The Bicycle Product Supplier Association (BPSA) has honored QBP founder and chairman Steve Flagg with its Lifetime Achievement Award, presented at Interbike in Las Vegas. The annual award is given to one person “whose career has greatly contributed to the advancement or promotion of the bicycle industry.”
The factors considered in the award selection process included span and scope of career, lives touched through the individual’s work, awards and honors received, and more. For this year’s award, the BPSA’s small group of board members unanimously agreed on honoring Flagg. They said, “In light of all that he has done for this industry and the legacy he is leaving at QBP, we couldn’t think of a more deserving person than Steve.”
Flagg started out in the industry over 40 years ago. After founding Minneapolis’ first bicycle co-op, he and wife Mary Henrickson created QBP to help independent bike dealers acquire hard-to-find parts and resolve technical problems. In 1981, QBP had just seven customers. Under Flagg’s stewardship, the company is now the largest distributor of bicycle parts and accessories in the industry.
Over the course of three-plus decades, Flagg established himself and his company as an indispensable component of bike shops across the country, and not just because QBP had the bike parts they needed. His motivation to be more than just a distributor came from his past experiences and an open ear for the needs of the dealers he worked with. “I was an independent bike dealer for years,” reflects Flagg. “I believe in bike dealers. I have great respect for them. They are pillars of their communities, and I know the challenges they face.
Many of Flagg’s long tenured employees talk about him with undeniable admiration and take pride in having played a role in executing his multi-faceted vision. Flagg was constantly thinking big picture. Todd Cravens, Director of National Accounts and a Q employee for 22 years said, “While carrying small parts was great as it allowed stores to rebuild Suntour derailleurs for example, Steve coupled it with a customer service staff that was adept technically so that compatibility, fitment, and other advice was just a phone call away.” He adds, “Competition at the time had this skill set in an employee or two, but Steve only hired folks who knew bike tech. It was a value-add, and it removed dealer headaches.”
Besides making technical help readily available, Flagg also knew how much easier shop life would be if the parts and products needed for repairs, builds, special orders, and the sales floor could get to the dealers faster. “We went from shipping an order within the week to within a couple of days to on the same day under constant pressure from Steve,” says Doug Shidell, Business Analyst and, at 33 years with Q, one of Flagg’s earliest employees. Cravens adds, “It was a moonshot to get to same day shipping, but in doing so, he set the bar for the entire industry. Steve wanted to serve dealers at a high level and understood that he had to earn dealers’ trust through consistent and top-level service.”
Flagg also saw the potential in applying emerging technology to his distribution business, as well as how useful it could be in a shop’s daily operations. Shidell said, “Steve has always been an early adopter of technology. Creating an e-commerce site was a high priority.” Cravens feels that Flagg had a great ability to always be looking ahead, often where others were not. “QBP was one of the first bike industry companies to create a B2B website from which dealers could place orders. The entire product assortment was visible with inventory levels and prices in real-time, and it was done long before a lot of stores were computerized. Steve knew that is where we had to go to serve dealers into the future.” Because of Flagg, the days of trying to wrench on bikes with a phone firmly nested between chin and shoulder became a thing of the past.
“In 1981, QBP had just seven customers. Under Flagg’s stewardship, the company is now the largest distributor of bicycle parts and accessories in the industry.”
QBP was rapidly cementing its position as the industry’s distribution leader. But even with thousands of SKUs for dealers to choose from, Flagg saw opportunities to create products that didn’t exist. Jason Boucher, Director of Brands, says, “Steve felt strongly that there would be value in doing our own brands. Product development came about for many of the same reasons the business itself did – to solve technical problems and fill in gaps in product categories. Eventually, brands and brand products became a core part of the business, and now they’re a huge part of our future. From our early endeavor into replacement alloy chainrings, to established and successful brands like Surly and Salsa, to our newest start-up brands like iSSi and Heller, he contributed to the strategy behind them all.”
