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Bike rental businesses give customers—who are often, but not necessarily, tourists—bicycles for a short period. Bikes are generally rented for a few hours to recreationally explore the locality. But the customer base might also consist of college students on campus or others who rent for practical reasons. Your business might be a freestanding shop, part of a bike sales and service operation or associated with a hotel or other hospitality business.
Who is this business right for?
Bike rental business owners should be mechanically adept, since customers can be hard on bikes. Also, since bikes are often rented to explore the immediate area, you should be highly familiar with your home base and able to suggest tourist attractions. You should have an engaging personality and be motivated to deliver exceptional customer service.
You must also be based in an environment where your customers will want to rent bikes. This usually means a tourist venue and an inviting landscape for bikers—not too hilly or congested. The terrain should be bike-friendly, with wide streets or bike lanes, or bike paths, for the safety and enjoyment of your customers.
What happens during a typical day at a bike rental business?
Most of your days’ activities will involve customer contact. You’ll rent them bikes and close transactions upon bike returns. Here’s how your typical day might break down:
- Rent bikes for customers or groups, after first making sure the vehicles are in good operating condition. Make customers sign liability waivers and get cash deposits and credit card information to ensure bike returns. Answer questions about location and destination attractions, and try to upsell water bottles, maps, t-shirts, power bars or other displayed merchandise.
- Prep bikes mechanically, making minor repairs for rental availability.
- Schedule staff, which might include at least one bike mechanic.
- Inspect bikes upon return and determine whether customers should be billed for damages.
- Regularly update your social media, with destination photos and news.
What is the target market?
Your customers are likely to be vacationers who appreciate an active lifestyle. They’re likely unfamiliar with the region, eager to be involved with your establishment and very receptive to your advice on sights to see or avoid. You should also be receptive to their after-ride reviews, as these often offer helpful feedback, including what attractions you may want to add to your list of recommended sites.
How does a bike rental business make money?
You’ll rent bikes on an hourly or flat fee basis, or a combination of both. Some bike rental establishments also sell merchandise related to biking or area tourism (mugs, water bottles, t-shirts, etc.) You might also consider selling your fleet bikes when they’ve been replaced by newer models.
What is the growth potential for a bike rental business?
The bare essentials of a bike rental business are a station to store and repair bikes and conduct business, a small fleet of bikes, and seasonal employees at or near minimum wage. You could hire one mechanic to service bikes at multiple locations, or assume the responsibility yourself if you’re so inclined. Therefore, expansion is relatively easy once you’ve figured out how to successfully run one location.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful bike rental business?
Bikes are relatively expensive and your customers can be hard on them, so mechanical skills and/or the ability to hire at least one full-time mechanic are important. An out-of-service bike isn’t earning money and can lead to customer loss if you don’t have enough functional rides available.
You should also be able to promote your business creatively (and inexpensively), and have keen instincts for developing good customer relationships (since their online reviews can make or break your business).
What are the costs involved in opening a bike rental business?
At the high end, this bike rental manager mentions $175,000 in startup costs for the company with which he’s involved. (It’s also an interesting web article regarding the day-to-day challenges of such an operation.)
Fortunately, this kind of business can be started with a much more modest investment. Let’s imagine a shop with 20 bikes.
- Fleet costs and related gear – If the 20 bike were purchased for $250 each, your startup fleet costs $5,000. This is at the low end of new bike costs, and keep in mind that quality and durability are important because they’re liable to take a beating. You can get one idea of costs by visiting this fleet-sales website. You might also spend another $1,000-$2,000 or more on such related gear as helmets and bike locks.
- Repairs – This is highly variable, but you could spend $5,000 a year or more on tools, parts and replacement bikes. On a related note, make sure you establish a relationship with a bike product distributor so you always have access to replacement parts and quick delivery. None of your bikes should be sidelined for more than two days.
- Staff – This cost can range from your own income expectations if you have no employees to several staffers at a popular venue or more than one. Make sure you at least have one bike mechanic unless you can do the job yourself. Figure at least $18 in pay and withholdings for each hour you’ll need covered.
