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Owner Keeps Big Wheels Turning by Keeping It Simple

Big Wheel Bikes owner Mike Sendar at his Georgetown store. Sendar has made preparations for a slow year.
Big Wheel Bikes owner Mike Sendar at his Georgetown store. Sendar has made preparations for a slow year. (Dominic Bracco II/Post)
By Thomas Heath
Monday, March 2, 2009

Most years around this time I visit Big Wheel Bikes in Bethesda and fork over around $80 to get my 10-speed tuned up so I am ready for the summer. It's up there with my other costly spring rituals such as paying someone to put up the awnings, remove the storm windows, buy the mulch, check the air conditioning, garden stuff . . . let's just say the Heaths do their share to stimulate the economy.

I called Big Wheels owner Mike Sendar, who is a part-time tax attorney, newspaper and sports junkie, and sometime blogger (http://www.sportsbard.com).

I asked him how the bicycle business is doing.

"My 2008 was level with 2007 until the second half of October, November and December, which were dramatically down from the year before," Sendar said.

How far down? Around 20 percent.

Is he making money?

"I always make money," said Sendar, who is 62 and started selling bikes in 1971, which was the dawn of a miserable decade for the economy. "I wouldn't be in business if I didn't make money."

Aside from Bethesda, Sendar's other stores are in Georgetown on 33rd Street NW, just a few yards from the C&O Canal; in a commercial "power center" in Arlington that benefits from a CVS drug store and a Giant grocery; and in Old Town Alexandria, a half a block off the Potomac River.

The Arlington store is his anchor; at 4,400 square feet, it's three times the size of the others. Sendar estimates he sells around 2,000 new bikes a year.

Weather is everything. Stores are empty when it rains and full on the sunny weekends. Sendar keeps stores open seven days a week through spring, summer and fall. May is his best month, with sales five times that of November, January and February.

Big Wheel Bikes grosses between $2.5 million and $3 million annually and earns Sendar a comfortable six-figure income. He leaves a bunch of cash in the business each year so he doesn't have to borrow. Bike sales, which include everything from kiddie three-wheelers to sophisticated racers, produce 55 percent of revenue. Accessories such locks, racks, helmets and gloves are another 20 percent. Repairs (that's me) are another 20 percent, and rentals make up the rest.

Rentals are especially hot at the Georgetown store, which benefits from tourists, as well as university students and their families. Rentals have nice margins because Big Wheel can charge up to $50 a day for the bikes, which means they pay for themselves quickly.

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