Bloomington bike parts company QBP, the country's largest, lays off 88 in mass video call

Quality Bicycle Product's Bloomington warehouse, seen here in a 2008 file photo

Quality Bicycle Product's Bloomington warehouse, seen here in a 2008 file photo Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

Quality Bicycle Products, the Bloomington-based bike company known as one of the industry’s largest distributors of parts and accessories, has laid off roughly 12 percent of its staff, a spokesperson confirmed with City Pages Monday.

(If “big Bloomington bike parts distributor” doesn’t ring a bell, some of its brands might; QBP owns a bunch of locally and nationally beloved companies including Surly, Salsa, and All-City.)

In an email to dealers earlier this month, company president Rich Tauer called the layoff a “painful decision,” trade publication Bicycle Retailer reported. "These were valued co-workers, and they are our friends and partners,” Tauer wrote. “We made this decision to ensure that QBP remains stable now and through what might come over the coming year."

But former employees like Mikaela Bleich don’t feel like valued co-workers. She and the rest of the 88 former QBPers learned they were being let go en masse on April 2. The company announced the layoffs to the group via a video chat in which all participants were visible to one another, and which Bleich said was labeled an “update.”

“It was very, very surprising to get into the meeting and immediately being told that if you are in this meeting you’re being let go. Just like that,” she said. “Basically the whole meeting was 10 minutes of HR telling us how to update our personal email so they can send us our desk stuff.”

“They had already cut my pay by 10 percent a week or two ago,” she continued. “But I absolutely thought I was essential to the business, as I’d been working my ass off to get product on the website for sales.”

Marketing communications manager John Sandberg reiterated to City Pages that the decision to lay off employees “was terribly painful for everyone at QBP,” but said they had no choice if they wanted to stay afloat.

“Based on the significantly reduced revenue [after COVID-19 hit the U.S.] and the uncertainty of how long this pandemic might last, we reorganized our business to remain stable and able to fully service our retailer partners now and through the coming year,” Sandberg said.

“QBP is like a family, and like extended families all over the world right now, we are and were bound by stay-at-home orders,” Sandberg noted, adding that because layoffs affected employees in multiple facilities and time zones, announcing them in person wasn’t workable or safe. “Our company president Rich Tauer was the person who informed these employees, and video conference was the most personal way of doing so given the options we had.”

Other employees who were let go say they understand the need for a mass layoff. “Initially I thought this was a pretty fucked up way to go about things, but thinking it through, I don’t know what choice they had,” said one former project manager, who added that word would’ve gotten out and “it would have gotten messy” if management started calling folks one by one. They added that QBP prez Tauer was visibly choked up on the call, while VP of HR Angie von Ruden-Doll was in tears.

“It was a really emotional experience, and I really think these two did what they thought they could … these times call for extraordinary measures. There’s no guidebook on how to do this.”

The Star Tribune called QBP a Top Place to Work in 2010, 2011, and 2012, per the careers section of its website, and the company received a Best Places to Work designation from Outside Magazine in 2012 and 2013.

“I really thought QBP was like a family,” Bleich said. Although, “I’ve been there since 2007, in one capacity or another, and it meant nothing to QBP.”

Sandberg said sales over the past four weeks have continued to be “significantly and consistently lower than previous years,” though he said there are no further layoffs or salary reductions on the table right now. “However, we don’t know how long this pandemic will last or what additional impacts it might have on our business.”