Anyone who meets Sébastien Bertrand immediately recognizes that this is someone who lives and breathes bicycles. Hardly surprising given that as far back as he can remember he has been surrounded by these engines. “As a child, I used to crawl around the bicycle shop built by my grandfather in the 1960s in the Hull sector. Deep down, I always knew that this business would be part of my future,” reports the entrepreneur. “Every course I ever took was chosen with this goal in mind.”
Sébastien Bertrand is now the third generation of Bertrands to own a bicycle shop in Gatineau. The store on rue Wellington, in the Hull sector, specializes in selling high-end bicycles, and is well known for the quality of its maintenance and repair services.
“At Cyclo sportif G.M. Bertrand, cycling is promoted as a healthy living option. It is a form of transportation that has many advantages from the environmental and health points of view, and it’s pretty cheap.”
The first shop on rue Wellington opened a few doors down from the business’ current location. The very first family shop, however, was built by Rodolphe Bertrand in 1962 on rue Eddy. His sons, Michel and Gilles, Sébastien’s father and uncle, respectively, started in the business in 1965.
At the time, the business sold everything from tennis rackets to hunting rifles, along with fishing equipment. In the 1970s, the Bertrands decided to focus on cycling.
Over the years, the father and his two sons specialized in assembling custom made bikes The Bertrand bikes were tremendously successful in the 1970s and 1980s in Canada and the United States. Their reputation spread even farther when they formed a team of cyclists, each of whom, of course, rode a Bertrand bike.
In 1997, after a disagreement with their father, Michel and Gilles started up their own bike business on rue Wellington. That was when Sébastien appeared on the scene, fresh out of high school. For eight years, he worked as a salesman while studying human resources, management and marketing.
In 2005, Michel and Gilles asked Sébastien and two long-time colleagues, Yan Théorêt and Jean-Jacques Vantongelen, to take over the business. They decided to form a partnership and became co-owners of Cyclo sportif G.M. Bertrand.
In the process of transferring the business to the new generation, the entrepreneurs received advice from the Gatineau firm Humaprise. “They stayed with us for quite a while, helping with the transfer of knowledge. They also got us ready to integrate new technologies into the business,” explains Mr. Bertrand.
Développement économique – CLD Gatineau gave the new entrepreneurs a $30,000 subsidy, which enabled them to finance the acquisition of Cyclo sportif G.M. Bertrand.
The three co-owners, true cycling purists, are now getting ready to invest in the development of cycling as a means of transportation in Gatineau and Ottawa. “We live in a region that is ideal for promoting cycling, particularly since the bike trails run along the lanes reserved for the Rapibus project,” explains Sébastien Bertrand. “There are a number of investment projects in the works for new bike paths in the region.”
For the future, Sébastien Bertrand is toying with the idea of reviving the professional cycling team on which Cyclo sportif G.M. Bertrand built its reputation. These racers certainly made excellent ambassadors for cycling in the Outaouais.
What made you decide to start up this business?
I always knew that I wanted to take over the family business, particularly since cycling is becoming more and more popular. Being in business gives me the opportunity to take on personal challenges and to avoid getting into a rut. As an entrepreneur, I am always having to make decisions and show creativity. At the end of the day, my efforts are rewarded.
The shop has been in Gatineau for years, and the location, next to office towers in the Hull sector, is ideal. As well, there is a lot of development in this sector of Gatineau, which will stimulate economic activity. Because of its proximity, we also get a lot of clients from Ottawa and other parts of Ontario.
In your opinion, what advantages does Gatineau have over Ottawa?
Gatineau has an excellent network of bike paths, and the Aylmer and Hull sectors are very well connected to Ottawa. Also, what with the presence of Gatineau Park, local residents are particularly spoiled. This is an ideal place to grow a business like ours.
What are the advantages of working for yourself?
Working for myself makes it possible to carry out projects, to take the initiative and to make decisions without being slowed down by a boss who does not approve of my choices.
What surprised you the most about the business world?
In the beginning, the costs related to advertising, salaries and fees can be a little intimidating. Businesses are also approached a lot to support various causes. One of the first challenges is learning to manage expenses.
To what do you attribute your business success?
We have always used the same formula, which is quality service and respect for and attention to the client. We never take anyone for granted. We have noticed that women are often neglected in bike shops. We decided to be particularly attentive to their needs.
What were your toughest challenges, and how did you overcome them?
Our business is constantly facing threats, either from big box stores, economic crises or a drop in the loonie. In a business like ours, sales fall every year between December and February. Each time, we manage to make it through. I think that’s because we work on maintaining our position as a high range bike shop that offers exceptionally good service.
What does it take to succeed in business today?
You have to be fast. This means you have to be able to respond quickly to the demands of people who walk into the shop, and to respond quickly to e-mails. Very often, people have already done their homework on the Internet and they come with some very specific questions. So you have to be well informed. Employees have to understand that they reflect the image of the business. So they have to live up to the business’ philosophy.
What advice would you give someone who is thinking of starting up a business?
Above all, prepare a good business plan so you can determine whether the project is viable over the long term. As well, when it comes to relations with the clients, suppliers and staff, you must always be human, open and flexible.
How did Développement économique – CLD Gatineau contribute?
DE – CLDG gave us a $30,000 subsidy, which helped us finance the purchase of the business.