How You Can Help: Local Bike Shop
The local bike shop is an iconic part of nearly every cyclist’s life. The quirky and intermittently imperfect world of the bike shop is essential to our cycling infrastructure and experience. Bike shops are a nexus of memories – buying your first bike, learning from a master mechanic, stumbling upon a great coach or mentor, running into your biggest nemesis on the local scene, hearing about a great group ride, finding your best ever teammate, recounting tales of an epic crash, sharing a coffee or beer with friends.
Now COVID-19 is threatening the very existence of these local shops, and many are asking, “How can we help?”
Perhaps first we should talk about why we should help. Local bike shops have already face challenges: there are almost 50% fewer bike shops now than in 2001, according to the National Bike Dealers Association (NBDA). While that’s partly because each store is producing significantly more sales per store, the main reason is that bike shops are up against a tough economic reality. In the 2013, an NBDA survey on the cost of doing business found that a retail store had to make a 38% margin to break even on a bicycle (given carrying costs, overhead, etc.). Most bike brands only offer 32-35% margin on a full price sale (with a few exceptions), so the math is not in favor of the local retail shops. Since 2013, direct-to-consumer business has driven the average markup for a bicycle down, so the current situation is even more tenuous when it comes to the bottom line.
Because of this, bike shops operate on razor thin margins and survive financially because of service labor income, bike fits revenue, and smaller consumable goods (tires, tubes, nutrition, chains, cassettes etc.). These categories of revenue make up for the generally abysmal margins on selling bicycles. I spoke to a 40-year industry veteran and journalist yesterday and he said that most of the stores that he speaks to operate on a 38% margin versus 36% expenses. So now with the benefit of a little context, to answer the question of how you can help: invest in the bread and butter items that will keep local shops open. I know many will say it’s cheaper to buy online – a quick search today revealed I can buy two Grand Prix 5000 tires and two tubes for less online that I can purchase them through a legitimate source. But please understand that bike shops are not trying to gouge you on price; they simply can’t sell at online prices and stay open to provide a community hub and resource.
Here are five ways you can help your local bike shop survive:
Purchase Staples In Advance
Buy consumables that you know you will use. If you want to really help, insist on paying full price, particularly on accessories. Sometimes product selection is an issue for cyclists; it’s okay to ask for exactly what you want or would normally purchase elsewhere. If it’s not something the shop stocks and it’s not an urgent purchase, most stores can order exactly what you want; otherwise try purchase something they have in stock that’s a reasonable substitute. Try a GP5000 instead of a Rubino Pro or vice-versa. In terms of helping your local shop right now, buying in stock, full price purchases offer the biggest boost.
Consider a Gift Certificate
Buy a gift certificate from the shop, either to use yourself later or to gift to somebody else. Giving a gift certificate to a friend just getting into cycling gives them a way to get gear they need to get started, helps a friend, and creates a new customer for your local shop. Spending $20 is a small amount to get someone into your local store but every bit makes a difference for a struggling retailer. Sending your friends to your local shop gives them a better experience in the cycling community while supporting a business in need.
Adopt An Orphan Bike
All bike stores have “veteran” bikes that may have experienced a birthday or two. They are priced accordingly and the shop paid the bill on them long ago. You can get a perfectly functional and solid bike for a great price and help free up inventory space in the shop. Instead of going to Craigslist or eBay next time you need a great deal on a bike, consider this option. Even better, consider picking up one of these bikes and donating it to a youth program.
Convert A Runner (or a Golfer, Tennis Or Ski Addict)
It is one of my greatest joys in life that there are only two types of runners in the world: those that are already cyclists and those that will be cyclists (only 80% kidding). We hear about our friends’ running maladies all the time. Runners are great new clients as they have the cardiovascular capacity to enjoy cycling immediately but need “everything” – your bike shop will love you to death for referrals like that. Similarly, golfers, tennis and ski addicts appreciate cool carbon equipment and the latest high-performance gear and clothing. Send them to your favorite bike shop!
Mac Daddy Service Package
Every store has the epic cables + bar tape + drive chain rejuvenation package for your beloved bike; it takes a long time and costs a few hundred dollars but gets your ride running beautifully again. Perhaps you don’t even need that detailing right now, but buying this package keeps mechanics in a job in a time where they need the support. If your store is closed, purchase a gift certificate to get this service performed when they reopen.
Your local shop might have other ideas as well and would likely be so grateful if you reached out to ask how you can help. This is a difficult time for all, but we want to make sure we are still around to support you and your bikes at the end of this crisis. Your business allows our businesses to survives and helps us look after our employees, our customers, and our families.
Share some love in this stressful time if you are able to do so. Bike shops are at the heart and soul of cycling; consider the clubs, rides, service, advice, and camaraderie that abound from the thousands of stores nationwide. Let’s make sure they are still here when the dust from this global pandemic settles.