Jason Brooks: Marine to Entrepreneur

Jason Brooks: Marine to Entrepreneur

Joining the Marine Corps right out of high school, Jason Brooks had been serving for just three years when the most devastating tragedy struck the United States on 9/11/2001.

“I was nervous and excited. We had trained very well for three years. We were not boots (just out of boot camp), we were a little more experienced, we had done a float together (a tour on a ship), we had gone to Puerto Rico together to show force for the riots that were happening down there,” said Brooks.  “So, when 9/11 happened and we knew we were being deployed to Afghanistan, all of us felt very confident and were fairly certain we would come out okay.”

Once back from deployment in Afghanistan, Brooks was sent to Marine Base Quantico.

“For four years I was a weapons instructor, doing M16 and M9 instruction.”

At Quantico, Brooks met his wife, Jackie.  They eventually married and started having kids.

“By the time my orders came up again to be shipped out to a unit, deployed, I decided to not reup (re-enlist) and return to civilian life.”

The transition and return from military life to civilian, as with many military personnel, is a turning point which can make or break them.

Comprehensive studies by Pew research and others have demonstrated, those who served in a combat zone and those who knew someone who was killed or injured also faced steeper odds of an easy re-entry.

“I got out of the Marine Corp in June 2006 and between 2006 and 2009, I got laid off 3 or 4 times,” said Brooks. “I tried going into the IT field, then property management.”

“The military is quite a bit more autocratic,” said Brooks. “You don’t have the politics you have in the civilian workforce. If you are in management in the military you don’t have to dance around everyone’s feelings, you just say what needs to be done and if it doesn’t get done, you take actions to correct the problem or individual.”

Ultimately Brooks, after several years of trying to make traditional civilian life work – and failing needed something different.

“I grew up with motorcycles. In Michigan there is so much public land that riding dirt bikes was a way of life and my whole family; father, uncle, brother, all rode,” said Brooks. “And when you are growing up in a small town, when 14 or 15 years old when something breaks, you just have to learn how to fix it,” said Brooks.

“My Uncle Dave was my mentor. He took me under his wing on the basics of motorcycle maintenance and repair. We learned the hard way and that later transitioned into repairing bikes and cars for my fellow Marines as a favor or trade or barter for something I needed.”

When Brooks was laid off for the second time, a long time had passed before he was able to get another job.

“So there was this new thing out called Craigslist.  I could offer my motorcycle repair services online, my first ad was simply, “Have Wrench Will Travel,” like the old paladin, and it was just an ad to go to your house and work on your bike,” said Brooks.

“That was how I would make ends meet every time I would get laid off.”

December 20, 2009, 5 days before Christmas, was the last time Brooks was laid off.

“I went home and told my wife, “I’m done, I’m done getting laid off after feeling used,” said Brooks. “What do you think about me just working on bikes out of the garage?”

“I’ll never forget her words, ‘Honey, as long as we’ve got bread on the table and a roof over our head, I’ll support you.’”

Brooks Cycles was then born.

Brooks quickly grew too large for the home garage and moved to a 700 sq ft warehouse. He upgraded to 1200 sq ft, grew too large for that and moved to 1800 sq ft where he remained for the past four years.

The turning point for even larger growth and expansion came when the largest import motorcycle dealer, service and parts center in Loudoun, Loudoun Motorsports decided to sell their large location in Leesburg and get out of the business.

“When they closed, there were few choices for import cycles to get work, we were quickly at and exceeding our capacity by June of last year.  It was too much, we didn’t have enough space or staff to handle the work.”

Brooks Cycles just had their grand opening of a 4500 sq ft facility servicing bikes from both Fairfax and Loudoun.

“The way I run my business now very much follows the Marine Corp format. I’m upfront, honest, what my wife calls brutally honest, and not only customers but my employees tend to like it as well,” said Brooks.

According to Brooks, what sets his shop apart are three core competencies.

“First, everyone who works here all rides and are hardcore, all weather, riders. Whether sales, retail, service, we understand how a helmet should fit, what a certain noise is and genuinely care that each customer is taken care of as we would take care of ourselves or family,” said Brooks.

Second, are the way appointments are handled.

“Nobody else does them like we do and this is very important to customers,” said Brooks. “You don’t drop off your bike for an oil change and then 5 days later pick it up.  We have all been on the other side of the fence, dealership customers, where we have had to wait on things far too long.”

Third is customer service.

We feel our customer service is far beyond any shop we know of. We go out of our way to take care of our customers.

Local clients are not all Brooks Cycles retains.

“There are a group of retired Canadian Police officers who come to the DC area each year for Rolling Thunder,” said Brooks.

Rolling Thunder is and event started in 1987 which occurs the Sunday before Memorial Day in which bikers from all over the nation and world make a slow motorcycle ride, called the “Ride for Freedom,” on a dedicated, closed-off, pre-set route through Washington D.C., leaving the Pentagon parking lot at noon, crossing the Memorial Bridge, and ending at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (“the Wall”).

Several years ago, one of the retired Canadian police officers wrecked his bike the day before Rolling Thunder and needed a local shop to help.

“It was a Kawasaki ZX9 and he needs a crucial part, the rear set and fortunately they were able to find the set themselves but without proper tools or a shop to help, the bike was not ridable – and so far from home,” said Brooks.

With 10s of thousands of bikes in the area and many packing each shop’s service department to capacity in preparation for the event, no shop would help.

Eventually, the Canadians found Brooks Cycles and while their service department was to capacity as well, Brooks stepped in, fixed the bike and got them on their way to participate in the event.

The 15 Canadian bikers were so enamored with Brook’s kindness that they repaid him by scavenging his retail shelves and buying everything in sight.

Since that time, five years ago, the Canadian bikers and their friends have frequented Brook’s shop each year.

“We all go down to visit the police retirement home in Fairfax the week before Rolling Thunder. It’s very moving and an honor to be welcomed into their group,” said Brooks.

Besides parts, repair and retail bike accessories, Brooks Cycles also sells pre-owned bikes with a wide selection of cruisers to sport bikes.

Brooks Cycles can be contacted at (703) 796-0040 or Service@BrooksCycle.com.

Brian Reynolds