Passion has always driven Nicole Johnson. From her dogged determination to be an entrepreneur to boasting 50-70% year-over-year growth at her company Boyd Cycling, she never slows down.
This post is part of Designli’s “Entrepreneurial Insights” series – where we profile South Carolina’s most successful entrepreneurs, discuss topics that are critical to business-building, and pass those insights to today’s founders and business leaders.
In her early twenties, Nicole used to attend local entrepreneurial mentoring groups, despite not having an idea for a company. She had desire and determination and only needed the right idea to channel it into. So when her husband Boyd retired from pro-cycling in the late 2000s and considered starting a custom bike wheel manufacturing company in their hometown of Greenville, SC, Nicole saw her opportunity.
“I always had drive and energy. So when Boyd came to me with his idea, I knew this was my shot,” Nicole said. She gave ample notice at her job as a Retail Channel Manager with Hincapie Sports and began fulfilling her entrepreneurial dream. “Leaving the stability of a regular job with a regular paycheck pushed me out of my comfort zone, but I was excited.”
Motivated by their combined passion for cycling, the Johnsons never questioned why they started a business in the competitive and niche market of bike manufacturing. They only questioned how they were going to do it.
Their answer was by bootstrapping their company. “When you first start, no bank will talk to you,” Nicole recollects. “We saved all that we could, knowing we’d have to fund this ourselves.” In these early stages of establishing Boyd Cycling’s operation, the Johnsons only ever accepted one $50,000 loan granted from a local entrepreneurial initiative. Nicole describes signing that loan (which was worth half of the value of their home at the time) as the “sweatiest” decision she’s ever made. But following advice from a friend, she chose to view that debt as something to motivate her, not something to fear.
“When you don’t have anything to fall back on from an investor standpoint, you really focus on the resources you have at hand. So that’s something we’ve been good at managing,” Nicole states. It was the Johnson’s cash flow management prowess that motivated them to change their business from being a full bike manufacturer to the custom bike wheels manufacturer it is today.
“We noticed that full bike manufacturing was taking up a lot of our cash,” Nicole says. After about 2 years of operating, Nicole and Boyd decided to do what was best for their bottom line and cut out everything in their inventory except wheelsets, which sold quickly. “It was truly a turning point for the company,” she reflects.
Nicole and Boyd were cash flow conscious in all areas of their business, not just their product line. They consistently rented the cheapest warehouses, even if it meant going without air conditioning and heat. Their office desks have remained the same ones they first bought back in 2009. “Something we learned early on is to run lean and put every penny back into the business,” Nicole recounts.
Although effective cash flow management has played a key role in Boyd Cycling’s continued growth, much of the company’s success can be attributed to the complementary nature of Boyd and Nicole’s relationship. “We are a true partnership. We both bring unique things to the company,” Nicole says. The Johnsons understand how to balance each other’s strengths. Boyd is the visionary — creating product solutions for customer needs — and manages supply chain and logistics. Nicole contributes skills as the driving force behind Boyd Cycling’s business development, sales strategy, and scalability.
The knowledge base of the Johnsons, their smart cash flow management, and their unique omnichannel business model have allowed them to offer what Nicole describes as “marriage saving prices” for their high-end custom wheelsets. Regardless of if you access their products from direct-to-consumer, an independent bicycle dealer, distributors, or OEM, you’ll find the same quality and consistency behind the brand.
The result is a business that thrives year over year. Boyd Cycling has even been awarded the “Export Excellence Award” from the Department of Commerce and SC Governor twice. Now, with the freedom granted by Boyd Cycling’s reliable growth and stability, Nicole has started pursuing other ways to enhance the Greenville cycling community.
Currently, she is in the process of registering a non-profit called Mom’s in Motion, which will build a free practice cycle track, called a pump track, in the city. “The concept is to provide a safe place for kids with their parents to learn and practice cycling skills,” she says. With any free time she has left, Nicole makes herself available to other female entrepreneurs, sharing her experience and knowledge to help them achieve their business dreams.
Nicole Johnson’s focus and passion infiltrate everything she does. The only time she coasts is when cycling downhill on her weekly ride. So even after 12 years, it’s clear the team behind Boyd Cycling has no plans of slowing down.
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