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In Tandem

Sharing a belief that relationships and reputation are what make a

A couple of years ago, Fred Behm walked into Nytro Hawaii, a high-end triathlon shop, looking for a good bike mechanic. His brand-new, several thousand-dollar bicycle just wasn’t working right and the mechanics at the store that he had bought it from couldn’t fix it. So on the advice of a friend, Behm took his bicycle to the Kakaako shop, where the soft-spoken proprietor, John Hashizumi, fixed the carbon-fiber contraption within minutes.

When Behm tried to pay the shop owner, Hashizumi refused.

“When you buy a new bike, you should be able to enjoy it,” Hashizumi said to his surprised customer. “It doesn’t matter where you happened to buy it.” The words were like music to Behm’s ears. A successful businessman, who specialized in resuscitating failing businesses in California and Hawaii, Behm had built and rebuilt successful companies around the philosophy of providing extraordinary customer service.

Wheels of Progress: Triathletes Behm and Hashizumi are their customers' best friends.

In fact, he was so impressed that less than a year later Behm was standing on the other side of the counter—first working as a salesperson at Nytro before investing in the company himself and becoming a full partner with Hashizumi.

Nytro Hawaii first opened its doors in 1995 after Hashizumi, a former facilities manager at Bank of Hawaii, decided to fulfill a lifelong dream of starting his own business.

“It was difficult. I didn’t sell a whole lot but the idea was to establish good relationships with my customers and try and grow the business from word-of-mouth recommendations,” says Hashizumi. “I knew it would take a long time to do it that way, but that’s how I wanted to do it.”

And the business did just that—it grew slowly. After Behm came aboard in April 1999, he began to make small changes to the store’s merchandise and how it was displayed in effort to make the store a little more user friendly. For instance, Behm convinced Hashizumi to display more bikes on the sales floor instead of hanging just the frames on the wall and displaying bike components behind glass cases. Behm also expanded the shop’s clothing line, offering a large selection of styles while trimming down inventory. These moves, among many others, radically changed the store’s clientele. Behm estimates that 80 percent of Nytro’s customers used to be hardcore triathletes and 20 percent were less experienced ones. Now, he believes that those percentages have been reversed. And since there are a lot more casual athletes on the island, sales soared.

“An experienced triathlete can look at a frame on a wall and see a whole bike,” says Behm. “But I think the casual athlete found this shop intimidating. Our customers needed to see what a high-end bike looks and feels like.”

Last year, Nytro’s gross revenues were $401,000, a 41 percent increase over the previous year. And Behm and Hashizumi expect another 35 to 40 percent increase in gross sales in 2001 when they complete the 750-square-foot expansion of their store, which will triple inventory.

But more important than re-merchandising and remodeling, Behm and Hashizumi credit their success to the two Rs: Relationships and Reputation. With the extroverted Behm working the front of the house, Nytro has become a gathering place where both the veterans can share old war stories and newbies can pick up a few nuggets of endurance wisdom. And of course, there is Nytro’s legendary customer service. (There is no charge for labor on repair work on any bike bought at the store.)

“It’s nice to walk into a place where someone knows your first name and takes the time to sit down, listen to you and find out what you want to do, where you want to go,” says regular customer Stewart Chambers. “They aren’t interested in selling you an expensive bike and getting you out the door. That attitude is what gets you coming back again and again."

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Hawaii Business,January