Five years ago, at the urging of his wife, Lance Reese bought Valley Cycling and transformed it into one of the area’s premiere bike shops.
Rechristened Bearded Monkey, the business sells bikes and fitness gear, and recently moved into musical instruments, reflecting both his company’s values as well as serving the needs of his clientele and engaging with the community through events.
A native of Ames, Iowa, Reese, 42, moved to Yakima in 1996, where he lives with his wife, Cheryl, their son Jackson, a dog named Stache and several cats. Bearded Monkey employs from six to 11 people, depending on the time of year.
How did Bearded Monkey get started, and where did the name come from?
Bearded Monkey started when my wife had the crazy idea that I needed to work at a bike shop. There was an established local shop and the owners were preparing for retirement. Although the shop had been around for a long time it didn’t reflect the current cycling environment or cater to the cycling culture. As a consumer, I wasn’t interested in shopping there. The idea of taking something established that had dwindled and rebuilding it was exciting. The existing business name, Valley Cycling, was uninspiring. Bearded Monkey launched as a brand, a personality and a lifestyle, promoting community engagement and increased health through activity and social interaction. It is a name that you won’t forget.
The logo is based on a Bearded Emperor Tamarind monkey. When we launched, our motto was “put a monkey on it.” We wanted our logo everywhere. Often people mistake the logo as being modeled after me, but I didn’t meet the graphic designer, Daniel from Black Wasp Digital, until he had already created our logo.
Were there any challenges you had to overcome in starting the business, and how did you do it?
Running a business is always a challenge, whether just starting or being established. The advantage of buying the bike shop as an existing business is it gave us good data to work off and build a plan for growth. Our current endeavor of starting a music store is a much different experience. Everything is happening from the ground up. Establishing vendors and inventory levels was nerve wracking as every decision can lead to success or failure. Marketing a new business was equally challenging. We decided to keep the opening a complete secret until the morning the new store opened. It was risky, thinking we may be staring out the window all day with no customers, but the strategy was a huge success. We were busy from the minute we opened.
Was it difficult to make changes to an existing business without affecting its success?
Some people told me I was crazy to change the name of the existing business, that the change would ruin me and that it devalued the goodwill of purchasing an existing business. It was one of the best things we did. We separated ourselves from the past and built a platform for the future that was modeled after our values, ideas and energy. We slowly started to introduce the new logo over the first year, subliminally getting customers used to it, then started changing out signage little by little. At some point we changed our phone greeting and began heavily marketing our new persona. We built the new brand as a lifestyle, bringing people together to have experiences, gain friendships and knowledge. Overwhelmingly the new brand quickly overshadowed the previous one. We often talk as a staff about how we are engaging and providing for the community. What events can we host? What rides can we put on? How can we facilitate people to be more active, more engaged?
What do you like about owning your own business?
I love being able to strategize what’s working and where our opportunities lie, then immediately act. I was once told by a corporate leader, “Do something; even if it’s not the right thing, you have to try something. If it fails, so be it. Learn and move on, but to do nothing is to dwindle and fail.” The guy was kind of a jerk, but he was successful, and I’ve always remembered that advice. I don’t live by it, but I do reflect on it often. The day we opened the music store a customer said to me, “This is awesome, what’s next?” What’s next? I just opened a music shop, why does there have to be a “what’s next?” But there will be. We just don’t know what it is yet.
What’s your favorite place to ride?
Hands down, mountain biking Post Canyon in Hood River, Ore., is No. 1. The trails are phenomenal, well maintained and have a huge variety of challenges. Other riders there are super cool, and the town has a cool vibe to it. I once stayed at a bed and breakfast with doilies on the tables and they let me park my muddy bike next to the bed so I didn’t have to leave it outside and risk it getting stolen.
Locally, the Rocky Top trail system is the place to ride. Ten years ago, there were limited options locally and what this facility has brought to Yakima has allowed mountain biking to grow well beyond the eclectic group of individuals that used to brave the un-manicured rocks and sage brush of the valley. Don’t get me wrong, Rocky Top is still all sagebrush and rocks, but there’s an organization to the trails, and regular maintenance to address any issues that would affect riding conditions long term. Having it this close to town makes riding super accessible, and the hospitable parking lot allows riders to barbecue on their tailgate after a ride. That’s hard to beat.
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