Where is a good place to get a start for a rocket scientist?
That was the first step on the path taken by Deerfield High School graduate Brett Soltz. Soltz works for the Department of Defense today as a rocket scientist. Deerfield Cyclery owner Greg Balmes gave Soltz and numerous other local youth their start in the working world.
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“He had very good mechanical skills and he could talk to all types of people,” Balmes said. The seasonal nature of the bicycle business gives Balmes the opportunity to hire students as early as 15 and teach them skills to carry them through life in most occupations.
“It’s what I enjoy most about this, mentoring young people,” Balmes said. “In the summer they’re with me more than they’re with their parents.” Business accelerates in the spring and summer months and the staff grows from Balmes and his two full time employees to as many as 10 high school and college students.
Balmes begins by teaching his new staff members how to give customers the kind of service necessary to enable a small business to survive and thrive in a world where it is becoming harder and harder to do.
“Kids today and texting and on their cell phones all day long,” Balmes said imitating a two thumb text motion. “They don’t look people in the eye. I teach them how to talk to people, to find out what people need.”
Deerfield Cyclery has been in the same location as a bicycle shop since 1957. In 1987, Balmes and his father, Richard Balmes, bought the company and building which then sold Schwinn bicycles exclusively. He was 29 at the time and grew up in the industry learning from his father. “I was this high,” he said holding his hand less than five feet off the ground.
That is when Balmes started learning the skills he considers so important to impart to today’s youth as well as enabling him to successfully compete with larger businesses.
“A bike is a personal thing,” Balmes said. “You have to understand exactly what people want and know how to fit them. Do they want it to go to Whole Foods or for a 40-mile ride? It’s a different bike.” That is also the key skill he wants to pass along to everyone who works there.
Along with the ability to discern the perfect bicycle for each customer, Balmes credits the full service of his shop including mechanical work as another reason small bike stores thrive throughout the North Shore. A third reason is the loyalty of his two manufacturers—Trek and Giant—not selling to large retailers.
Another thing making Balmes happy to come to his shop each day is the continued loyalty of his customers. “People come in here with their children. We fitted (them) as kids,” he said. “We’re into a second generation.”
Balmes also finds the Village a good place to do business. “Deerfield is a hub town on the North Shore and the (government officials) are supportive. They’re good to work with.”