- Related merchandise – What else can you upsell your customers?
- Rent – This can range from nothing if you’re given space at a hotel for the accommodation of their guests, to prevailing commercial rents. Make sure to rent the smallest amount of space you’ll need for bike storage, display of related merchandise (if any) and customer transactions.
- Liability insurance – Check rates in your area. Although you’ll make your customers sign waivers releasing you from responsibility for accidents, that’s not likely to be effective protection if the condition of the bike is the cause of accident.
- Professional services – You should consult a lawyer, at least for drawing up your customer waiver, and accountant for startup costs. In addition, you might want to consult a graphic designer and web developer for logos, signage and website creation. These costs could be at least $1,000.
What are the steps to start a bike rental business?
Once you're ready to start your bike rental business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your bike rental business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your bike rental business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Recommended: Fizzle.co offers video courses and a supportive online community of like-minded entrepreneurs. Try one month membership for free.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a bike rental business?
Develop mutually beneficial relationships with hotels or other hospitality facilities. Your business is a valuable source to such organizations since they’re in the business of offering entertainment options to their guests. Your relationship with a nearby hotel can range from handing out your flyers to guests to providing a rent-free station for you to base your business.
How to promote & market a bike rental business
You should have a website and presence on social media since many of your customers will be young and Internet-savvy, and vacationers usually go online to explore things to do at a destination. Regularly update your Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts and consider authoring a blog updated regularly with information about area attractions, restaurants and historical insight.
And finally, run off flyers and post them at area hotels, restaurants, coffee houses and other places where your prospective customers congregate.
Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.
How to keep customers coming back
Review sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor will be your best friends—or worst enemies. You and your team must provide exceptional customer service, which goes well beyond merely taking their money and providing bikes. Suggest destinations and serve as an engaging host to garner great reviews.
Your staff, perhaps minimum wage part-time employees at seasonal jobs, might not have the same attitude as you about customer relations, so stay involved. Hire personable people, provide training and oversee their customer contact. In short, make sure that you and your people provide a memorable customer experience.
How and when to build a team
Your most valuable employee will be your bike mechanic. Other than that, your staff will likely consist of part-time seasonal employees who can be hired at or near minimum wage as needed.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a bike rental shop. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
In addition, certain local licensing or regulatory requirements may apply. For more information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
It is advisable to provide customers with informed consent agreements to decrease legal liability and encourage transparency. More information on informed consent agreements can be found here.
Certificate of Occupancy
A bike rental shop is run out of a storefront. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a bike rental shop.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your bike rental shop will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
How much can you charge customers?
Rental rates will vary depending on location and seasonality, but can typically start at $8 or $9 an hour. Since it’s in your economic interest for each bike to be on rental as much as possible, consider rate discounting for daypart or all-day (or even all weekend) rentals.
Consult this website to see what competitors are charging (and even to see whether it’s in your economic interest to start such a business in a given location).
What are the ongoing expenses for a bike rental business?
Fleet costs will likely be your major ongoing expense. This includes the need to replace bikes and make major and minor repairs. Employee costs can add up too, so make sure that you schedule a large enough staff to meet needs, but not so many that you are over-staffed.
How much profit can a bike rental business make?
Your profitability is related to many factors, from the length of your season (if your climate is mild, your operation might run year-round, while elsewhere it might be a three-month season at most), to other services provided. In other words, if your rental operation is part of a bicycle sales and service operation, you’ll likely have a longer season than if it’s a standalone rental site.
How can you make your business more profitable?
If your area is particularly interesting to sightseers, consider offering guided bike tours for a flat fee.
You might also provide bike sales and repair services from your same shop. After all, if you have the skills or personnel to service your own repairs, it would be very little additional effort to provide the same services for bike owners.
Also, take advantage of the fact that your customers have an interest in the area surrounding your business. Consider displaying in your shop souvenirs that celebrate your neighborhood or region, such as postcards, t-shirts, mugs, bumper stickers, keychains and related paraphernalia.
And finally, you might be able to make additional use of your fleet, such as for restaurant takeout deliveries.