5 Bicycle-Based Business Ideas for Corvallis: Green Ideas for a Bike-Friendly City

Dan Crall (left, standing) and John Knight (right, driver). Photo by Genevieve Weber

As we approach the year’s end, many of us full of ideas—yet even more of us fed up with our current work situation—I want to plant this seed: Corvallis is ready for an explosion of bicycle-based industries. There are numerous opportunities to create viable, useful services and jobs here, centered on the use of a bicycle. You may wonder, “If the following ideas are so great, why doesn’t the author pursue them himself?” The truth is that I have enough on my plate. I started Corvallis Pedicab in March of 2009, and remain busy with this venture and several others. I’ve found my niche. However, I am the sharing type, and five ideas for new businesses buzz in my head like a persistent housefly. I want to share these ideas with serious people like you who believe in the bicycle, who want to create value and experience fulfillment in your work, be your own boss, and use appropriate transportation as the backbone of your business.

Starting a business can be a daunting task. There is a lot of paperwork, licensing, insurance, startup costs, possible overhead, and the inevitable elephant in the room: likely failure. At least half of all new businesses are destined to fail due to mismanagement, poor planning, bad location, crappy or non-existent website, improper startup capital, etc. Don’t be discouraged early on in the process; nothing comes easily, not even in a 9-to-5 job where you’re always on the potential chopping block—forces larger than you loom like a dark cloud, and are often beyond your control. So why not take a little more control of your destiny?

If I had the time and energy, I would work toward creating the following bicycle-based industries in Corvallis—maybe this will be your cue to get your own business going. Any of these ideas will require dedication, a capital investment, possible licensing and insurance, working with the city, marketing the business, an expertise of some sort, lots of creativity, and probably some headaches. Nothing comes easily, especially in today’s economy. How fulfilling though, to build your own enterprise, create your own economy, and to do so without destroying the planet. Bicycles are a viable, sustainable, and cost-effective vehicle for the multitude of opportunities that lie ahead; let’s enjoy the ride!

1. Bicycle Delivery Service

With all the restaurants, nearby farms, small businesses, and even individual Corvallis residents looking for green feathers to add to their caps, a reliable bicycle delivery/courier service could change the face of our current congestion. If this type of work can grow to significantly serve the community as a staple business, I see this as the most potentially valuable bicycle-based business pursuit—the “next big thing,” if you will.

While a lot of products sold by the merchants of Corvallis travel a long way, what about the products that don’t have to travel beyond our borders to reach their market? What about small business folk who could use a daily courier run to the post office or elsewhere? Such a service could provide trips to the grocery store for people who can’t leave their homes, or run regular errands for a busy downtown or campus client. Or perhaps a hip, organic restaurant wants the bragging rights that come with employing bike delivery. A reliable service that may become Corvallis’ and OSU’s official bike delivery service could be the next face of eco-success in this city famous for its bike friendliness.

2. Bicycle Coffee Cart

Let’s face it. Corvallisites, like most Pacific Northwesters, have a drinking problem—we consume epic amounts of coffee. While the current laws don’t accommodate a mobile beer bike (a surefire hit on OSU football game days which I’ve personally looked into), another addiction that holds much of our population in its grip could be catered to in the form of a bicycle-based coffee-mobile.

Picture this: a bike-powered contraption rolls up, the rich, mouth-watering smell of fresh ground coffee beans permeating the air. The driver smiles at the crowd and starts pedaling in place, powering the visibly displayed coffee grinder. The cyclist brews fresh pots of regular, espresso, and maybe decaf, offering a discount for those who have their own cup. This business becomes a caffeinated mainstay in Corvallis and around OSU, known for its novelty and damn good coffee. Depending on food licensing and other logistics, various baked goods could be offered to complement the coffee and supplement income.

There will always be a demand for coffee in this area. Why not keep the overhead low, the business theme interesting, and the bicycle love flowing with a bike-powered coffee cart?

