Interview with Wanya Cave and Jerry Jacobs
by Taylor Kuyk-White
Through my day job with the Bicycle Coalition Youth Cycling (BCYC) program, I’ve worked closely with VeloJawn founders and owners Wanya Cave and Jerry Jacobs. Their dedication to Philadelphia’s cycling community, especially as expressed through their coaching the BCYC race team, is unparalleled. With an underlying motivation to forge job opportunities for BCYC youth and alum, and a core value of community coming to life as the BCYC race team uses the shop as its home base, Wanya and Jerry’s move to establish a bike shop in Philadelphia can be seen as an act of service.
It has been an absolute thrill to watch Wanya, Jerry, and the VeloJawn team go- in under a year- from hatching the idea of opening a shop to opening the doors of the hands-down most beautiful bike shop I’ve ever seen. Being able to join them for the ride through a sponsorship of the Philly Bike Expo Women’s Team – is the cherry on top. Here is their incredible story!
TKW: Wanya, tell us about yourself!
WC: I turned 25 at the Pottstown Bike Race! I grew up in various neighborhoods in Philadelphia: West Philly, Olney, North Philly, Southwest Philly. I discovered my passion for cycling at an early age. I started at Neighborhood Bike Works (across the street from our shop) by fixing and building bikes and learning how to be a mechanic. That led to mechanic’s position at some of the best shops in the area and working with some of the best people in the business.
I have dedicated myself to learning as much as I can and becoming the best mechanic that I can be. That means getting the best certifications and also staying as up-to-date as possible with online training modules.
TKW: What is your vision for the shop in 5 or even 10 years?
JJ: We want to be in the business for a long time and to build a world-class, but community- oriented shop. That begins with operating our existing, beautiful space in the best way that we can by making a lot of customers happy with great service and customized advice. We do have plans to expand our service and product offerings and also our physical space in the future. However, we want to do a great job with what we have first.
We believe that our customers and the marketplace will direct us as to how and when to expand. It is all about listening carefully to what our customers want, and what makes them happy. We are open and flexible. We will try a lot of things out, such as coaching offerings, group rides, demo days and other ways to connect with our customers and to provide value.
TKW: How did VeloJawn got started?
JJ: Wanya and I were traveling to a bike race in March 2018, as we had become good friends through our coaching together of the BCYC Youth Elite Race Team. He mentioned that he had “always dreamed of opening a bike shop”. I suggested that I might have the capital if we could come up with a sound business plan. We did a lot of research in the months that followed, about what the shop would be and how we would position ourselves.
We bought a great building in September, after a few months of not finding attractive space to lease. That actually turned into a blessing, as we were able to do a complete demolition and rebuild of the space the way we wanted it. We decided to go “all in” on the buildout, as we expect to be here for a long time and to be successful.
TKW: Tell us about the shop!
JJ: We start with our three pillars: advice, service and community.
Advice. We strive to be consultative and unbiased. That includes helping the customer find the very best product or service at the best price for their particular goals and budget. We do not “upsell” (sell a more expensive product when a more reasonably-priced product will meet customer needs).
Service. We provide fast turnarounds and top-tier service by top-tier, highly-trained mechanics. We help customers get the best value by explaining everything we do, and even how they can save money by doing a few things themselves in maintaining their jawn. That is why our mechanics area is in the middle of the shop whereby our customers can see what is going on and interact with our mechanics.
Community. We are deeply involved in our community. We are the official Race Team Headquarters, Coaches and sag support for the Bicycle Coalition Youth Cycling Team (BCYC). We stage at our shop for rides so that our athletes are ready to ride and that their equipment is properly maintained. We also support professional women’s racing by sponsoring the Philly Bike Expo Team. That includes financial support and providing world class equipment (Wilier Pro Bikes) so that our pros can focus on winning races and being the best that they can be.
We believe this positioning and focus is very different from a traditional bike shop that is seeking to sell what is on the floor and not necessarily what is best for the customer.
TKW: Now that you’ve overcome your biggest hurdles in getting the shop open, whats next?
JJ: In the near term, we are really focused on making customers happy and promoting our unique brand. It’s all about basic blocking and tackling. That is, getting customers to come in and see our beautiful shop and experience top-quality service and unbiased advice.
We are offering some fantastic deals such as a 50% off service special for first-time customers and promotional pricing on world-class bikes. We are highly confident that customers will like us once they experience what we can offer.
TKW: From the concrete-pour service counter to the reclaimed wood, the space is incredibly artistic! What inspired the interior design?
JJ: We are very fortunate to be deeply involved with the Philadelphia cycling community and to have a lot of talented friends. The contractors, led by Brian Kelh (Kelh Design), are all cyclists. They were able to take our concept of a welcoming, cool, open space and make it a reality.
Everyone is blown away with how beautiful and comfortable our space is when they first come in. We really achieved our design goals of making it beautiful, artistic but also a comfortable place where our customers, youth athletes and friends love to hang out. Even though we have recently opened, our shop is bursting with energy and activity every day.
TKW: What is the shop’s relationship to the Bicycle Coalition Youth Cycling Program?
JJ: We are deeply involved with the BCYC Youth Program in many ways. First, we are dedicated coaches and life mentors for our athletes. Wanya Cave is the Head Coach and I’m the Head Masters Coach of the Race Team. Many other shop employees also assist in coaching duties. Secondly, we stage at our shop for team rides. That allows our amazing athletes to focus on training and racing. We want to take away the hurdles as they are properly hydrated, fed and have maintained equipment so we are ready to train. Finally, we provide a large amount of financial support for the race program and scholarship fund.
TKW: Why did VeloJawn choose to partner with the Philly Bike Expo?
JJ: We also wanted to support local professional racing. That goal became reality as we had an opportunity to sponsor and support the professional women’s team from the Philadelphia Bike Expo. We met the Wilier brand representatives at the Expo. That resulted in a great partnership whereby we could sell their amazing lineup of bikes in the shop, and also provide some of the best equipment in the world to lead riders, you (Taylor Kuyk-White) and Samantha Fox. You’re winning races on your beautiful and super fast Wilier Cento Pro 10’s, and also getting a lot of attention. We could not be happier with the partnership.