The Brake Room
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Adam Tilley was looking for more than just a way to make money through his entrepreneurial endeavour. He had a vision to create a business that was unique, but which also made a positive and constructive impact on the community, something that would bring people together with a common desire to live healthier, more sustainable, responsible and connected lives.
Thus, the idea for what would become The Brake Room was born. A simple description would call it a bike shop with a contiguous coffee shop, but it is so much more. Tilley, a Stirling native, has meticulously thought through a very detailed and progressive view of both aspects of the operation, with the ultimate desire to create a space that a tone and vibe that is inclusive, supportive and innovative.
“We’re really here to lead through action. I feel that there are very few ways to make a significant impact in a community. A positive way I’ve discovered is through the operation of a business. Typically we serve a “conscious consumer”. Someone who can’t be defined by age or region, but by mindset, and ethic. They are motivated beyond common convenience. They are interested to understand supply chain; they want to know where things come from, how they work, and what makes them valuable,” said Tilley.
With a background in the food service industry, as well as a lifelong passion of cycling, he spent a great deal of time deducing a way of bringing both those experiences to bear in a business that was truly special, and something that was heretofore unseen within the City of Belleville and broader Bay of Quinte region.
““I’ve ridden thousands of kilometres within the city and the surrounding area. Through cycling I’ve realized that my perspective is different than the common commuter who is concerned about navigating the grid built for the automobile. I wanted to create a venue, and platform to communicate the sense of freedom, and joy that I glean from being active in our region,” Tilley said, explaining that he knew that simply opening a bike shop would fulfill his goal of encouraging the sort of culture and lifestyle model that he wanted to share with his fellow Bay of Quinte residents and also visitors to the region.
“Bike shops can be challenged to attract frequent customers. I mean… why would you go to a bike shop if you a) don’t have a current interest in cycling or b) aren’t aware of your bike’s malfunction. However, my experience has proven that cafes attract over a hundred patrons per day, which is more conducive to culture creation. It seemed like a good idea to take a high volume, high frequency business model, and meld it with a model that may attract less patrons, but increase transaction costs beyond $50 to $5,000+. I’ve seen this model proven daily since we opened a year and a half ago.”
“The clients who frequent The Brake Room get to know us and they see the general state of joy and happiness we exhibit and when they start to ask what that is. Our energy is due to our lifestyle, which is a healthy, active, and spent within our community.”
The Brake Room is located near the intersection of Dundas Street and Pinnacle Road in Belleville, in what used to be a former Speedy Auto Glass outlet. There is about 3,000 square feet of space with 500 of that being storage, 500 used for the bike shop, 1,000 square feet for retail and sitting area, with the café itself taking up the remaining 1,000 square feet.
Tilley set up the bike shop to be focussed on what the customer truly needs, not simply to move product or generate repair revenue for its own sake.
“Our repair shop is diagnosis based. We use client suggestions as a guideline when processing a repair, but complete a thorough diagnostic before proceeding with any repair work. We’re very solutions based, so a client may ask for a brake adjustment but if the wheel is bent then we’ll need to solve that prior to fulfilling the request. Our process isn’t unique, but it’s different” he explained, adding that for the retail component, again, fitting the needs of each individual client, especially when it comes to purchasing a bike, is crucial, ”
“Every client we work with ends up with a very personalized bike that has been fit to their unique body geometry. We align their dimensions with a bike frame that suits while cross referencing against our clients needs.”
On the café side of the building, an equal attention to detail has prevailed.
“We understand that food isn’t just what goes into your body, it’s about where it came from before it went into your body and also generally what you’re going to do with it once it’s in your body. A lot of what we serve we have managed ourselves, or developed an understanding of how the supply chain is being managed for it. All of our foods are low on the glycemic index, many of them are vegan; any meat we use is ethically sourced and we always try to have low sugar in any of our choices, while not sacrificing flavour,” he said.
“And then our coffee is provided by Pilot Coffee Roasters. It was really a no brainer for us to work with Pilot. They are the type of company that understands their role in the supply chain, so they work directly with the farmers who grow the coffee. They spend part of the year travelling around to each source and really looking at the environment the farmer is growing in. Pilot wants to ensure the quality is the baseline metric right from the grower all the way down to us serving it. So they roast it fresh in Toronto every week and ship us exactly what we need for that week, meaning we only carry coffee that has been roasted with the last few days.”
It took a little while for folks to get hip to the vibe of The Brake Room, but Tilley said he has built a solid clientele of both locals and tourists. But as with any new business, regardless of how interesting, innovative or popular it is, there are challenges to be overcome.
“One of the things that can really burden a small business owner is the amount of administration – just managing the behind the scenes of a business from accounting or marketing to logistics management or operational efficiencies – it can be hard to determine priority when you have a small team. If I can help other small business owners understand anything it’s that current technology is a lever that we need to use if we want to grow. When I talk to a lot of other business owners, some older, some younger, one common thread is that those of us who have the least anxiety are the ones who are leveraging technology to aid our efforts, and outsourcing some processes to other companies. There is an initial impact on margins but also having more freedom to be running our companies the way we want to, allows us to grow!” he said, adding that getting financial assistance from the Trenval Business Development Corporation was a big help in the beginning of The Brake Room.
“It was challenging to discover different ways that I could secure funding. There are many ways and some come at a cost different to others. Fortunately, Trenval is set up to seed some funding to start. They give you a nice long runway that makes it easier to succeed. They even reduce payments for the first few months so you can start generating some revenue and be able to turn that over to manage and grow the business. A bank has a very standardized practice that is in the interest of mitigating risk whereas Trenval is set up for risky, small businesses to have a chance.”
For more information on the goods, services and menu at The Brake Room, visit http://thebrakeroom.com, or in person at 34 Dundas St. E. in Belleville.