3. Bike-Powered Laundry Service

Whether you have your own washer and dryer at home, or you collect quarters for the machines at the laundromat, people need laundry service! Consider the thousands of students here without the time to do their own laundry, and without Mommy and Daddy to wash their spaghetti- and who-knows-what-else-stained garments. Students could be your main clientele and target demographic, though others in town may have a need as well.

Yes, handling someone else’s dirty knickers and socks isn’t necessarily the life of Riley (just who is “Riley” anyway?), but it serves a purpose, and can potentially earn you your keep. You could use your own washer and dryer at home, or simply head to a laundromat to accomplish the task. There are bike trailers that can carry stacked hampers, baskets, boxes, and other incarnations of people’s laundry, not to mention plenty of flat, convenient bike lanes, paths, and streets in Corvallis to make this easy for you to haul. You could offer non-allergenic and Earth-friendly detergents to a demographic that is receptive to such things. People have money and need this stuff done, folks! You wouldn’t have to spend a dime on gas, either.

4. Bicycle-Based Food Cart

A few years ago, a group of students on the OSU Campus used to set up in front of Bexell Hall with a bike trailer and a small sign. On board the bike trailer was delectable organic food in compostable containers, served with compostable utensils. Quinoa salad, pad thai, and other satisfying dishes were offered for a brief time around the lunch hour; they always sold out in less than two hours.

Why? There is a high volume of people on campus, the price (around $3) was affordable, and it was a solid, good quality lunch. The low environmental impact mixed with a quality product was what caught my attention and made me a regular customer. Our city has a current limitation on food carts, and I would recommend a bit of research before tackling this one, but just think of the myriad possibilities! If you served consistently good, healthy organic food in compostable containers, showed up in high-volume areas, used as many local ingredients as possible, and gained a reputation city-wide for serving an excellent product, this could be a spectacular hit of a business and an integral part of Corvallis’ food scene. There will always be a demand for food, working legs can always pedal, and people in this town value high-quality organic and local options… A bike-based food cart is an extremely worthwhile venture to consider.

5. Mobile Pet Grooming and Bathing Service

There is no shortage of pets in Corvallis. I recently asked a woman in an old van equipped as a mobile grooming service what her rates were: “Honey, I’m booked until the middle of winter. I see over 300 dogs regularly,” was her response. Digest that. Combine this knowledge with numerous pet owners wanting to bathe their pets on a regular basis, a general—albeit understandable—laziness of pet owners to bathe their pets themselves, and bingo! You have a large demographic already. Now, consider those who would appreciate the fact that you’re on a bike, come to their house with supplies in tow, and do a thorough job with eco-friendly products to keep Fluffy clean enough to sleep in Junior’s bed without spreading parasites. With enough targeted marketing to a desired demographic, this could be great work for the right person.

Of course, none of these ideas are guaranteed. Not everyone can effectively run a business or market these services to the people who need them. Still, the fact remains that in today’s world, there is plenty of work out there, but not many jobs. The economy has changed. There is the potential to do what you’ve always dreamed of, even if it’s not in your current line of work (or lack thereof). There could be work in your future that you never planned on doing, but is surprisingly fulfilling. And hey, if that work serves a real need, then why not?

We’re increasingly becoming a service-based society, love it or not. Adapt or don’t. It never hurts to humble oneself and try out the service-based economy, as opposed to a product-based industry, a dead-end job—or just desperately looking for work that pays more than $10 an hour. An amazing amount of fulfillment can be achieved in the simplest of tasks. When you find your niche in some part of the local economy that does not require the use of fossil fuels, is sustainable and useful, and allows you the freedom of being your own boss, there is a real peace that comes with that.

Be diverse. Take a chance. Let each day be an adventure, and let your passions and imagination create your own pedal-powered industry. Right now, here in Corvallis, Oregon, what do you have to lose?

by Dan Crall

Do you have a story for The Advocate? Email editor@corvallisadvocate.com