By Alyssa Schoeneman, AEL Intern
If Illini 4000 is a bit out of your league, but you still want to participate in a local cycling event, call up Illinois Mechanical Engineering Alumnus Rob Layton.
Layton founded Bicycle Illinois, the only cycling event across the state, in 2003.
“Back in 2003 I was working as a production engineer at a position from which I really did not receive any amount of personal satisfaction,” he said. “I was looking for a bit of a career change.”
So how did cycling come into the mix?
“In 1998 I bicycled across the country and I have been an avid cyclist ever since,” Layton explained. “At the time I was looking for a bike ride across Illinois; unlike other neighboring states, Illinois did not have one. I recognized the opportunities to apply my intimate knowledge of the needs of cyclists and athletes and to get into a new business venture, so I decided to start my company.”
Layton did not need a lot of outside help to get the company started; his own cycling knowledge and experience, in addition to his education, allowed him to effectively project his future participants’ needs.
“As an engineer, I was trained to break down a problem into its component parts and to modify those individual components to achieve the outcome desired,” Layton said. “It is the same thing in running a bicycle trip – we need to consider and have control over everything that somebody would need to safely and enjoyably complete their cycling journey. These things include lodging, food, medical support, mechanical support, navigation, safety, etc.”
Layton and his three part-time coworkers look at the aforementioned components individually and then design their system to meet their customers’ needs in the best way possible; the team combines all of these different considerations to design the trip as a whole
But running Bicycle Illinois is not as easy as Layton may make it sound.
“The most difficult thing about running a small business is having to get things done with limited resources, especially in terms of manpower and finances,” he said. “I need to think of ways to either permanently fix problems as they come up or to manage around them.”
Being the sole employee of a company, Layton explained, requires him to be very creative in breaking down problems into their component parts.
“I can’t just throw money at problems to get things fixed,” he said.
Layton has learned many lessons as a business owner.
“If you start a business you absolutely have to love what you are doing,” he said. “There will be many, many times when you will essentially be working for free; your love of what you are doing has to carry you through these times.”
But it is not all tough times at Bicycle Illinois; Layton manages to have some fun along the way, too.
“By far, the most fun part of running cycling events is when I see my participants reach the finish line and know that I was able to help them achieve significant personal athletic goals,” he said.
Layton advises students to do what they love and to channel their passions into independent businesses.
“Your customers will sense [your passion] and will know that you truly care about their needs…even if you make some mistakes along the way,” he said.
Layton and his team are fresh off of their largest annual event, Bicycle Illinois, with new ideas for the future.
“We saw low participation numbers at this event due to the economy, but our customer satisfaction ratings were extremely high,” Layton said. “I want to use this positive momentum in our sales and marketing efforts to increase participation in next year’s events.”
If you want to get involved in an event or to learn more about Bicycle Illinois, visit Layton’s website at http://www.bicycleillinois.com/.