A local bicycle storage company is working to expand its reach across the country.
ALPEN Storage Inc., which recently opened a warehouse in Ruckersville, has raised $1.5 million from private investors, led by the Felton Group, the family office of local hedge fund manager Jaffray Woodriff.
The company, founded by Eric Pearson, plans to use the funds to market its ALPEN Bike Capsule to the commercial and multi-family real estate markets.
Pearson, an avid cyclist, came up with the concept for the capsule when he was living in a small townhouse in San Francisco and commuting to work on his bike.
“I started searching around looking for something suitable, and I was really surprised that it didn’t exist,” he said. “You could get either an industrial-looking steel or plastic box, like you might see at a transit station somewhere. But they were not only expensive, but just really ugly and kind of impractical for home use.”
He wanted to be able to use outdoor space, but also have a lockable solution that kept bikes dry.
“I literally just started sketching it on cocktail napkins, kind of thinking about what this should look like, what does it need to do functionally, with security and weather protection being the two main components,” Pearson said.
He came up with a semicircle-shaped container made of LLDPE plastic measuring about 2.5 feet wide, nearly 4.5 feet tall and about 6.5 feet long. The door rotates on ball bearings, and as it rotates back, it mimics the form of the base of the unit.
After selling to cyclists for personal use, the company began to shift its focus to the real estate industry. Pearson has a background in commercial real estate development, and he started talking to his contacts in the industry about bike storage. He said bike theft is a big problem at large city apartment buildings.
“What they’re finding is that people with fancy bikes — the $5,000 carbon bike, or the expensive [electric] bike — they’re not comfortable leaving those in the bike cage, so they’re actually bringing those up to their apartment unit,” he said.
Pearson said the focus of marketing efforts on the multi-family housing sector has been successful. The company typically installs the capsules in a parking garage, where they are bolted to the concrete floor slabs. Apartment complex owners then rent them to their residents for a monthly fee.
“The residents are loving them, the owners love them because they’re generating cash flow for the building. And it’s also a marketable amenity that their tenants are asking for, so it’s kind of a win-win,” Pearson said.
As demand for bikes has increased across the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic, so too has bike theft in major cities. The New York Times reported a 27% increase in bike thefts in the Big Apple compared with last year, while TV stations in Boston and Denver also have reported increased thefts in those cities.
Capsules are either already installed or on the books to be installed in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Toronto, Dallas, Houston and San Francisco, Pearson said.
The capsules soon will be available in downtown Charlottesville. Woodriff’s Center of Developing Entrepreneurs building on the Downtown Mall will place ALPEN Bike Capsules in the garage for tenant bike parking.
“ALPEN has created an innovative technology with excellent aesthetic design that capitalizes on the current micromobility movement in the U.S.,” Woodriff said in a news release.