When Glacier Cyclery opened in downtown Whitefish 32 years ago, owners Ron and Jan Brunk sold so few bicycles that the couple can still remember who bought what model, and in some cases even the color, because each sale was so memorable.
“Whitefish was the quintessential small town,” Ron Brunk said. “We used to be able to toss the Frisbee on Central Avenue and not dodge traffic.”
As Whitefish grew up around the tiny bike shop, the sport of cycling came of age, too, and through its own evolutions Glacier Cyclery has burgeoned into a fixture of the community and a model of small business success.
The core of Glacier Cyclery’s business tenets haven’t changed much, though, and the Brunks still cater to the local cyclists who supported them from the beginning – some of whom are now buying bikes for their own children.
As a small shop in a community they love, the Brunks never set out looking for glitz and glamor. Nevertheless, a little luster is always welcome.
Recently, Glacier Cyclery received an auspicious nod from the National Bicycle Dealers Association, joining a short list of businesses named among America’s best bike shops.
Out of the more than 4,000 bike shops in the United States, only 170 were awarded the prestigious honor, which, unlike other industry bike shop awards, is not garnered based on high-volume orders with bicycle companies.
The rating was based on a strict set of criteria over six separate categories, as well as feedback from a mystery caller, a mystery shopper and an in-store visit.
Glacier Cyclery scored perfect marks in the categories of marketing excellence, community involvement, local and national advocacy, and knowledgeable staff.
The shops were asked to fill out a detailed application describing what sets them apart from the average store. Mystery shoppers then evaluated the business in more detail by visiting the store, reviewing their website, and contacting the shop by phone to assess the performance from a consumer’s perspective.
“We are quite proud of this acknowledgement and would like to take this opportunity to not only pledge to continue to keep up the good work, but to thank you, our customers, for making us continue to want to provide the best possible service we can,” Ron Brunk said after receiving the honor.
Only one other bike shop in Montana received the acknowledgement.
“In our industry it’s a pretty cool award and we’re really proud of it,” Jan Brunk said. “Our customers come from throughout the valley and they are the people who make us continue to want to provide the best possible service we can. We have longtime employees who are wonderful, so really they get the award, but Glacier Cyclery got the designation.”
During the application process, stories came in from all over the country of shops that donate bicycles to children, work to find safe routes to schools, build bike trails and organize free rides to get people outside and help them maintain a healthy lifestyle.
At Glacier Cyclery, the staff of bike mechanics is closely involved with the Flathead Fat Tires, a club that works to preserve and develop mountain biking activities in the Flathead Valley. Ron Brunk has served as a representative on the city’s Bicycle-Pedestrian committee, and helped divine the plans for the first paved paths in Whitefish, sketching the trails on a bar napkin at Great Northern Bar with a clutch of other locals.
“By virtue of being around as long as we have, we’ve done quite a bit of advocacy in the community,” he said.
Further testimony of the shop’s distinguishing characteristics is the staying power of the staff.
Bike mechanic Michael Meador has been with Glacier Cyclery for 16 years, raising a young family in a community he’s passionate about serving and living. Having worked in six bike shops prior to moving to Whitefish, Meador said the secret behind Glacier’s success is simple.
“Everybody here loves bikes, and they’re good folks,” he said.
Bike mechanic Kyle Watkins said the recognition from the National Bicycle Dealers Association was affirming because it rated the shop based on merit, rather than in a popularity contest.
“It meant something because we actually worked for it,” Watkins.
The recipients of the title are rated not only for the shopping experience, but also for community support and bicycle advocacy, both locally and nationally.
“We’re pretty blessed to have such an experienced staff,” Ron Brunk said.
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