Widely known as “Erik the Bike Man” from the popular and long-running broadcast ad campaign, Erik Saltvold, founder and CEO of ERIK’S Bike Board Ski, credits his company’s success during the past 41 years to trusted relationships with his accountant, attorney and banker.
“ERIK’S Bike Board Ski wouldn’t be where it is today without a great bank behind us,” Saltvold said. ERIK’S is the largest independent bicycle dealer in the country, with 27 stores in four states and more than 450 employees. Saltvold has been working with banker Steve Carrier since 1990, when he applied for his first SBA loan to open his second bike shop in Burnsville, MN. “Bremer has been willing to grow with us as we’ve grown; they were strong and stable during the financial crisis when other banks struggled – and they’re a fair, high integrity bank. Steve knows my business, so he’s an invaluable sounding board.” The feeling toward the relationship is mutual: Steve describes Erik as an astute businessman who understands finance and people. “I wouldn’t trade the relationship with Erik for anything,” he said.
As an entrepreneur who started his career at the ripe age of 13 with a bike-shop-in-a-barn in his parents’ backyard, Saltvold has accumulated a wealth of knowledge about bikes, business and retail. He is proud to share that knowledge, while openly acknowledging that ERIK’S Bike Board Ski is built on a long foundation of mistakes. “To grow, you have to take risks. Things don’t always go as planned, and as long as we don’t repeat the same mistakes, our learnings make us stronger,” he said.
To satisfy the diverse needs of customers who visit ERIK’S for bikes, boards and skis, the company makes a significant investment in training. Through ERIK’S University, employees learn everything from the basics of the ERIK’S Bike Board Ski brand to specific attributes of vendor products, including Specialized bikes and Burton snowboards. As Founder, CEO and CFO, Saltvold wears a lot of hats (and helmets). During biking season, he spends weekends in the stores, on the frontlines, working with customers. He says it’s important for him to see, firsthand, what ERIK’S is doing right (and wrong) on the sales floor and in the service department – to ensure the consistent experience his customers have come to expect.
Fortunately, he sees more right than wrong due to the company’s recruiting and training emphasis – and a long track record of promoting from inside the company. Like Erik, the company president started on the sales floor – as did many of the chain’s store managers and service managers. “Capital and people are the greatest limitations to our growth, so we’re always recruiting,” Saltvold said. When asked why people stay and build careers with ERIK’S, he said, “There’s no secret sauce. We have a great culture and good systems that make it easy for people to do their jobs, and we give people opportunities to grow.”
Saltvold opened new stores in new markets when he had the right talent to support expansion. He also looked for active cycling markets, with the right competitive opportunities and economics. But to grow in a healthy, sustainable way that is true to the brand, talent was – and is – a top consideration. ERIK’S is all about people who are passionate about bikes helping customers find the right bike for their personal needs and desires.
His biggest source of pride as Founder and CEO is that ERIK’S makes it possible for people to build a career around bikes, boards and skis. “When I started back in 1977, no one was earning a living selling and repairing bikes,” he said. Over the years, the biggest impetus for growth for ERIK’S wasn’t a financial target on a spreadsheet but rather employees who were ready for a new challenge.
Saltvold, an avid road biker, loves all kinds of riding and experiments with three or four “test” bikes at a time from his fleet of thousands. “If I’m not trying out the latest, greatest thing, I can’t expect customers to try it,” he says. His current weekday mode of transportation is the e-bike he uses to commute to and from work. Saltvold says e-biking, one of the hottest trends in biking, is “like the moving walkways at the airport – they get you there faster, but you’re still sweating when you arrive.”
After sweating the small stuff and taking thoughtful risks for 41 years, ERIK’S Bike Board Ski has definitely arrived. And Bremer is proud to have been along for the ride.