Between the ages of 11 and 21, Jeff Cayley broke at least one bone every year — an unhappy result of his passion for extreme sports in general and mountain biking in particular. By the time he was 21, he had decided that he was “tired of risking life and limb every weekend,” and he shifted his attention toward the business side of the sport he loved.
“I saw an opportunity in the industry for a boutique high-end mountain bike shop that had a brick and mortar presence as well as a really good e-commerce presence,” he says. So in 2011, he launched Worldwide Cyclery with a $20,000 loan from his mother. His father co-signed the lease on his first building in Newbury Park, CA because “no one wants to lease a building to a 21-year-old punk kid.”
Since then, the company has grown exponentially. Jeff now has three retail locations in California, Pennsylvania, and Nevada, a thriving online business, and 40 employees, the vast majority of whom are avid mountain bikers. His secret sauce: identifying and providing exceptional service to a very niche customer base.
“I was doing things very different than most people my age,” he says. “As I grew and scaled the business, I realized I didn’t really have anyone else to talk to about certain things in business that are really meaningful."
When he started the company, the bicycle industry was in flux. Reeling from the competition of category killers like Wal-mart, many smaller retailers began trying to be all things to all consumers. But no one seemed to be focusing on the segment that Jeff had his eye on. “We’re one of the only bike shops, probably on the planet, that truly niches itself into the high-end mountain bike category,” he says. “A typical price point for us would be $7,000 to $12,000, and then we sell components, accessories, and apparel, and we service the bikes.” A traditional bike shop, he says, might sell everything from beach cruisers to recumbent bikes to road bikes, “and therefore everyone in those segments just gets a mediocre experience.”
From the beginning, Jeff knew that the e-commerce side of the business had the most potential to scale. He launched on eBay and Amazon, providing what he calls “white glove customer experience” — he offered international shipping, followed up with customers quickly, and answered technical questions with clear expertise. Customers, he says, “just kind of fell in love with us and realized that we were a cut above the rest.” He then directed those third-party marketplace customers to his brick and mortar store, website, and content that established him as an industry expert. Since serious mountain biking enthusiasts buy a new bike every two to three years and constantly buy new components, establishing lifetime customer loyalty was extremely important. Jeff now estimates that 55% of Worldwide Cyclery’s order volume comes from repeat customers.
Jeff is a longtime member of YEC and says he originally joined to combat the isolation he felt as a young entrepreneur. “I was doing things very different than most people my age,” he says. “As I grew and scaled the business, I realized I didn’t really have anyone else to talk to about certain things in business that are really meaningful. The feeling of isolation and the loss of connection with my old friends — that was hard.” He says that his first trip to YEC Escape “was like pure ecstasy. I just met so many people who were so similar to me. It was like finding my tribe.” It’s that feeling of connection and the ability to make lasting friendships with like-minded entrepreneurs that have motivated Jeff to come back to Escape for four years. “We riff on topics like SEO, e-commerce, marketing, and customer acquisition,” he says. “Just learning from each other is super valuable. The availability of a network of bright minds is amazing.”
Going forward, Jeff predicts that the company will “max out at five stores” as the e-commerce side of the business continues to grow. “I think competing and leveling up the industry and providing a way better experience to customers is meaningful,” he says. “So we just want to continue shaking things up in the industry, raising the bar in terms of customer expectation, and have fun while we're doing it.