We met Ben Botkins and Jef Myers in 2015. They had been running their bike shop, Parkside, for around six years. When they started the shop, they were one of the only purveyors of used bikes in the city of Louisville. They grew to sell new bikes, equipment, and service in their Highlands-neighborhood location. But they were getting too big for their space. So they picked a new spot right across the street from Cherokee Park, one of the best green spaces in the area. It was a big transition for them. They hired us to build flexibility into their brand in order to accommodate anything Parkside became.
The new location was a success. And now, there’s more success to report. In June 2018, Ben and Jef opened a new store in NuLu, a neighborhood on the rise. But that’s not all. They also announced an exciting new venture that is changing how people think about tourism and how they think about Louisville.
We caught up with Ben a week after their ribbon-cutting to get his side of the story.
Parkside started to share the thrill you get when you ride a bike. “I love to share that feeling,” Ben says. The way Ben and Jef run the business is informed by sharing that love.
The first thing you’ll notice about everything Ben and Jef make is their signature color. Teal. You might be surprised by where it comes from. “I’ve been attracted to that color as long as I can remember,” Ben says. “I collected My Little Ponies as a kid,” and that color stood out in the toy lineup. “When it came to choosing a color [for Parkside], there was no question. It had to be some sort of teal.”
Sharing the feeling of being on a bike brings customers and employees together. Ben says, “We really want to make people not feel intimidated.” This approachable sensibility influences hiring. It also influences who their core customers are. Ben describes them as “enthusiasts.” They might commute by bike, they ride during their free time for fun, but they’re not hardcore racers. They’re in it for the love of the game. Just like Jef and Ben.
Design figures strongly into how they maintain this sensibility. “Design matters,” Ben says, “and it’s mattering to me more and more as I get older.” He goes on, “It goes against our values to not be approachable.” Their in-store experience lives or dies on their brand design.
The love of the game may sound great, but it proved challenging despite Parkside’s growth. Ben and Jef weren’t willing to cut corners, and that meant that the business simply wasn’t profitable at times. “I don’t want to make money by making someone lose. I have no desire to do something dishonest.” They will make sure that you’re happy with your bike, no matter how costly or affordable the purchase is. In many ways, this integrity is rare in the bike shop community. “There are definitely bike shops that have a reputation of not caring. Not dishonest, but a lack of empathy.”
Empathy makes everything work at Parkside. And integrity drives how they do business. In March 2018, Parkside joined shops across the country in a boycott of cycling brands owned by Vista Outdoor, which also owns many gun and ammunition brands. Those cycling brands are some of the biggest in the industry, so Ben and Jef’s decision to stop stocking their stuff took a lot of courage as small business owners.
“An employee brought this to my attention. I had to do something about it.” Ben went on, “If they think we’re being crazy for that, I don’t really care. We are a proud left-of-center bike shop.”
A few months later they resumed selling those brands with the understanding that they are being acquired by another company without ties to the gun industry.
Parkside left their Cherokee-Park-adjacent location to make way for a big development in early 2018, and they found a new home in NuLu. This neighborhood is one of the fastest-growing areas of the city. It’s attracted a lot of attention. “I think that it’s probably going to be the epicenter of Louisville for the creative community.”
Ben and Jef bought their building, and they share it with great tenants including Sarabande Books, an independent press. With an eye toward leveraging the momentum in the area, they have firmly planted their flag in a key spot.
They’re using this opportunity to launch a new concept in hospitality and tourism: the bed and bike. They have eight Airbnb units on the second floor with a rooftop terrace. Those units have all been renovated and designed to emulate Parkside’s simple, contemporary aesthetic. Guests receive a bike with their rental, as well as suggested routes for cycling tours of the city. Ben and Jef provide them with recommendations for activities and restaurants as well. “And the store is always downstairs, if they have any questions.”
“We’re shaping the narrative of Louisville, visitor by visitor. We have fourteen chances every day to offer someone a great experience in our city. And we love showing it off.”
Louisville is a growing tourist destination. And Ben and Jef are ready to seize the opportunity.
The bed and bike concept has been received more glowingly than anything Ben and Jef have done in their careers so far. They’re not just bringing joy to people’s lives, they’re changing people’s minds. They have a great idea on their hands. Where they take that idea is up to them. But one thing is sure: It’s going to stand out.