Peddling pedaling: Richland Greenies’ owner knows how to solve world’s problems

Darin Warnick has a five-word solution to all the world’s problems.

“Just go ride a bike.”

From global warming and bad traffic, to stress and bad health, all of it can be solved by climbing into the saddle, pushing the pedals, grinding the gears and basically biking away your worries.

“The bike is a simple solution to complex problems,” the owner and manager of Greenies opined recently. “What are the No. 1 problems in America today? Pollution—so how does a bike fix that? Climate change? One less car. Overcrowding, traffic, parking. How about health care? Right? We could all probably use some more exercise in our lives, right?

“So the bike fixes all those problems, and it’s a super simple solution. Forget about whatever diet fad or whatever diet pill they want you to take or whatever carbon offsets they want you to buy.

“Just go ride a bike. Just ride a bike, it’s that easy.”

Easy? Perhaps. Just like how easy it was for a Badger Canyon kid who graduated from Kiona-Benton City High School in 1995 and chased a snowboarding dream down to Utah, then to Denver, and how it finally led him back to the Tri-Cities as a business owner.

That business, Greenies, located in the Richland Parkway at 701 George Washington Way, was an interesting mix of bikes and organic health food when Warnick and his wife, Jenn, took over in 2008. It also was an opportunity to get back to the area with the couple expecting their first child and wanting to be closer to family—Jenn is from Portland.

These days, Greenies is strictly about the outdoors, offering sales and rentals of bikes, kayaks and paddleboards. And it’s as much a way of life for Warnick as it is a business.

“That’s the great part of it, it never feels like you’re going to a job,” he said. “We just come in here and help people find fun things to do or make healthy lifestyle choices or figure out a way to enjoy the area they live in. And who wouldn’t want to do that all the time? People are happy, they’re going out on the river, they’re getting a new bike.”

Building a business

Moving away from organic health food and strictly into outdoor sales and rentals was the plan from the start.

Exclusive organic products were becoming less exclusive as big retailers like Target and Walmart moved into the organic sector.

Moreover, Warnick’s background is in bikes and snowboards and the like. He spent four years working as a tech, assistant manager and manager at a bike and snowboard shop in Utah, then moved into the industry side of the business as a sales rep for Smith Optics, a high-performance sunglasses and goggles company.

“I kind of figure that was my schooling,” he said. “I did that for three or four years before going into the rep side for seven or eight years. So there’s 12 years’ experience on both the manufacturing side and the retailing side.”

It didn’t take long before he found out managing and owning are two different beasts.

“When you’re a manager, you clock out and you go home,” he said. “When you’re the owner, if you wanted to you could be answering emails at midnight, or working Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for 10 years.”

Make that 10-ish to 6-ish … at least according to the store’s listed hours, a perfect example of its owners’ relaxed outlook on life.

“This morning I came in early to get the boats ready and left the doors unlocked,” Warnick said. “It was a quarter to 10 and people were coming in. Or if I have to close at 5:15 and go home, don’t be crabby because those are my hours.”

Of course, no one is going home early on a Saturday, easily the store’s busiest day as people pick up paddleboard and kayak rentals to hit the river. Warnick figures the store will do 20 to 30 paddleboard rentals on any given Saturday, same for kayaks. There may be a couple dozen bike rentals over the course of a week.

It helps that Greenies is located where renters have quick access to the rivers and trails. Howard Amon Park is minutes away along with access to Riverfront Trail and the Columbia and Yakima rivers.

“Within a two-minute pedal, you can go and ride 50 miles along the river,” Warnick said.

“Developers come and want us to move over here, over there, and I’m like, ‘OK, can you find me a place that’s closer to the river and closer to the bike paths? Because I don’t think so.’ Think of anywhere else in the Tri-Cities that has this close of access to the river. There’s Columbia Park, but there’s no retail in there.”

Greenies has been renewing a three-year lease with the property owner since the Warnicks took over with the right of first refusal if the property is sold. So far, there isn’t any indication the owner is looking to sell.

While rentals provide the best margin for the store, the biggest business is bike sales.

