Merrill Hayes, owner of Rogue Valley Cycle Sport in Ashland and Medford. - Denise Baratta

Home Grown: Love of bicycles turns into a career

Editor's note: This is one in a weekly series of profiles on locally owned and operated businesses in Southern Oregon.

What do you do and how long have you been doing it?

We sell and fix bikes and sell accessories. The Ashland shop has been here 29 years. I've only owned it for 28. The Medford shop has been there since 1994.

How long have you lived in the Rogue Valley?

I moved here from West Los Angeles in 1979 and bought the business from Mike Altabet, who started the business.

What inspired you to go into this line of work?

I've been in love with bikes since I got my first one. I worked in a bike shop as a kid, went on college, then into the service and Vietnam. I went to law school in at Loyola in Los Angeles and after being a lawyer decided the big city wasn't for me. I came home from work one day and opened Bicycling magazine and found a "For Sale" ad about a bicycle shop in Ashland. The value of my house had gone up in Los Angeles and that was my ticket out.

What decision or action would you change if you could do it again?

In hindsight, I probably wouldn't have done it. Who would think you could buy a little tiny shop and think you could make a living at it? I don't know where my brain was. I had a wife and three kids. But I was able to do it real clean because I bought a house and a business for what I got out of my house in Los Angeles. I don't know that I would have had the courage to do it again.

What's the toughest business decision you've made?

Whether to open the Medford shop. When I bought the shop we had a line of hand-built frames called Trek. They were built out of barn in Wisconsin and I was one of the few Northwest dealers. As they got bigger and bigger they didn't have anyone in Medford. I didn't want to do it; somebody else did and they didn't do well. I opened in the South Gateway shopping center in 1994. I didn't do well there, but two of my sons were working for me by then and talked me into moving to the present location. When we did that, it seemed to help.

Who are your competitors?

Sims was the big guy in town for years and they went away this last winter. Marty's & Moore and Al's in Medford. Siskiyou Cyclery, Ashland Street Bikes and Bear Creek Cycles in Ashland. It comes and goes. When I came, I was one of three bicycle shops here and there's never been less than a couple. In Ashland, a couple years ago there were like six bike shops. It depends on how many people think they can become millionaires selling bicycles.

What are your goals?

Succession is one thing. My son, Alex, manages the Medford shop and I would like to pass it on to him. What to do about growth is the other thing; figuring out how is the main thing. With Sims closing down, we've had quite a bit more business. You can extend yourself all you want and you may have gone too far. You can stay little and not serve people's needs, so it's good to be somewhere in the middle. Early on, I was invited by a guy who sold tools to do a school. In 1980, we took over United Bicycle Institute, teaching bike mechanics around the country and world what to do in a bike shop. I sold it to my manager, Ron Sutphin, in 1985.

What training or education did you need?

The law degree gives a little bit of assurance to make sure you're not blundering into something. Education is fine, but the best thing is learning to deal with people. The nice thing is that Mike stayed with me for more than a year after he sold the shop. When you have a school, as we did, you've got to learn what you're teaching real fast.

What's your advice for budding entrepreneurs?

Do your planning very carefully and very thoroughly. I see so many people doing what I did. So many people pick a business because they like it and think they have a niche they can put a business into, but they don't research it to see if they can put a business into it.

To suggest an idea for this column, contact reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail

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