PHILADELPHIA, PA (BRAIN)—From high-end training to electric bikes, the four stores visited yesterday on the BRAIN Dealer Tour of Philadelphia offered something for everyone.
Ask Dan Goldberg what compelled him to open a bike shop in September 2009, at the height of the recession, and he’ll tell you it was “pure insanity.” Goldberg, the owner of Main Line Cycles, had sold an online training business in the banking industry and was looking for his next step. He found a good physical location on the Main Line, an old money area with high-end demographics. He also knew he needed a major brand to anchor the store and partnered with Specialized.
Goldberg, who funded the business himself, said he expected to lose money in the first year and did. His goal is to break even in the second year and to begin to show a profit in year three.
He said sales this winter started off strong, but April was horrible. Philadelphia set a record with 20 days of rain for the month. “April just totally took a dive,” Goldberg said. But he is optimistic that the season has finally broken after a stellar Memorial Day weekend. “We were slammed,” he said. “We had one of our biggest days ever on Monday.”
Human Zoom Bikes and Boards has thrived in the Philly market for years, but it was formerly known as Bike Line. Owner Michael Bufo decided to break away from Bike Line’s franchise model a few years back, said Stanley Carl Tworek, manager and buyer of the Manayunk store. Bufo also owns a second store in Ardmore, about seven miles away.
Still, Tworek said it’s a challenging market. With numerous shops dotting the city (Cadence Cycling and Multisport is just a stone’s throw away), competition is stiff. “This can be like Jewelers’ Row for bike shops there are so many. It’s a cutthroat area,” Tworek said.
To stand out among the crowd, the shop caters to a wide swath of cyclists—from the customer who brings in a bike purchased at Wal-Mart for a tuneup to customers who need to have sew-ups glued onto their Zipp wheels. It also has diversified its offerings, bringing in snowboards, boots and apparel—which take up half of the show room during the winter months—skateboards, and last week it began stocking rollerblades for the first time.
“It wasn’t a huge investment, but margins [for rollerblades] are through the roof,” Tworek said, pointing to a markup of 75 percent.
Just a few doors down, Cadence Cycling & Multisport caters more to the high end with a business model that plays up its coaching and training services, bike fits and physiological testing including blood lactate threshold and MAX VO2. Coaching and training makes up about a third of business, said Brian Walton, a three-time Olympian and former racer, who’s president and one of the partners in the business along with Jay Snider.
“I had an Olympic background and I wanted to give that experience to the average consumer,” Walton said about the thinking behind the Philadelphia store, which opened in April 2004.
Its science-based training and “polished” approach to retail—which consisted of mostly custom builds—proved intimidating to many consumers in its early days. “People were like, this is too technical for me,” Walton said, adding that the store has since made an effort to expand its image as a coaching center for “guys on a pro tour team or people just learning to ride, whether it’s training for the MS 150 or someone who’s interested in weight loss.”
At the other end of the retail spectrum is Afshin Kaighobady. He believes he’s seen the future and it’s a battery pack that powers two wheels. As the owner of the only fully charged electric bicycle store in metropolitan Philadelphia, Kaighobady’s tiny store-front at the intersection of two bus lines and two train lines may signal a future trend in urban America.
Philly Electric Wheels, or PHEW! for short, is cluttered, stuffed with more than a half-dozen different brands of electric bikes, and with only a narrow path leading back to an office and two service bays.
Out front, a dozen used bikes—a locked cable winding through the frames—puts some cash in the register and reflects some of the trade-ins he accepts in this neighborhood that reflects a unique mix of elderly, low income and professional people. It’s a slice of Americana today.
Still, Kaighobady said he may be Trek’s biggest electric bike dealer in the nation and an electric Trek cargo bike ($2,800), standing straight up against the wall, is testimony to his commitment to all things electric. Another half-dozen Trek electrics are tucked into the cramped show room.
“We’re doing very good,” said Kaighobady who moved to this location in February. “I’ve sold as many electrics this year already than I sold all last year.”
BRAIN editors and Dealer Tour sponsors Advanced Sports Inc., Campagnolo, Interbike and Gore will cross the Delaware River to visit stores in New Jersey tomorrow. You can follow along with the Tour on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bicycleretailer and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bicycleretailer (click on above link).
Photo: Afshin Kaighobady indicates that electric bike use is on the rise (credit Jake Orness).