Great new article (actually, a “Special Report”) in the latest BRAIN that came in a couple of days ago. Matt Wiebe’s story is titled “Alternative Retail Channels Cater to New Cyclists.” It’s a very well written article that brings up some great points for retailers – and manufacturers – some things to chew on. Make sure you read it when it arrives in the mail – it doesn’t seem to exist on BRAIN’s website.
Matt begins with an observation that is probably a very widely held assumption across the industry and biking community currently:
A perfect storm is building of people who cannot afford gas, who realize they have to change their lifestyle to save the planet and believe bikes are the answer.
We’ve all witnessed it: the train in the morning is overflowing with bikes, buses are turning bikers away because the Sportworks on the front is full, and retailers are seeing more people dusting off old bikes and bringing them in for service to start riding to work. More and more politicians and celebrities are being photographed on their bikes and Barack Obama just granted a private meeting with bike industry leaders last night. These are new riders from the proverbial 161 million non-riders we’ve all been trying to reach, right?
As Matt goes on to write, though, the “storm wind should be blowing these new consumers into the nation’s bike shops … but it’s not happening.”
Tim Parr of Swobo supports that statement early in the article by saying, “these new customers cannot find the product they want because it’s not an enthusiast’s bike.” Bicycle dealers are great at serving the needs of enthusiasts but not so much the needs of these new bikers.
I think we can all agree with Matt’s line that “the enthusiast market is not where the growth and excitement is now.”
In addition, alternative retailers and retail channels have sprung up to serve this new, market. These include surf and skate shops, apparel boutiques and – brace yourself – internet direct sales. That last one is a taste of a topic for a whole other post: how retailers are still not fully embracing the internet to grow their businesses and how certain manufacturers are “holding back” retailers from taking advantage of the internet. Talk about a hot button issue…
So what are these bikes that these “neo-bikers” are looking for? How about the urban fixie trend? We’ve all read enough BikeSnobNYC posts and have seen fixies turn up under suburban teens farther and farther away from the city centers where the category was born to know that these are huge. While a few manufacturers have stepped up with models to serve this market (and their dealers with product), for the most part, consumers are forced to look to alternative channels to get what they want. The fixie trend is also bringing with it an opportunity that the bike industry has longed for for eons: a lifestyle market, the likes of which the surf and skate industries have enjoyed since the dawn of their sports. Non-enthusiasts are not going to – or even thinking about – bike shops for this.
Another type of bike that the neo-biker is not finding is a $300-$500 “just-a-bike” bike. Many bike shops have been profiting from $8,000 custom road bike sales over the last 10 years or so and can’t serve the needs of the neo-biker. I can remember my dad balking at paying the $800 for a mountain bike that the shop salesperson proposed years ago when I convinced him to try cycling. He told me that $300 was about what he wanted to pay for a bike to ride around town. We enthusiasts and industry members would consider $800 about right for an entry-level bike. How many people are turned away by the higher than expected prices for bikes.
I don’t want to give away the whole article before you have a chance to read it, but I tend to agree with Matt on so many of these aspects that contribute to the challenge that bike shops apparently are facing in addressing this surge of new riders. From manufacturers increasingly encouraging dealers to make larger commitments to their brands that in turn causes the dealers to lose the ability to change quickly with the market place to non-cycling brands like RVCA (and here from a non-bike blog) and Paul Frank making inroads into the bike market through their networks of non-traditional bike retailers, there are some great points to think about.
What I have seen in my limited exposure to this market is that on the train every day that I commute, I see alot of inappropriate bikes being used. Obviously, they’re all bikes and it’s great that they are being ridden, but I think we can do better for these neo-bikers.
I don’t know, am I wrong?