If real estate is all about location, location, location, then retail businesses are all about finding the right niche. And what could be better than finding a niche that is completely untapped?
That was the genesis of Matt Stewart launching his new business, Arizona Bike Garage, the first bike shop in Maricopa.
“It all came down to the fact that we saw a tremendous need for something for the cycling community here in Maricopa,” Stewart said. “I had gotten my wife Katrina a bike for Christmas. Then we got bikes for our kids Kallie and Jack, and we realized that every time we needed parts for one of our four bikes there was nothing close by — I was constantly driving to Ahwatukee. So, it became pretty apparent there was a need here, and with some help, we decided to address that need.”
That help came in the form of an idea from his father-in-law, who suggested starting a small shop out of Stewart’s garage. That led to the name of the business he started in July amid the pandemic, but he already was looking at something larger.
“From the time we started the business in our garage I was already looking to move into a retail space,” he said. “I started talking to bike manufacturers and looking for storefront space. I connected with an old business partner from my motorcycle racing days, and we decided to open a storefront. His involvement, along with another silent partner, helped me to get the retail location going. Those two provide me with valuable input that is really helping us provide the right parts, products and services to meet the needs of the cycling community here in Maricopa.”
Stewart sells bikes and performs maintenance and repairs, everything from basic tune-ups and wheeltruing to drive-train cleaning and adjustments to bike assembly. He offers washing and pickup and delivery. Stewart also offers his expertise through consultations to help his customers get the right part or bike for their specific needs.
But the biggest benefit Stewart offers may be his proximity to Maricopa residents, according to one customer.
“The biggest benefit to having Matt’s shop here in town is that it’s here, not up near South Mountain,” said Carlos Chavez, an early customer of Arizona Bike Garage. “So far it’s been a really good experience having him here in town. The convenience of having a shop here is huge and Matt is really fair with his pricing.
“And he’s actually become a riding partner now,” he added. “He started up a mountain bike riding club here in town and we’ve already ridden three times.”
LOVING THE LEARNING CURVE
Stewart developed his expertise through a lifetime of racing anything with two — and sometimes four — wheels. He started racing BMX bikes at age 9, the beginning of a lifetime involved in racing. Katrina also was a professional motorcycle racer.
‘I rode bikes as a kid like everyone else, but it became a family thing for us,” he said. “When I raced bikes, my dad was racing cars. He stepped back from cars and bought motorcycles for my sister and me and it bloomed from there, and it turned into a career.”
Stewart raced motocross, super moto and sport bikes.
“Basically, I raced anything I could get my hands on,” he said.
After racing motorcycles for 15 years, from age 12 until he retired five years ago, he moved into sprint cars, which he still races today and hold a special place in his heart.
“Even though I went around the world racing motorcycles, sprint cars are my favorite form of racing because the track is constantly changing, and you have to adapt to those changes,” he said. “I raced sprint cars for 12 years before I won my first race and there were a handful of ‘light bulb’ moments that got me to the point where I could win. There’s still a learning curve today, but that’s part of the joy I still get from open wheel racing.”
‘YOU HAVE TO PERFORM EVERY DAY’
That desire to learn has served him well as he transitions into his new position as a bike shop owner. He has continued to ride bikes recreationally throughout his life, and the relationships he built over a lifetime of riding have helped him immeasurably in launching Arizona Bike Garage.
“I have a lot of friends who’ve owned bike shops around the country, and a lot of them had ties to motorcycling, but opened bicycle shops,” he said. “I have learned a ton from them, and also from our rep from Trek bikes, who has been in this territory for years and helped me develop the layout of the store and also with ordering, inventory, and what to do and not to do. I’ve benefited from learning from the mistakes they made during their own learning curve without having to make those mistakes myself.”
In the end, his life on (and off) the road, racing bikes around the world, has taught him lessons he is applying to his new role as a small-business owner.
“Racing teaches you discipline. When you race for a living, you have to perform every day, or you don’t pay your bills. And if you’re not working 100 percent, there’s someone else who is that would love to take your job.”
Bike-buying tips from the Garage
Matt Stewart, owner of Arizona Bike Garage, wants everyone to get the most out of their cycling experience, no matter where they buy their bike. Here he offers three tips for buying a new bicycle:
- Make sure it properly fits the rider. Riding a bike that is an improper size will cause aches and pains as well as require more effort. Have an expert get you on a bike that is the right size for you.
- Purchase the proper bike for the type of riding you plan to do. There are many different styles of bikes: some have a more upright seating position made for comfort while others have a more aggressive rider position built for speed. Others are made just for casual pedaling on the road or for racing down ski slopes in the summertime. Get the correct type.
- Purchase your bike from a bicycle shop. Even if you don’t purchase a bike from Arizona Bike Garage it is best to go to a local store for a higher-quality product assembled properly by professionals. A bike shop can also provide knowledge to make your riding experience better, whatever type of bike you ride.
This story appears in the January issue of InMaricopa magazine.