Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Coming full cycle Joannou fulfills a promise to her late father, keeping bike distributor going strong

Carine Joannou, owner of G. Joannou Cycle.-(AARON HOUSTON)

Family businesses don’t just pass from one generation to the next via cold legalese and paperwork signed on the dotted line.Northvale-based G. Joannou Cycle, for instance, was passed to second-generation owner Carine Joannou while she dealt with the death of her father. George Joannou, who had run the bicycle distribution company since 1937, was cancer-stricken and severely ill during the last few years of his life.

“He had always wanted to make sure the business would continue and not fade away,” Joannou said. “A week before he died, he made me promise him that it would continue. I told him, ‘Don’t worry, Dad.’ ”

When George Joannou passed away in 1981, Carine Joannou took over immediately — a decision that allowed G. Joannou Cycle to survive to be the country’s longest-running bicycle brand under original family ownership.

“I kind of always knew from the time I was young that I would take it over one day,” Joannou said. “I was specifically interested in business, and I liked bikes, too, so it was nice to have those go hand-in-hand.”

Just as the handing off of ownership at a family business isn’t always an emotionless affair, the personality of former owners can be just as much a guiding force in running a business for successive generations as a by-the-numbers approach.

For Joannou, the values of her father live on in many ways at her business.

Her father, who had emigrated from the Greek island of Cyprus, had the idea of importing the sort of lightweight European bikes to the United States that he had grown up with when he saw clunkier models dominated the local market. So, he convinced bicycle dealers in the United Kingdom to let him have inventory for distribution abroad without any collateral or even a contract, just a promise that he’d follow through on his word and sell it, Joannou said.

“The No. 1 thing he taught me was integrity,” she said. “He always followed through on his word, which becomes important in having a reputation in business, and it takes you through life.

“But he was never one to preach. He wanted to show by example. So I had watched his interactions and how he behaved, and that’s something we’ve incorporated into our character here.”

Joannou looks to foster an atmosphere that remains true her father’s manner of running a business, even if the once-modest local distributor of import bicycles has grown into an industry name with distributors around the globe. The business, which grew considerably with the acquisition of Jamis Bicycles in 1990, has gone from offering 15 different models of bicycles to having around 140.

Joannou credits the company’s diversified product line to communication — between marketing, design and manufacturing teams — that she feels is derived from a family business perspective.

One example she gave is the development of what the company calls an adventure bike, which is a cross between a typical road bike and a mountain bike. It was inspired by a worker’s commute through a paved street and gravel-laden path to work. The marketing team was present throughout the narrative of the product’s development, and its close involvement proved to be a benefit in conveying the value of the bike when it was brought to the market.

“Family businesses work together — it’s a level of comfort that people have when they come in here that enables them to be creative and to think beyond the scope of the specifics for their particular job,” she said.

It’s Joannou’s personal addition to the legacy of her father’s still-standing enterprise.

“For me, it’s about having an environment where people can throw out ideas without being afraid of someone telling them it’s a bad idea,” she said. “Freedom of thought has become another core value for us.”

Brett Johnson