The Pro’s Closet in Louisville is like a Willy Wonka factory for bikes

The folks who run The Pro’s Closet bike refurbishment factory in Louisville simply call their online operation the world’s largest retailer of pre-owned bikes, and they say their new walk-in retail store is the Denver area’s largest bike shop. Yet the sheer scale of the operation, which buys and sells bikes to consumers throughout North America, is hard to grasp from the outside.

The physical plant is the size of two and a half football fields, so immense that employees use scooters to get from one end of the factory floor to the other. Massive five-tier steel racks stack bikes in boxes waiting for purchase because, depending on the time of year, TPC refurbishes 50 to 150 high-end bikes per day, assembly-line style.

Myles Gaines tests a refurbished bicycle at The Pro’s Closet in Louisville, Colorado on Wednesday, April 26, 2023. TPC buys used bicycles shipped to them from around the country and refurbishes bikes for online sale. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

“We think there’s nowhere else on the planet where you can shop hundreds of brands and thousands of unique SKUs, serving a rider from extra small to double XL, at a myriad of price points,” said general manager Paul Calandrella. “About 80% of our total revenue comes through bikes that we purchase, mostly from individual consumers who submit two photos and a little bit of detail, who receive a cash or trade offer from us, and ship their bike in.”

TPC’s inventory includes road bikes, mountain bikes, gravel bikes, triathlon bikes and e-bikes. In the refurbishment process, TPC conducts a 140-point inspection and performs repairs if necessary in an effort to make the bike as good as new.

“You could have the same buy-and-sell experience from an end-user who has listed their bike on Craig’s List,” Calandrella said. “But can you guarantee it’s not carbon-damaged? Can you return it in 30 days and make sure any defect is addressed? Can you sell it back to them? No. All of those are a yes at TPC.”

The Pro’s Closet was founded in 2006 by Nick Martin, a pro mountain biker who began selling used cycling gear which he posted on eBay using a borrowed computer while living in a Volkswagen van.

“We were given all this free sponsored gear every year, and at the end of the year, in order to pay our bills or pursue our dream of racing fulltime, you would have to sell that,” Martin said. “I wasn’t getting a salary, but I was getting all this equipment. I started selling my own things, and that snowballed into selling things for my teammates. Before we knew it, we had pretty much every professional team on the circuit — I was selling their excess gear at the end of the year, too.

“That’s why the name was The Pro’s Closet. It was literally all the things from the pro’s garages and closets,” he said.

TPC soon became the largest cycling store on eBay. In 2017, TPC received its first round of venture capital investment to build its own e-commerce platform, and other outside investments followed to further expand the business.  Martin stepped down as CEO in 2020, but he remains active in the company.

TPC previously operated from a 24,000-square-foot warehouse in Boulder and a 30,000-square-foot warehouse in Longmont. In 2021, the operation was consolidated at the current 137,000-square-foot location, which previously was the North American headquarters for a Swedish outdoor wear brand. The retail shop there is new this year.

“It’s outpaced my expectations for the past 15 years,” Martin said. “It’s grown way beyond anything I could have imagined, and I still feel like we’re just getting started.”

After bikes are removed from their shipping boxes, they go to an area with six bike-wash bays while the boxes and packaging material they came in are recycled. Technicians spend about 20 minutes washing each bike.

Alan Zalewa washes a pre-owned mountain bike at one of six bike cleaning stations at The Pro’s Closet in Louisville, the beginning of TPC’s detailed refurbishing process. TPC buys high-end pre-owned bicycles shipped to them from around the country and refurbishes them for online sale. (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)

“They get a wonderful warm-water bath,” Calandrella said. “We clean the drive train, so we can put eyes on the quality of the drive train. Cleaning makes for good inspection. An inspector will make sure (whether there is) anything missing to make it perfectly functional, or if it needs repairing. That will help us queue it for the refurbishment work.”

One of the inspection points for carbon-fiber bikes involves testing to make sure there isn’t any unseen structural damage.

“We don’t turn away bikes because they are carbon-damaged,” Calandrella said. “We work with a company in Boulder called Broken Carbon to repair bikes back to fully functioning. They remove the external paint and finish, get down to the structural damage, re-wrap the carbon and bring it back up to fully rideable standards.

“The alternative is, that frame gets parted out and goes in a landfill. We’d rather put it back into use under someone who may be fine with the fact that it’s been repaired. They’re going to get good value for the bike for that reason.”

Furthering the sustainability ethic, TPC kept nearly 110 tons of waste out of landfills in 2022 by recycling used shipping boxes and packaging material.

General manager Paul Calandrella checks a refurbished road bike at the photo studio at The Pro’s Closet in Louisville. Photos are immediately uploaded along with the bike’s specs and posted online for sale. (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)

After a bike is refurbished and ready for sale, it moves to a photography bay where it is put on a turntable for photographing at multiple angles. Photos are uploaded into a computer nearby, along with the bike’s specs, and the bike gets listed on TPC’s website for sale.

The average selling price of TPC bikes is $3,500 to $4,000, Calandrella said, versus the $6,000 to $8,000 those bikes cost when they were sold new.

“When bikes are, in some cases, becoming prohibitively expensive at $8,000, $9,000 and $12,000, wait 18 months and you can probably come here and get that $12,000 bike for $9,000, or that $8,000 bike for $5,000,” Calandrella said.

Now TPC is expanding its services to support walk-in retail sales and offer bike maintenance service.

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“You don’t have to have purchased a bike from us,” Calandrella said. “If you are a rider who needs help with your bike, bring it to our door, we’re here to help. We should be able to use our refurbishment operation to guarantee 24-hour turnaround on mechanic service. It’s simply a matter of us merging customer bikes with those we’ve purchased and moving them right along.”

This weekend’s event, which will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, will include factory tours, retail sales, a vendor expo, product demos, free bike washes, food trucks. Visitors will be able to view Martin’s collection of 200 vintage bikes. TPC is located at 1900 Taylor Ave. in Louisville.

“This is my first job,” Martin said. “It’s been a road of learning the ropes by doing and adjusting course and surrounding yourself with great people.”

Nick Martin, founder of The Pro’s Closet, photographed with John Tomac’s 1990 World Championship Yeti C-26 at the TPC office in Louisville. The massive TPC facility includes a collection of 200 vintage bikes. (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)

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