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Bikes and coffee now trending for Cruikshanks
Photo: Kirsten and Dan Cruikshank are set to prove that bikes and coffee shops are a natural combination. “We want it to be a fun place to hang out, with bike services and healthy food and treats,” Kirsten said. Photo submitted.
A unique experience. That is what entrepreneur Dan Cruikshank is planning to give customers who visit his new place of business. If Cruikshank’s track record is any indicator, they will get a great deal more in terms of quality products. Co-founder of Granite Gear – a maker of outdoor gear that now sells in more than 500 retail outlets, online and in 15 countries – his last business turned into a world leader.
Scheduled to break ground in July, Cruikshank is finally announcing his next venture after selling his shares in Granite Gear a year ago. With new construction on a 6.5-acre parcel of land in Two Harbors, a three-part business is about to take shape. Bike shop, coffee shop, and bike bag manufacturer is the clearest description he can offer, all of which begin to make sense when he talks about his passions.
Granite Gear was purchased by an investment group specializing in the outdoor and luggage industry. Illinois-based Brzz Gear, LLC says it will take the outdoor gear manufacturer to the next level as a new division. Manufacturing and design of Granite Gear will take place in Two Harbors with co-founder Jeff Knight acting as managing director and Cruikshank continuing in the role of brand ambassador.
He ended his formal employment contract with Granite Gear this last January, but for now is staying on as a part-time, at-will employee. His role, besides his historical knowledge of a business he built with Knight from the basement up, is to deal with media appointments, trade shows and continuing the transition process.
Some things have changed since 1986, when the two 23-year-olds had a hundred bucks between them. But some things never seem to change, like Cruikshank’s desire to try something new and innovative, and to work on his own ideas.
Now he is opening a retail operation and manufacturing facility just around the corner from Granite Gear. Having three businesses under one roof will create what Cruikshank calls a synergistic effect.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I loved bikes,” he said. “There’s something about riding that gives you a certain kind of freedom and makes all your worries go away.”
With a good trail system in Two Harbors and another trail under construction that will connect the two sides of town, Cruikshank sees the area as ready for his enterprise. His wife and business partner Kirsten Cruikshank sees this as an ideal location for creating a hub of access to the local trail system.
“With 26 parking spots planned, this could be a trail center where people could leave their cars, get something to eat and connect with the trails,” she said.
What do bikes have in common with coffee? Cruikshank believes they go hand-in-hand, at least in some crowds.
“I think every American is in love with coffee now, and coffee goes with the bike culture,” he said, noting there are upwards of 400 bike-coffee shops already operating nationally. Cruikshank is working with Duluth Coffee Company’s Eric Faust to develop the coffee shop, relying on his expertise to learn the trade and set up. “A lot of things have to come together to make a great latte – the beans, the roast, the water, the milk. All those things have to be right,” Cruikshank said. Making it a family-oriented business is a priority with Kirsten, who added “We want it to be a fun place to hang out, with bike services and healthy food and treats.”
With bicycle bags carved out of his non-compete contract with Brrz, Cruikshank is free to design any type that does not convert to a messenger bag or backpack. He will be a full-line Granite Gear retailer in his shop, as well.
“I’m going to take my passion for building ultra light and aerodynamic bags into bike bags,” he said. They will be named Cedaero. Looking for a brand name that was unique and distinct, Cruikshank said he intends to build another international brand, combining his location in the middle of a cedar forest and bags that are aerodynamic.
Each bike bag has to be custom made to fit within the frame of a particular model, something that Cruikshank anticipates being able to do very efficiently with the technology and experience he has. Using a computer-controlled cutting machine will allow him to quickly make exactly what the customer wants. He intends to employ eight full-time workers within three years.
Councilors for the city of Two Harbors are calling Cruikshank’s new enterprise a significant project, coming together after three months of negotiating a development agreement. The site location, on the outer fringes of the northern side of town, will require a commitment by the city for the extension of utility services.
At a city council meeting in June, resolutions were passed to accept the development proposal, along with a $267,000 grant agreement from the IRRRB that would pay for the utility extension work. The city plans to initiate work in late July and continue through October.
“This is a very nice project to have worked on,”said Mayor Randy Bolen. “This has long been a piece of property the city has wanted developed, and this is a tremendous opportunity to retain this individual in our community.”
While the piece of land is a challenging property with wetland issues, Councilor Cathy Erickson sees the match as a great fit. “This is an example of finding the right people for the right piece of property.” Erickson commented that in meetings with Dan and Kirsten Cruikshank they seemed excited about the property and what it holds in terms of wetlands and woods.
When asked how his ideas of outdoors adventuring, environmentalism and business go together, Cruikshank cites the book “Let My People Go Surfing” as an influence on his entrepreneurial development. A memoir by Yvon Chouinard, founder of the rugged clothing and gear company Patagonia, the book is an inspiration to any business that wants to make a profit while being employee and earth-friendly.
“Sustainable practices go along with bicycling,” Kirsten said. “We want to be good stewards of that land.”
The property is owned by Cruikshank’s Cedar Development LLC and, beginning in 2015, the operating company will be held under the general benefit corporation (GBC) of SpokeNGear, Inc. A GBC is a newly defined legal entity that Cruikshank said will allow his company increased flexibility in the use of profits beyond shareholder dividends, and with the potential to invest in social and environmental projects.
“It’s a real privilege to be an entrepreneur in America. I feel obligated to give something back,” he said.
The couple believes that giving back to their community is part of their mission, something that’s not only good for business, but also part of being socially responsible.
“Obviously it’s profits and good, sound business practices first, but what you do with the rest of your time and money is what really counts.”
Recognizing that the bike season is temporary in Two Harbors, he plans to shore up his business by keeping it open year round, to amp up production of bike bags to build up stock, and grow his Internet presence.
“I’m going to embrace the Internet and social media as part of the business,” Cruikshank said, targeting the growing number of bike commuters in larger urban areas and providing all the accessories they need.
The North Shore is a place that draws a fair amount of cyclists already, and Cruikshank says those numbers are increasing. Bike-packing is a new phenomenon that has visitors driving to the woods, unloading their off-road bikes to take camping. Others are attracted to the region for bike touring trips, and they go about it in all the various ways that campers have been approaching the North Shore for generations: day trips, overnights and long extended tours.
Yet another kind of bike phenom starting to catch on, gravel grinders are gravel road races like the Lutsen 99er that drew 1,000 riders this year. The Heck of the North is a 100-mile gravel road race in its fourth year that is scheduled to start and end at the new Castle Danger Brewery in Two Harbors this year. That race is expected to draw about 400 participants. Cruikshank says the point of this kind of race is kinsmanship for most cyclists. He says it’s more about being out there on bikes, doing something fun with like-minded people. Fat bikes are even more all-terrain with their four- to five-inch-wide tires that can handle snow-packed trails and loose sand.
Construction for the SpokeNGear facility and cafe is scheduled to begin by the end of July by Tim Anderson Construction of Knife River. Focusing on energy efficiency, the facility will be super insulated, with high efficiency heating and lighting, and a rain garden to handle their roof water runoff. With the site plan placing the building mid-parcel, Cruikshank likes the idea of his first customers late this fall driving in through the trees to find a modern building in the middle of the cedar forest, calling it “a unique experience.”Previous BusinessNorth Exclusives Articles:
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