This week in our Love Local series, we grabbed a curbside coffee with Cliff Vanclief, owner of The Hub Bicycle Shop, to talk about the how and why of building a business that not only supports community, but has become a hub for it in the heart of Hespeler.

The Hub Bicycle Shop is literally buzzing when I arrive for my interview with owner Cliff Vanclief. Apologizing and mentioning “it’s usually not this busy this time of year,” I waited as Cliff gave his full attention to an older couple looking for repairs, a young father shopping for a new bike with two excited girls, and a man in full race regalia talking speed and technical terms I won’t pretend I understood. “The name of the business was intentional,” Cliff told me later. “We wanted to build that sense of community: a place of information, a dependable place where people feel comfortable going to.” Upon first glance, I’d say they’ve been successful.

Lifelong Loyalty

Over the last 13 years, The Hub has put down deep roots in the Hespeler downtown core, attracting all kinds of people looking for a good ride, a sense of community, and a great customer experience. If there was one word that summarized their evolving focus over those years, Cliff told me it’s been loyalty. The business, which does about half of their business in sales and the other half in repairs, is invested in cultivating lifelong relationships with their clients. “[While the] mountain bikers most times they handle their own repairs, we still see them come back for parts and supplies. But families we see always come back for repairs,” Cliff said: mentioning that the business is family owned. Retention is at the heart of The Hub’s client base. One way they keep connections with them thriving is through clubs and events like their Mountain Bike Nights and Family Bike Rides.

Attentive Staff for the Win

“Racing was a hobby [then]: but bikes were always important to me,” Cliff told me about the motivation behind starting the business at the age of 25. “Plus, I really felt, and still feel, that people are under serviced in the aftercare for bikes in Ontario.” So what’s your secret recipe when it comes to doing it right? I asked: to which Cliff said, hiring the right people. “They’re all bike enthusiasts,” he said about his five staff. “And tnd they have to understand people. You can teach the technical stuff, how to be a mechanic for example: but that attention to the customer, that ability to tune into people, that can’t be taught. And it’s a necessity.”

A Rising Rate of ROI (Return on Impact)

Cliff’s name is synonymous with The Hub’s charitable support, which includes but isn’t limited tune ups, flat tire repair, tire inflation, brake adjustments and minor repairs at bike rodeos for neighbourhood associations and other events. “If there’s an opportunity for a bike related sponsorship, we usually don’t say no. Their recent support of Waterloo’s Ride Don’t Hide race in support of mental health is just one example. I asked, for the naysayers that don’t understand the value of community sponsorship, convince me: why is it important? “For us it was always a part of the vision and the goal for the business, was to be in a position to give back.” Sure, it’s hard to make the time: especially, Cliff told me, because he’s usually attending the events and offering his own time at charity events. “And sure, maybe you don’t see the return directly, or right away. But it does good, and strengthens the community. That result ends up being good for the business, and for your customers too. You just can’t underestimate that.” He talked about the chain reaction (pun intended) of extending the same attitude toward community partnerships, too: referencing The Hub’s recent team up with The City of Cambridge and 403 Racing for The Freshman Jam. “You have to look at it as a give and take: you can’t just expect recognition without offering it in return.”

The Favorite Flavours of a Locavore

Cliff had an idea that I loved about supporting local businesses: “my wife and I limit our monthly purchases where we can to bigger box stores, and shop local wherever we can. As a small business owner I know how important it is.” So where does a business owner with a big love for Cambridge businesses shop. Is it mostly in Hespeler? “We live in Galt, so it’s a little from both,” Cliff said, listing a number of Galt hot spots he frequents including Monigram CoffeeBombay Sizzler, and Nature’s Vibe. “We obviously eat at a lot of the businesses in walking distance: especially Famous PizzaThe Village Eatery, and The Brownstone.” Cliff mentioned the one on one service you get, listing business owners Natalie from OV Tasting Room and Wendy from Millpond Records and Books by name, is always above and beyond what you get at a chain store.

the hub bicycle shop bikesGetting the Small Town Sale

Intermittently, Cliff and I circled around what the word marketing means for a small town business owner and how to do it well. Overall, one of the most effective tools for The Hub has been social media- particularly Facebook and Twitter. But doesn’t it take a lot of your time? I asked. Why is it so important: again, especially if there’s no direct correlation to ROI? “There are a lot of benefits: immediate interaction with our current and potential clients for one.” Cliff said they rarely use it to promote their products and gain sales for that reason. In other words: it’s not a sales tool, but a relationship building one. “In the bigger box stores, the owner is usually removed from the business. [Through social], I can make a direct connection, give a sense of entertainment... reach out on a personal level. People can relate to that. I think that adds a sense of security for them: I’m here in the business every day; here to help out.”

Legacy Listening

When I asked Cliff what last words of advice he’d give small business owners for maintaining the success of a business long-term, he didn’t falter in saying, “listen to your customer.” Especially as a business that’s been around a long time: you have to stay on top of trends, and what they need.” He talked about the evolution in The Hub’s sales approach over the years as an example: “We used to have staff nights where we studied the product catalogues and would educate the customer: now, people have done the research and know what they’re looking for. So today we focus on a few key features, parts, and help them find a good fit price wise.” Taking the responsive approach, in a tech based world that moves and innovates frequently, is useful advice for entrepreneurs in any industry… you just have to put your own spin on it.

Thanks to Cliff for this conversation that left me a little prouder to live in a community with such passionate entrepreneurs. Wanna be a part of The Hub? Sure you do! Check them out here.


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