for instance.

“You can bet that for Pon,” added Gave, “the next move is for them is to open up a Mike’s Bikes in Santa Rosa.”

Fant hasn’t completely cut ties with the businesses. He and his wife, Kym, are retaining ownership of the bar at Trail House. They now live in the north Lake Tahoe area. “We wanted to keep a connection to Sonoma County,” he said.

When he returned a phone call Thursday, Fant had just finished a bike ride. Now he was in his garage, fine tuning his bike.

“I love working on bikes so much,” he said. “It never seemed like it was a job. I always felt really lucky.”

When he lived in Santa Rosa, he said, he would ride his bike to work, work on bikes all day, ride his bike home, then go out for a bike ride, after which he would … work on his bike.

His employees sometimes made fun of his obsession with all things velo.

“I’m going to miss them,” he said. “It’s super-hard already. But I know they’re going to be well taken care of.”

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com or on Twitter @ausmurph88.

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