Sven and the bike – When Business Growth doesn’t really matter…


At Aspire we spend a lot of time helping businesses grow, but occasionally we’re reminded that some small businesses work best as they are.  You can copy an artist but you’ll never duplicate them.  Such was the case with a recent visit to Sven and his bicycle shop in Anaconda, MT.

A Flat Tire….

My 7 yr old nephew had been giving his BMX bike a workout on a gravel mountain road when he came in with a pretty long face and a very flat front tire.  After trying to refill it with air, it was clear we probably needed a new tube at a minimum.   Google told us there was a bicycle repair shop in nearby Anaconda, MT, so we crossed our fingers and called.

Enter Sven….

Sven answered the phone and said he was open ‘til 6pm; luckily he had one tube of the special size we needed so we loaded the bike and were off for town.  When we arrived at his store, we were greeted by a friendly man with a full gray beard and just enough grease on his hands that assured us this wasn’t his first rodeo when it came to bicycle repair.   He made a positive reassuring statement that let my nephew know his bike would be back in business in no time.

There was one customer, maybe in his late-20’s in the little store when we arrived.  From the exchange in their conversation it was obvious they knew each other pretty well and they both shared a passion for the two wheeled peddling machines.  As the customer left the store, Sven said “that was the best bike mechanic I ever had work for me.  I would hire him today if I could afford him”.  Then he added, now days most help he hires isn’t qualified to wash his windows.  At that point, I knew I had perfectionist.

The Artist at work…..with advice provided for free.

Sven turned to my young nephew and his little sister who had tagged along on this short adventure and started asking questions and engaging them has made quick work of removing the tube from the tire.   As he injected air in the empty tube exposing the hole he said, “There it is, young man you were snake bit.”  My nephew quickly replied he hadn’t seen a snake.   Then Sven brought the punctured tube over to my young niece and nephew and added more air so they could see the hole and feel the air blow out on their curious faces.

As Sven carefully felt around the inside of the tire making sure there wasn’t anything left in the tire to cause another “snake bite” I got the impression this thoroughness, speed, and precision would be the same even if he had a blindfold on.    As he installed the new tube in the tire he talked about the number of bears he had seen on mountain trails over the years, never a grizzly, but lots of black bears.   He was of the mindset that as long as you pay attention, they are more afraid of you than you of them.  And he added, “Just never mess with a Momma bear with her cubs”.

Before reinstalling the front wheel, Sven mounted the axle shaft in a vise to check the hub and spokes to and make sure they were properly adjusted.   As he spun the wheel he looked like a master chef putting his final touches on his most prized dish before sending it out of the kitchen.  His final step was checking and adjusting the tire pressure on the rear wheel to make sure it matched the perfection of the masterpiece now remounted on the front of the bike. “You don’t cut corners when you’re nearly finished.”

Now the time had come to settle up for the art work created by our new friend Sven. Sven, the mechanic walks back to his check-out counter and Sven, the sales clerk says, that will be $6 for the tube and $5 for my time; and our $11 business transaction was complete…with a total time of about 15 minutes.

Side Note: The rates for his Sven’s Bike Repair Services were clearly posted; there was a sign with per item charges for everything from basic tune-ups, adjusting brakes, tires repairs, etc. 

But his Labor Rate said it best…..

– $30/hr

– $40/hr if you supervise

– $50/hr if you try to fix it first and I have to repair your mess   

 Translation: “Don’t interrupt an artist at work!”

And One Happy 7 yr. old Customer….

Then Sven presented my young nephew his newly restored bike.  And with a big smile he and his little sister both said “Thank You!”    No Sven, Thank you! You are a treasure for your community.  Keep doing what you’re doing.

Sven’s a great example of someone who has chosen to limit their business. He’s truly a master craftsman and he ‘gets’ that he’s unlikely to be able to hire anyone with his passion, skill and experience – and a small town in Montana doesn’t need a huge shop anyway.  For most businesses, growth is critical for long term success – but there are examples, like Sven, where just being great and finding your niche is more than enough.

What about you, do you know any small business owners who are true masters at their craft?  The ones that have their skill so finely tuned it would be impossible to try and duplicate them?  As always we’d love to hear your thoughts.

Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach