BUSINESS

Canadian-born mobile bike repair shop attracts triathlete Simon Whitfield

11/25/2014 04:42 EST | Updated 01/25/2015 05:59 EST
Gold-medal triathlete Simon Whitfield is an investor, franchise owner and enthusiastic spokesman for a Vancouver-based mobile bike repair business looking to expand around the world.

"We're not the triple-A of cycling," said Whitfield, dispelling a misconception he admits he had when he first heard of Velofix.

"At first I made the mistake that a lot of people make, they think we do roadside assistance. The first thing they educated me on is no we don't . . . The bike shop comes to you and does all the bikes in your garage."

It's the brainchild of businessman Chris Guillemet, retired professional soccer player-turned businessman Davide Xausa and bike mechanic and champion track cyclist Boris Martin.

Their expansion plan was pitched recently to the investors on CBC's "Dragons' Den," which will be airing that episode Wednesday.

The principals can't share what developed out of that appearance until it airs, but from their base in Vancouver they've already got a toehold in Toronto and are working ambitiously to spread to the rest of Canada, the United States, Australia and Europe.

"I own two of the trucks myself and also work with the corporate on business development," said Whitfield, who won Olympic gold in 2000 and silver in 2008 in the triathlon and now lives in Victoria and on Salt Spring Island.

"We've got five trucks on the road today and they're all franchises," said Guillemet, who also participates in endurance sports.

He said the whole thing started when he and Xausa were looking to get their own bikes repaired and balked at the idea of parting with them for a week or more if they took them to a shop, or not getting the work done properly.

"We found it very frustrating trying to get our bikes fixed. . . In a shorter riding season if your bike's gone for seven to 10 days that's a good chunk of your season," Guillemet said.

Martin put the first truck on the road and they worked out the kinks in their plan, which includes online booking, inventory control and the kind of route co-ordination needed to be successful.

"We're the same price as a bike shop because we don't have the overhead," said Guillemet. "We're a bit of a disruptive force."

He said there were individuals out there trying to make mobile work on their own.

"Maybe some guys are in a pickup truck, or some guy is pulling a little trailer behind their bike."

But nothing like the co-ordinated approach they have taken with their specially equipped, red Mercedes Sprinters and all the online business support.

"It still surprises me today that nobody had done it before us but that happens in some industries," Guillemet said. "I think people tried it and maybe because they didn't have an online booking system that was route optimized for trucks, it wasn't very efficient . . . I think we have put a lot of things in place that have allowed the system to work."

Guillemet said even the name was carefully selected to have worldwide appeal, and the company expects to have its first U.S. franchises operating in 2015.

"It's really taking off, probably more even we suspected," said Whitfield.

After a lifetime spent training and competing at an elite level, Whitfield says he thought it would be hard to give up when he retired in 2013, but has found that isn't the case.

"I scored five goals at indoor soccer the other day. I don't know if you've ever seen anyone celebrate as much as I did. I chase my two daughters around. I'm out in the ocean as much as I can paddling and absolutely loving it . . ."

"I realized I didn't need to compete any more."