Photos by Aaron Davidson
Many local bike businesses are as friendly to beer as breweries are to bikes. That’s certainly the case at Quality Bicycle Products, or QBP as it is more commonly known. Their headquarters in Bloomington, Minnesota, boasts multiple beer fridges scattered around the office and kegs are frequently purchased for company events. But an affinity for beer isn’t what makes QBP exceptional. Since it was founded in 1981, QBP has grown into one of the largest bicycle parts distributors in the world, all while earning a reputation as one of the best places to work in Minnesota.
Before diving into what makes QBP such an interesting and appealing workplace, it’s important to understand what, exactly, they do. At the core of QBP is distribution. The company distributes over 40,000 bike-related items to around 5,000 dealers around the world, most of which are “independent, specialty retailers,” rather than chain sporting goods stores or online retailers, according to Scott Haraldson, QBP’s sales and service training coordinator. “These are the people that I like to say have put down roots in their community,” he says. “They’re the ones that are putting in time to build new mountain bike trails. They’re the ones that are getting involved in their community boards and sponsoring group rides at their bike shop. Those are the people that we are specifically looking to partner with.”
This focus on partnering with independent bicycle shops is significant to QBP’s business philosophy. “I want to sell to someone that’s also going to be able to offer customer service,” Haraldson says. “We’re looking for people who make sure they stand behind the product, too. We really want to make sure we’re supporting community jobs. That’s why the only people that we sell to are those accounts that sell to that style of bike shop.”
In addition to its Minnesota headquarters, QBP operates distribution centers in Pennsylvania and Utah, with another center scheduled to open in Reno, Nevada, this December. As a result, QBP is able to service bike shops in most metro areas within one day. The Minnesota location consists of two separate distribution areas: one for parts, soft goods, and smaller items; the other for bicycles and larger items. According to Channel Coordinator Mike Roering, sales velocity determines the contents of each distribution center as well as the items’ placement within the warehouse. For example, the most common sizes of a popular bike shoe will be close to the conveyors, while less popular sizes will be farther away. The inventory regularly gets rearranged for maximum efficiency, Roering says.
In addition to distribution, QBP headquarters includes a shop that builds 80,000 wheels a year, a team that assembles close to 10,000 bikes annually, and a department that repairs suspension forks and hydraulic disc brakes—“things that the average dealer can’t have all the small parts for,” Roering says. “We provide a service where we can repair those things for them. We’ll rebuild it, turn it around in a day, and ship it back to them.”
All these departments would be more than enough for most companies, but it’s only a piece of the QBP puzzle. In 1998, the company began crafting its own bikes with the creation of the Surly Bike brand. Since then, QBP’s brands have grown to include Salsa, All-City, 45NRTH, iSSi, Mechanical Threads, and many more. “We started making our own stuff in-house because we couldn’t get it from a lot of our vendors,” Roering says. “We’d ask them to make a winter cycling boot and they’d say they couldn’t sell that. So, we made our own. And it turns out we can sell lots of it.”
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