Not a household name, sort of on purpose
Despite localized fame and industry notice, EVT flies under the radar with the bike buying public, somewhat by design. While Park Tool is widely recognized and happily sells everything it makes to consumers as well as shops, Flemming prefers to focus on the professional market. With only about 4,000 bike shops in the US, but a potential market of nearly 60 million bike riders, why would EVT intentionally limit its business?
“My tools are for professionals who are more concerned with perfect function than if the powder coating is just so,” explains Flemming. “The machine tools I collect are amazing, but they’re not idiot proof…likewise EVT tools require a certain level of competence and depth of capability that pro mechanics tend to possess but the average consumer may not.”
The average consumer also may not be willing to pay the asking price–given the professional-grade status of EVT tools it should go without saying that they’re expensive. But it’s a get-what-you-pay-for proposition, and with Flemming at the controls, you get quite a bit.
Imported from Portland
EVT makes all their products in a 2,700 square-foot workshop on the north side of Portland. Though they farm out plating, anodizing and powder coating locally, all fabrication, welding, cutting and machining is done in-house. A few sub-assemblies and parts–gauges, hoses for air tools, fasteners and the like–come from elsewhere, but Flemming always selects a US manufacturer.
The one exception is his wheel dishing tool–the Trigger Dishing Gauge–which uses Italian-made Columbus fork blades for its arms. With Ferrari red powder coating and a just-right taper, it seems entirely justified. The rest of the gauge’s parts mix and fabrication–including a hand-wound plunger spring–are an in-house affair.
Flemming says his tools aren’t sexy on purpose but the $462 Trigger Dishing Gauge is a looker. It’s also a fine, precision tool, built for years of service. Photo by Bob Huff.
Other parts and materials come from unlikely sources. The pulleys for the EZ-Lift, for example, are from military surplus stock Flemming has squirreled away. He’s also inclined to repurposing “found ingredients” when he prototypes new designs.
Raising the roof on service and expectations
A recurring tenet of the Flemming canon is elevating the bicycle and its servicing to a truly professional level. It drives both drives his designs and represents what he sees as the biggest opportunity for bike shops in an ever more competitive retail marketplace.
“The next fortune in the bike business will be made in the service department,” proclaims Flemming. “But we need to change the perception of what that is and put it on the same level of quality automobile and motorcycle repair and service. A professional service organization needs to have the confidence to ask a fair price and deliver on it.”
Flemming preaches the gospel of tools to onlookers at Interbike earlier this year. His talents are also in high demand from the bike industry, bike shops and the bike riding public. Photo by Don Palermini.
The theory is working out well for Bike Gallery–service accounts for annual revenue in the high six-figure range, and helps the shops acquire and retain customers along the way.
“Whether it’s a high-end client, or someone on a junk bike with polybags of stuff tied to the top tube, it’s my job to deliver a certain percentage of improvement to their cycling experience,” says Flemming. “That’s the attitude I insist upon from our employees and one that endears our customer whether they’re on a bike to race, to ride to work, or just to get through the day.”
Aicher, who worked for 16 years at Bike Gallery before becoming an owner, sees customer service as a big part of the equation as well.
“When we bought Bike Gallery in December it wasn’t just a transaction,” he explained. “Jay and his father built this business on customer service and it’s something I believe in and Brett really exemplifies. It’s part of who we are and why customers are loyal to us.”
Flemming’s hands literally touch every aspect of his business from design to delivery. Photo by Bob Huff.
It seems someone with Flemming’s combination of acumen, enthusiasm and expertise could cash in substantially. But the model for doing so–cost reducing product, overseas production, and wider distribution–isn’t one that sits well with his values and measures of success.
“I’m a hardcore American manufacturing enthusiast, and I’m happy to support some families here. If someone looked at the numbers in my business, they might say ‘Hey, this is a dumb way to go about it,’” he says. “But the way I gauge my wealth is when I write payroll checks and when I think of the families they support, and how making things here has a positive impact on the community. I’m proud of that…very proud.”
Continue reading for Five Maintenance Tips From EVT’s Brett Flemming and full photo gallery.