Wheeling and Dealing: 'TV Lenny' Mattioli still peddling
From the pages of In Business magazine.
The man behind Crazy Lenny’s E-Bikes is a familiar icon in Madison retail history, and at the age of 72, Lenny Mattioli shows few signs of slowing down. The founder of American TV & Appliance, which decades ago ran promotions offering free bikes with store purchases, is now peddling electric bikes.
There are similarities, he says, to the early days of the now defunct American TV, when the store was located on Atwood Avenue in Madison. “Look,” he laughs, pointing to an old photo hanging in his current store. “It kinda looks the same. We had a TV in the window, and now we have a bike in the window.” The store sizes are similar, and both locations even have chinks in the sidewalks outside, he jokes.
Mattioli, together with former business partner Harvey Schakowsky, opened the shop in March 2013, and thus far more than 1,000 electric bikes have been sold. In the height of the biking season, up to 10 employees are there to help customers.
E-bikes are much heavier than standard bikes, with an average weight of about 42 pounds. “You’re paying for a battery, a controller, and a motor,” he says. Prices range from $490 to $6,000, but the average cost is about $980. “One of my frustrations with the bike industry is that they keep making new products in out-of-sight price points — $3,000, $4,000, and up. That’s not the market for this product. Bikes are a recreational, fun product. [Suppliers are] putting the emphasis too much on the hobbyists, the guy who wants to go really fast, or up a mountain, or get airborne.”
By contrast, Mattioli just wants to make a daily commute more enjoyable, or a trip around Lake Monona or to Mount Horeb a real possibility, less the sweat and overexertion.
“It reminds me of retailing a microwave oven back in 1968,” Mattioli says of the electric bike. “We lived so long without it, so why would we need it? On the other hand, [microwaves] offer so many advantages to our lifestyle now.” With an aging population that is bent on keeping active, he believes he’s onto something big.
The Odana Road store is jammed with 76 bikes representing 40 model types, and customers are encouraged to take the bikes for a spin on a bike path just behind the store. “Many people think they can come in, look around, and make a decision,” Mattioli says, “But until you ride the bike, you really don’t know.”
The business has shipped bikes all across the country, to California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida in particular, but for now, plans to open a second store in a warmer climate are on hold. There is talk of moving to a larger location in Fitchburg, however.
But wherever the bikes are sent, Mattioli says the challenge is to “sell an outside product in a culture where being outside isn’t really popular.” People often seem too concerned with “getting too cold, or too hot, or being in the rain, or getting sunburned, getting athlete’s foot, a bug in their eye, their hair messed up …”
His message to them: Lighten up! “You have no downside risk. I won’t take your driver’s license, your credit card, your DNA. But I do want you to be happy with your bike.”
Still selling after all these years …
Crazy Lenny’s E-Bikes
6107 Odana Road, Madison, WI 53719
(608) 276-5921 | crazylennysebikes.com
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