The Business of Being the Bike Man

Few people can say that they’ve held only two jobs in their lives. Even fewer can say they founded their own successful business at the age of 13. Then again, those people aren’t Erik Saltvold, better known throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin as “Erik the Bike Man,” CEO of Erik’s Bike Shop. Erik recently spoke at Master’s Pub, a social and educational speaker series that brings together UST MBA students and alumni every few months to learn about achievements in business.

Erik never set out to become an entrepreneur. As a boy, he was only trying to preserve his manhood by refurbishing a pink 20” hand-me-down girls bicycle into something he’d be excited to ride around the neighborhood. But as he worked on the bike, Erik, along with his family, discovered that he had a real aptitude and interest in bicycle mechanics. Erik knew he enjoyed working on the bikes more than he enjoyed delivering papers (the only other job he’s ever had) and began acquiring used bikes and restoring them so they could be sold.

“The best investment that any business can have is in itself,” Erik said of reinvesting his profits into his budding company, something he continues to do today. He ran his business out of his parent’s backyard, placed ads in the yellow pages and began working with suppliers before he could drive. The bulk of his business came from referrals. “It’s still the most important way we gain new customers,” he said.

Throughout the years, Erik, who is now in his 40s, watched his company grow by carefully selecting new locations for stores (today he has 18), selectively expanding into the ski and snowboard market for winter sports activists, and hiring employees who began as customers and share his passion for cycling. He likes to promote employees from within and credits that mindset to the success of his stores.

“What business could be successful without a great staff?” he asked. His wife, an accomplished graphic designer, helped him develop successful advertising campaigns and the Erik the Bike Man brand. “It’s tongue and cheek and people remember it.”

The next Master’s Pub is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 4 and will feature Monica Meyer of Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day.