When Justin McGillivray was forced to move back in with his parents, it never crossed his mind it would be the catalyst to his entrepreneurial career. As he searched for a storage unit, it clicked.
“I thought, ‘Why am I not capitalizing on this?’,” he says.
Unlocking the little garage that is Kootenay Cycles’s workshop in Ottawa’s west end, the 22-year-old bicycle mechanic and avid cyclist couldn’t have imagined the outcome of what seemed like a step back in life. McGillivray first launched Kootenay Cycles in 2012. But the Westboro resident wasn’t just opening a basic bike repair shop; he was targeting a niche market that he said hadn’t yet been considered in Ottawa. McGillivray runs his business as a mobile shop. He said he saves vast amounts of money by not having an expensive retail store, and instead renting a small garage for $1,000 annually as his workshop.
“It’s been implemented in Europe and it seemed to have great success so I thought, ‘Why not make it available here?’,” he says.
He comes to the customer, whether it be their workplace, home or anywhere in between, while also offering up his workshop.
“I’m really trying to focus on the convenience side,” he says.
His services start from basic repairs, like flat tires, all the way up to “The Demolition”, where he takes apart the entire bicycle, cleans it, tunes it and replaces any necessary parts.
Road cyclist Julia Riddick began riding seriously at age 14 when she did her first tour in France. She says she believes McGillivray’s business concept is a much needed addition to Ottawa.
“It’s fantastic that he’s mobile because then he can help those whose only mode of transportation is their bike,” she says.
McGillivray said he also makes giving back to the community an important aspect, regardless of the fact that he’s just starting out and slowly growing the business by reinvesting his profits rather than taking loans. In the first year of the business, he began an event called “Help A Rider”, where he restored an old bike, made it easy to maintain and donated it to a homeless man. He intends to continue this tradition, as well as working with another cause close to him, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.
“I really want to incorporate being able to make events that will help out,” he says. “My mother has fought cancer for eight years, so it’s a big part of why I’m doing what I’m doing.”
McGillivray said he has managed to blend his hobby, work experience and personal cause into his livelihood.
“I’ve always had a passion for tinkering and working on stuff, so it was the best of both worlds,” he says.
He credits his time at Fresh Air Experience, an outdoor sports shop, working under the head technician for his master mechanical skills. But although he had the passion and the technical training, he said he lacked the business knowhow.
McGillivray began business management and entrepreneurship at Algonquin College, not only for the diploma, but with a plan to focus his schoolwork on Kootenay Cycles. He said his plan was that by time he finished, he would have a strong business plan ready to go. He graduated in June 2014 after being selected for one of the top six business plans in his program to present to a panel of investors. McGillivray didn’t win, but it solidified his confidence.
He said he believes it’s not only his unique idea that sets him apart from his competitors, but also his approach to customer service. His popularity has spread through word of mouth and social media.
One of his clients is a former competitive cyclist in the women’s Tour de France.
“When you’re dealing with customers racing at a high calibre level, they expect certain standards,” he says.
He encourages clients to watch him work rather than hiding away in the back of a workshop, and says he works closely for their individual needs.
“You can tune a bike specifically to a factory setting, but no one rides the same and that’s where the personable aspect comes in,” says McGillivray.