This month, Durham small business owner Peter Bombar talks about the path to owning his own motorcycle repair shop and how he learned to steer around the bumps in the road.
Bombar’s Beemers in Durham specializes in the service, restoration, and revitalization of classic and late-model BMW motorcycles. Owner Peter Bombar says after spending most of his life as an employee, it’s a dream come true to be his own boss and make a living out of his passion for motorcycles.
Becoming “Captain Pete”
Although he has been riding and tinkering with bikes since he was 16, owning his own garage came much later. A true jack-of-all-trades, Peter is a licensed sea captain and radar operator. His father’s career took the family to Europe where Peter lived until he was 20 years old. While living in England, Peter went to the Bosham Sea School where he learned the art of seamanship. Today, Captain Pete charters his 36-foot sloop, The Ava Grace, from Carolina Beach.
Making a Hobby a Career
Peter also enjoyed a very successful career as a television and audio engineer. He was passionate about his work, but didn’t feel fully satisfied, saying he has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. All the while, he had been buying wrecked bikes, rebuilding them, and selling them on the side. In 2007, he decided to make his hobby his career, and open his own garage.
Peter says he has always been a perpetual student of many things and that helps him as a small business owner. He says owning his own business is just like his college chemistry class. He was terrible at science all through high school and it was his least favorite subject. But when the semester was over, he was the only student with an A. Knowing his own weakness made him work three times as hard as anyone else and it paid off. He applies the same idea to business. “Do I like looking at the numbers? No,” he says. “Do I enjoy learning about it? Not particularly. Do I do it because it’s important to my business? Absolutely.”
Keeping Up With the Times
Peter tries to be as hands on as possible with his shop. He does all his own marketing, designs his own webpage, and works with his employees to keep up with social media. He says he is always amazed at small businesses who don’t have a strong web presence, as he sees it as vital to his shop’s success. “You can’t be resistant to it,” he says. “It all goes back to perseverance. Being a successful businessman is all about being honest about what you don’t know and finding a way to get it done.”
Do You and Do it Well
Focusing on what he does best is also part of his market strategy. When he first started out, he worked on all types of European bikes. But over the years, he began focusing on BMWs. Now, that’s the majority of his work. Peter recommends business owners find their niche and focus on doing a few things really well, rather than a lot of things good enough. Bombar’s doesn’t offer 6 or 7 different versions of headlights from different companies. They will recommend the one tried and true product Peter uses himself, always well-manufactured, and typically made in America. Specialization, expert knowledge, and excellent customer service are what Peter says keep him in business.
Even though he has managed to carve out and corner his own specialty market, the auto repair industry is known for being competitive. That doesn’t bother Peter. “You can worry about your business, you can worry about someone else’s business,” he says. “But you can’t worry about both.” That’s why he says he knows his competition, but he doesn’t worry about them. “Do the best job you can, keep a happy shop, and you don’t have to worry about the competition.”
A Family Affair
One of the things that makes Bombar’s Beemers a happy shop is that it is truly a family affair. Check out BombarsBeemers.com and you’ll see bios not only for the current bike technicians, but also the “technicians-in-training,” Peter’s grandkids, who can usually be found around the shop when they come to visit Grandpa. The team also includes four-legged support crew, Coco (the fur director), and Oscar (canine operations officer). Peter also credits much of his success to his wife, Barbie, who Peter says always has the final say on business decisions.
But looking at the staff webpage is bittersweet for Peter these days, as one important person is missing. 6 months ago, technician James Roddick was killed in a motorcycle accident while testing a bike he was working on. James had been an employee for five years and the loss was devastating to the whole team. Peter says he has always had contingency plans for when employees resign. “I know how to do everything my guys do. I can tear apart an engine, rebuild it and change the oil,” he says. But this was a completely different situation. “Nothing can prepare you for the emotional toll of losing someone so close to you like this.” Peter says it was at this time he truly saw the importance of creating a tight-knit, supportive atmosphere in his business and that is his focus, now more than ever.
Padgett’s 3 Wise Questions
- If you could bake a success pie, what would the ingredients be?
“Passion, perseverance, persistence.”
- If you could go back in time to the beginning, would you do anything differently?
“No. I’ve enjoyed my career with everything I’ve done. In business there are always going to be things you can’t see. Just like driving, you never know when a deer could pop out. So you’ve got to always be ready with your hands at 10 and 2 and be prepared as best you can. When you approach a bump in the road, don’t pound it, go around it.”
- If you could have lunch with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
“President Obama. He’s a very smart man, well-spoken, eloquent. He has a good head on his shoulders. I think America is going to miss somebody like him. I would like to talk business with him.”
127 B Wolfpack Lane
Durham, NC 27704
Sail Ava Grace Charters