But just like with organic supplies, how does a local shop compete with the big box stores or online retailers like Amazon?

Quality and service

It’s all about the service and selection.

It boils down to selling high-end bikes compared to Walmart, and offering better service than Amazon, according to Warnick.

Greenies sells used bikes from $10 to $2,000, and new from $200 for a kids bike on up to $10,000.

Yes, $10,000 for a bike. Warnick said the store sold three or four of them last year.

“You just have to be really into biking,” he said. “You don’t have to be a racer to appreciate a nice machine.”

And have a lot a money?

“Or ride your bike a lot. Bikes are only expensive if you don’t ride them. If it cost $10,000 but you ride it three hours a day, that’s not very expensive. It’s when you go and buy a Walmart bike for $150 and you ride it three times, that’s when it’s expensive. That’s 50 bucks every time you rode it.

“I always tell people about that. You buy it nice or you buy it twice. That’s for anything in life, not just bikes. You buy a cheap one, then you come down here to get it fixed and then you’re paying twice what you paid for it just to get it fixed. Or if you buy it nicer, you just buy it one time and it hurts once, then you have quality for the rest of the time. You buy it cheap, and it hurts every time you ride it because it’s falling apart; it’s a piece of (junk).”

For those doing the math, $50 a ride would be 200 rides on a $10,000 bike. Ride it 200 times a year for five years, hours at a time, and suddenly it might not sound so expensive—or at least put it into context.

Warnick said he understands everyone has a budget, and you certainly wouldn’t want your first bike to be that high end. But again, it’s about competition.

“Why would I carry bikes like that when you can find them at Fred Meyer or Target or Walmart?” he asked. “That’s fine that there’s that segment. We hope that those people get excited about biking and want to buy a real bike.”

As for service, one recent customer said coming into Greenies was an easy choice for her.

Bonnie Mitchell, a Richland wife and grandmother, took a ride on an e-bike while on vacation. E-bikes have electronic-assisted pedaling, with a small motor making it easier, especially going uphill.

Mitchell loved it and thought it would be a great way to get back into biking. After some extensive online research from her husband, she wanted to go to a local shop.

“I looked at Amazon, but it comes in a box and you have to put it together,” she said. “I don’t know how to do that. I wanted brick-and-mortar support.”

She spent about half an hour with a technician, and it meant the world to her.

“The first thing was the knowledge,” she said. “They have tons of knowledge here, and they spent a lot of time helping me figure out what I needed.”

That turned out to be an Electra Townie Go! e-bike, and she said it was $2,700 well spent.

Watching Mitchell walk out of the store with  a smile is a big deal to Warnick.

“There’s more to life than money, that’s for sure,” he said. “No one gets into the bike industry thinking they’re going to make a ton of money. It’s more of a lifestyle. You just go through life, do what you like. You help people out, and it gets stressful because we get stacked up with repairs or it’s super busy on a Saturday. There’s a lot of rentals. There are days when it is stressful.”

But it’s a better kind of stress than just working for a paycheck in a job you couldn’t care less about.

“I think we’ve probably all had jobs where the alarm goes off and you’re just like, ‘ugggggghhh,’ ” he groaned. “Or you’re doing it, and you’re just counting down the minutes until it’s time to leave. And for me, that’s just not a way to live. I could probably do things where I could make more money.

“There’s freedom and security. I don’t have a 401(k), I have to pay my own health insurance, I have to do my own retirement. I have to do all those things, but the freedom that it gives you …”

And, of course, there’s all that problem solving, remember? Global warming, stress, traffic, health?

“And then there’s the whole mental health thing too of just clearing your mind and getting out there and hearing the sound of the tires, getting fresh air, getting outside and feeling the sun on your skin,” Warnick said. “There’s a lot of benefits.”

Greenies is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-ish to 6 p.m.-ish.

Reservations: By phone, in store or online at greenielife.com/rentals.

Greenies: 701 George Washington Way, Richland; 509-946-3787; Facebook: @Greenies.Richland; Twitter: 2GreenieLife; Instagram: @greenielife.

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