Fixing mountain biking parts such as forks, shocks and seat posts wasn’t what William Angle had planned on as a career. But he ended up using his hobby to fill an open spot in the Midwest market.
Angle owns Trail Labs LLC, a niche company that handles service, tuning and sales strictly for mountain bike suspensions.
“I learned how to service these, take them apart and rebuild them when I was living in the U.K., just in my free time,” he says. “I was curious. I was riding mountain bikes a lot.”
Prior to opening Trail Labs, Angle served in the Army for 10 years, including a stint overseas. Then, in between semesters at college, Angle trained at Georgia-based Fox Factory, which designs and develops high-performance shock absorbers and racing suspension products. He also worked at an independent shop, where he learned the trade on other brands, such as Ohlins and RockShox.
“I had no expectations of having a business at that point,” Angle says.
Angle says he and his wife, Christina, moved to Springfield in 2015, to be near family.
“That’s when I started thinking, ‘I bet there isn’t anyone around the area that does this,’” he says.
Angle’s research told him there wasn’t another business similar to his idea within 500 miles of Springfield.
From there, he purchased a 2,200-square-foot building on Commercial Street for around $50,000. The next year was spent gutting the building and customizing it with hired contractors. Angle also was known to pick up the hammer to create just the right space.
For now, Trail Labs will operate out of the C-Street building, as Angle says a lot of money still has had to be fueled into marketing the company. He says revenue for Trail Labs in 2018 was about $70,000. However, he says as profits and the customer base expands, he expects the company will grow out of the space.
When he was ready to market Trail Labs, Angle started going to races, mailing informational brochures and meeting with local bike shop owners in Missouri, Arkansas and Texas to educate the need for servicing shocks and forks.
“There’s a learning curve with the U.S. in general, knowing that you need to service these,” he says. “I saw there would be some issues with trying to get customers, because they don’t know.”
To mitigate additional hurdles, Angle has focused on a tight turnaround on service jobs. He created an online schedule, where customers can pick a service date and mail or drop off their fork, shock or seat post.
Service can be an intricate process, Angle says, noting it may involve cleaning and lubrication, replacing dust seals or lubricating foam rings. He works in the shop with one other employee, Tim England. Usually, the two service four items a day but can sometimes get through more.
Angle says when buying new, seat posts can cost $250-$300, front forks run $900-$2,000 and rear shocks range $200-$1,000.
Angle says Trail Labs typically services forks or shocks that have been on the market for the past 10 years, but he also can order parts for older bikes. When replacing interior parts of forks or shocks, Angle often can order kits with multiple new parts for one suspension, but sometimes he has to order individual items, such as single springs or O-rings. He says Trail Labs’ parts inventory runs about 3,000 line items deep.
In addition, he has specialized tools, such as vacuum pumps imported from Italy, and over $40,000 of servicing tools.
Riding the trend
One customer is the Mojo Cycling shop in Bentonville, Arkansas. Owner Dave Neal says the company uses Trail Labs to handle the suspension needs of his customers because of because Angle’s knowledge base and experience.
“His services gel very well with the kind of stuff we’re doing,” Neal says, noting the proximity to Springfield doesn’t hurt, either.
Neal says trail and mountain bike riding has become a popular hobby in northwest Arkansas, and it is critical for bikers to keep their suspension forks and shocks maintained. The two companies have worked together since Trail Labs opened, and Neal says Mojo sends four to seven suspension parts to Trail Labs for service each month. Normal maintenance jobs run $100-$150, Neal says, and rebuilds on shocks can cost $150-$150, while severely damaged forks fetch up to $500 to fix.
“Just like suspension on your car or motorcycle, your suspension is what moderates your contact with the ground,” he says. “If the suspension is not performing properly, at the least it can hinder your performance and at the most it can cause a wreck.”
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