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Urbane Cyclist: Banking on success beyond the bike lane


SUMMARY:

Industry

  • Full service bicycle shop

Customer - Cycling enthusiasts

  • Commuter, touring and racing cyclists
  • Cyclists seeking bike repairs, parts, accessories and equipment

Challenge

  • Competitive marketplace in downtown Toronto
  • Cultivating members to invest in the business
  • Educating consumers on the worker co-operative model

Solution

  • Maintain high level of customer service, knowledge and expertise
  • Promote the worker-cooperative advantage to consumers
  • Pursue financial investment opportunities with Meridian to support Urbane Cyclist’s growth and benefit its members

Urbane Cyclist transcends the average bike shop with its worker cooperative business model that offers a unique advantage to its members, employees and customers. Taking their business down a strategic path for growth required a non-traditional financial partner. The Meridian Credit Union is now on board to help steer them the right direction.

Life in the bike lane

When Urbane Cyclist set in motion in 1997, it took the road less travelled to encourage commuters to do the same – find an eco-friendly alternative to reduce the reliance on fossil-fueled vehicles, decrease traffic congestion and promote a healthy lifestyle in the heart of Toronto.

“When Urbane opened, there were no commuter shops in town,” said Reba Plummer, co-executive director for Urbane Cyclist. She admits there were those who doubted Urbane’s future as a commuter bike shop but explains they found their niche. “We wanted to have a shop that was dedicated to the everyday cyclist … We did repairs, we were opened early and so that was really the philosophy.”

A different way of doing business

“We’re a worker co-op … the people that work here own the business,” Plummer said. “If you have shareholders, it’s about maximizing profit. This isn’t a capitalist venture. The idea with a worker co-op is that the labour has at least as much say as the capital, if not more, so there’s more of a balance.”

She explained, “It’s sort of a self-perpetuating business model because you don’t have one owner who comes in and then if something happens to them, potentially the business folds.”

When Urbane Cyclist lost its founding member, Eugene Yao, in 2008, Plummer credits the cooperative model for allowing the business to continue as he’d planned.

“We were able to pay back our debts to his family, but we were able to continue,” she said.

Plummer said the basic principle of a worker co-op is that it offers a benefit to the members.

“Even in an industry that isn’t well paid, we want to offer decent paid jobs - a living wage job, vacation pay above and beyond. We have a benefits health program through the Cooperators, so we have extended health benefits,” she said.

Members agree to participate on a committee as well as attend meetings, assist at a co-op event each year and follow the by-laws of the co-op. After the probation period is complete, a membership investment of $2,500 in shares is also required. To make that easier, the company has set-up an interest-free loan and payroll deduction to purchase the shares.

“You need to have a good credit rating or be working on it,” Plummer said, noting this has helped some co-op members to establish a credit rating.

Investing in people

Education is a fundamental component to their business philosophy. Plummer said the company has an education budget, encouraging staff to upgrade their skills, but also ensure they know their rights. She said the goal is to create a positive, safe workplace, where people feel empowered. It’s about investing in people for the benefit of people. But it’s not just a philosophy; it’s the way Urbane Cyclist does business, and Plummer hopes customers buy into that difference.

“I’d like to see us making more of an emphasis on the fact that we’re worker-owned, and having a better way for everybody to be members or know more about it,” Plummer said. “I’d like to see us having that as a selling point. Why should people shop at our bike shop rather than the one down the street? Because not only are we worker-owned but because we have all these values that we operate under: purchasing, the way we pay people, the way we treat our staff, the way we pay our vendors, how we treat our customers.”

Meridian keeps Urbane Cyclist on track

It was Meridian’s core values, the credit union model and their cooperative principles that Plummer credits for encouraging Urbane Cyclist to switch lanes, making the move from a big bank three years ago.

“We were looking around. We hadn’t been happy with other banking institutions, service-wise,” Plummer said. “Meridian seemed like the right fit for us. They were offering all the small business services that we needed. We need merchant credit card services, business banking, a U.S. account.”

Along with helpful advice and a significant decrease in Urbane Cyclist’s monthly financial fees, Plummer said dealing with Meridian is straightforward.

“I find that the way we’re treated in the branch, with the staff and advisors, they seem to be much more on it,” she said. “I’ve never felt that they are trying to sell me what I don’t need.”

Looking forward, Plummer said Urbane Cyclist has plans to grow their business with the support of Meridian, expanding their financial portfolio to benefit their members and employees.

“We are talking to Meridian about trying to set up some sort of RRSP program (for members),” Plummer said, proudly. “I don’t think there are too many bike shops on our scale that are doing that kind of stuff.”

A visionary plan for a worker cooperative model with a culture and value system centred on social justice has kept Urbane Cyclist on the right track for 20 years. It comes from a shared dedication to a different way of doing business, centred on a deep love of cycling.

“It’s a lot of work, but if it’s something that you love, it’s not really work,” Plummer said.

With a financial plan and support from Meridian, Urbane Cyclist is geared up for success. And as any cyclist would appreciate, Plummer’s Meridian branch at College and Bathurst offers plenty of bike parking out front. That makes her a very happy customer.

To learn more about how Meridian’s Small Business accounts and services can benefit your business, speak to a Meridian Business Advisor today: Meridian Small Business.

Urbane Cyclist

280 College Street Toronto, ON M5T 1R9

Tel: 416.979.9733
Email: ucycle@ucycle.com
Web: www.ucycle.com

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