John Tajiri owns Pedego 101 Electric Bikes with his wife Linda Coburn. The Westlake Village shop has been selling and renting Pedego electric bicycles as an independent dealer since 2014. Prior to starting the business, Tajiri, a fourth-generation Japanese American, worked for his family’s martial art supply store for nearly 25 years. He transitioned to bicycle retailing after a trip to Seattle, where the couple fell in love with electric cycling for sightseeing. Now, the shop is expanding to include a service center and showroom as a result of pandemic-era sales.
Question: What inspired you to start your business?Answer: I owned an electric bicycle that I had converted from a regular bike because I was looking for a relatively cheap way to get into green transportation without showing up to work dripping wet. I had been playing with the idea of selling ebikes for a while, but the real motivator for following through was a vacation my wife and I took to Seattle and used a pair of big, fat tire Pedego bikes for sightseeing – the experience was incredible! Do you like being your own boss? Do you ever think about trading it for a steady paycheck?I like stability and think I would be a good fit for a more structured workplace, but I do prefer the freedoms my wife and I enjoy being our own bosses. Even when working for others, most of the jobs I’ve had involved a fair amount of independence and I’ve appreciated it. My wife and I are partners, so we answer to each other, but we like working as a team to shape our destiny together.What’s the best aspect of running your own business?I love being able to work with my wife. I really enjoy our time together. But also, I like being part of a small, mom-and-pop business, where our customers are more than just customers. We’re not just running a store; we’re building a community. Some people who ride ebikes prefer to ride alone but, for many, it’s a social activity. We do group rides out of our store and have even taken group vacations with customers.
And the worst?Up until recently, the worst aspect of running our own business was the time commitment. We didn’t feel we could afford to hire enough staff to take time off. We work six days per week and rarely take a day off. Over the past year, we’ve increased our staff and have tried to delegate some responsibilities. We’re just about at the point where we’ll be comfortable reducing our hours, and even taking a vacation every now and then!What’s the biggest challenge your business has faced? And how did you deal with it?The biggest challenge we’ve faced has been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re fortunate in that our struggle hasn’t been how to keep from closing, but in figuring out how best to grow. The bicycle industry, including ebikes, has been experiencing a boom, but supply hasn’t been able to keep up. Thankfully, our increased revenue has been able to support reducing our inventory, along with the cost of doubling our space to handle the extra business and additional storage.How has the pandemic affected you and your business? When it first hit, we thought we were in big trouble, but the bicycle industry was deemed an essential business, so we only closed for a couple of weeks. With gyms and recreational activities limited, people turned to bicycles, including ebikes, as a safe way to get some exercise and have some fun. Sales and service have been way up.
Has being Asian affected your business? I don’t believe my ethnicity has affected our business in any significant way, especially not when compared to my previous career. For about a quarter century, my parents and I ran ASE Martial Arts Supply in the San Fernando Valley. … As you can imagine, being Asian had a big impact on various aspects of that business.What advice would you give someone who wanted to start their own business?If you’re going to sell something, choose a product that you’re passionate about. Some people can sell anything to anyone. For many of us, we’re better at selling things that we love. The products that we sell the most in our store differs from what sells in other stores. If we’re kind of lukewarm about a product, there’s a good chance it’s going to just sit on our shelves.
– Katherine Tangalakis-Lippert