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Makin’ It Work: The Brake Room

A man in a grey hoodie standing in front of a wall of tools.

Over the past four years, The Brake Room has fostered a customer base interested not only in cycling and coffee, but community.

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This interview is part of a series chatting with local business owners, artists, organizers and people in our community who are learning to adapt during COVID-19. It has been transcribed (with edits for length and clarity) from our Instagram Live interview.

Adam Tilley – The Brake Room

What is work looking like for you right now?

It’s been a crazy eight weeks. We’ve gone through interesting waves. It started with a lot of uncertainty; the first couple of weeks, we didn’t know which if the plans I had for this year are going to work, and which I should just forget about. But after those first couple weeks, the world settled a bit and people got settled into their houses, cleaning out their garages… and then the bikes started coming in. It’s been very, very busy for the whole eight weeks. So, we’re really grateful for that because it’s not that way for everybody.

It makes sense. The weather has been beautiful, and it’s a perfect time to go outside. Biking is a great way for people to get some sunshine, get some fresh air, while also social distancing.

Exactly. We’re still figuring out the best ways to ride while still keeping everybody safe.

What does it look like at the shop right now? Are people making appointments? If people are interested in getting a new bike, how does that work?

We have locked the doors so that we can kind of control the flow. We’ve shut down the cafe because it just makes it safer, and it means we don’t accidentally end up with too many people showing up at the same time. We’ll figure out how that works soon, how that can come back, but working by appointment has really helped our business. It makes it so that we have the right amount of our team for the right amount of customers coming in. And honestly, people have been really flexible — I think everyone’s grateful to have something they can go out and do. For sales it’s nice, because I get to talk to one client at a time. I get to spend a little more time getting to know people. When it comes to outfitting a bike for somebody, I just feel like the more I know about your life, the more your bike will represent that.

What type of support have you seen from the community?

Since we started selling our coffee beans online, it did not take very long for people’s caffeine habits to kick in! We had a great time delivering beans, and tossing people a bag as they come for their curbside pickup. In general, lots of people are just checking in with us, they want to see how we’re doing. A lot of people want to come back for the social part, the community that we’ve formed around the shop. I think a lot of people are missing their little coffee clubs that they had; I hope we can find a way to bring that back while still keeping things safe.

What is something positive that’s come from this situation, despite the difficulties you’ve been facing?

As a small business that is still new — we’re four years old now — there are a lot of things we wanted to do during the typical, pre-COVID life that were really hard to prioritize, they were always getting pushed to the bottom of the list. Some of those things have risen right to the top because the world is different right now. We don’t have a hundred people coming to our door; I have a hundred people calling, texting and Facebook messaging. I think those were the systems that were going to help us growing in the first place. Now we’ve prioritized them, and we’re using them to grow. After COVID, the new relationships that we’ve formed with all these customers are still going to be there. Now is a great time to focus on the digital tools that help us build relationships.

Do you see any of these changes being permanent parts of your business moving forward?

Yes, definitely. I think all of them will continue to be iterated and improved upon. At first you just use the systems you’ve got and improve as you go. I think once we get our e-commerce store launched, it will be a lot easier for people to see which merchandise we have — that’s a good example of something that will carry forward. Right now we are in the process of modifying our app so that we can have curbside pickup for coffee. Once we get that launched it will help us for the next little while, but we’ll definitely carry that on after COVID.

Awesome! That all sounds very promising.

Yeah, there are a few things that just kept getting pushed to the bottom, and we’re like, ‘Okay, now it’s our goal, let’s do this.’

I think that’s been the situation for a lot of businesses. It’s forced them to pivot and go, ‘Okay, now we have to do it!’ People are making do and putting things into action.

It’s been really nice. We’ve been really blessed with a lot of really good luck. But I hope that as this continues we’ll be able to share some of the systems that worked for us, and I look forward to seeing what other businesses have done that has worked, that changes the way that they grow.

On that note, is there any advice or sentiment that you’d like to share with other business owners in the community?

It’s hard to offer advice — the things that are working for me could just be good luck. But at the same time, the intensity through COVID has been high, just in terms of dealing with so many different types of people. I think if anything, it’s what has worked for us is continuing to relate to people and focus on that community-building aspect of our business. Revenue is down, and there are a lot of things that aren’t going to work for a business during a virus. But, having the customers that care about you around, and nurturing those relationships is paramount for us.

I think that the relationship aspect is something that’s come to the forefront for a lot of businesses. With all of the digital tools, I think we’re getting a lot more of an honest and intimate insight into what it’s like as a business owner.

Absolutely. I’m trying to get better at telling that story as well. It has been more challenging because I’m doing less of my social, creative Instagram story-type creations and spending way more time just personally messaging with people. It’s great, but I’m going to find a way to do both.


Stay tuned as we share more local folks who are Makin’ It Work, and check out our weekly interviews (of the same name) on Instagram Live every Friday.

Bay of Quinte Region is an alliance of interdependent communities, bound together by a common history, shared economy, and the water that surrounds and defines us. We hope to welcome you soon.

© 2018 Bay of Quinte Region | © TripAdvisor 2016

Bay of Quinte Region is an alliance of interdependent communities, bound together by a common history, shared economy, and the water that surrounds and defines us. We hope to welcome you soon.