At the same time that Flagg was busy creating an easy to use, one-stop shop with an ever growing assortment of owned brands, he was also creating a company that would one day be recognized by Outside Magazine as one of the best places in the country to work. Angie von Ruden-Doll, QBP’s HR Director and an employee of 16 years points out that, “Steve really invested in development of employees. There were always internal promotions happening. He hired Lori Richman as the HR/Organizational Development Director with an emphasis on employee training and development. We started our Leadership Institute in 2005 to help employees understand our company philosophy from the top down.” Sixteen years after her hire, Richman still appreciates Flagg’s style. “Steve was visionary in his understanding of leading with and through the core values of the organization. Integrity runs deep in Steve, and he lead by example by making decisions and taking actions that were consistently honest and honorable. And he insisted his staff do the same.”
As QBP’s employee count continued to grow, Flagg’s talented staff was able to handle more of the daily operations, and he was afforded more time to focus on another passion – advocacy. With the creation of QBP’s Advocacy, Community, and Environment (ACE) program, Flagg worked to expand the presence of bicycles in American culture, to empower his employees to do volunteer work, and to develop and participate in environmental initiatives. Von Ruden-Doll points out, “Steve added Gary Sjoquist to the QBP staff in 1998 thus hiring the industry’s first full-time bicycle advocate. The goal back then was to make biking more accessible and therefore create more bicyclists. Eventually, that vision became our mantra ‘Every Butt on a Bike’.” The wins of the Flagg/Sjoquist team are numerous and show no signs of slowing down any time soon.
“Steve understood that if people in the industry worked together, and more places to ride were created, all boats would rise,” says Sjoquist. “I was given the green light to help launch Bikes Belong (now People for Bikes) in the late ’90s.” Steve’s support of Bikes Belong would eventually lead to the creation of the National Bike Summit and BikesPAC, the industry’s national political action committee. Steve also became a board member for IMBA and remains on the Executive Committee of People for Bikes.
“From developing dealer events like Frostbike and SaddleDrive, purchasing SmartEtailing to give shops website and e-commerce service, and launching unique category-building bicycle brands, Flagg and QBP have never slowed down in their search for new ways to serve bicycle dealers.”
In 2004, the Cuyuna County State Recreation Area in northern Minnesota needed help to create a national mountain bike destination in a region where mining, logging, and the paper mill had left. Flagg and QBP provided bridge funding to keep the project alive. Now, 40,000 mountain bikers flock to Cuyuna’s ribbon of trails every year. New area restaurants, bike shops, and lodging have opened as a result. Most recently, Steve and Mary donated $100,000 to support off-road trails near downtown Minneapolis that will feature a four-mile “event trail” to host races by the Minnesota High School Cycling League, as well as a training course for the local Trips for Kids chapter. Additionally, a multi-million dollar building with bike and ski retail, a café, a learning center, rentals, etc., will be built onsite with two skills parks (a Strider-level park as well as an advanced park), and a cyclocross venue.
In 2012, Flagg saw another opportunity with NICA’s high school mountain bike leagues. Sjoquist was asked to develop the Minnesota High School Cycling League, which now in its 5th season will have more than 1,000 high school students on 70 teams racing this year.
Sjoquist is grateful for Steve’s friendship and help. “Over my 18 years at QBP, he has steadfastly supported what I’ve believed needed to be done locally, nationally, and politically, for the best interests of the industry and retailers – often before they knew it. Steve cares about people, about community, about employees, and about our industry.”
QBP currently donates 6% of after-tax profits to bicycle-related charities. Examples of the environment component of ACE can be seen in our Minnesota and Pennsylvania facilities that are built to LEED standards established by the U.S. Green Council. Whenever possible, QBP continues to utilize construction techniques to achieve those standards.
From developing dealer events like Frostbike and SaddleDrive, purchasing SmartEtailing to give shops website and e-commerce service, and launching unique category-building bicycle brands, Flagg and QBP have never slowed down in their search for new ways to serve bicycle dealers. Flagg says, “I’ve built my career on providing dealers with the support, education, and advocacy they deserve. I continue to work every day to further that mission.”
Of course, the complete story of any celebrated company with a history that spans over 35 years cannot be summarized in 1,880 words. There are many, many more novel business practices, industry firsts, meaningful relationships, and lives and communities touched that are part of the QBP chronicle. We encourage you to explore this website to learn more.
From hard to find nuts and bolts to industry-wide initiatives that are strengthening the future of independent retailers, Flagg and QBP have accomplished much. As recognized by BPSA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Flagg’s hard work and meaningful goals are cause for celebration.