PARSIPPANY, NJ—Kent International’s largest customers are mass-market retailers. But lately, bike shops looking for lower-priced entry level models are turning to the company to fill in their lines.
“The mountain bikes we carry from Trek and Specialized start at $359. Kent’s $189 mountain bike really fills a need we have for opening price-point bikes. It’s a good seller,” said Heather Rizzi, manager of Plaine & Son in Schenectady, New York.
“They are wonderful to work with,” Rizzi added. “We just order out of the catalog and they seem to always have good inventory and ship fast.”
Kent has picked up so much business from independent bike shops over the past two years that it’s developing brands and models to better serve specialty customers.
“We are developing a new adult bike line for dealers in the $200 to $400 range,” said Arnold Kamler, president of Kent International. “The price points are competitive and give shops bikes to interest first-time buyers.”
Rizzi said customers interested in Kent’s bikes mention that they also browse and shop at Wal-Mart. But after she explains her shop’s professional assembly and build—with proper lube and grease—and a guaranteed fit for a minimal surcharge over Wal-Mart, the sale is easy.
However, Rizzi did say that these bikes appeal mostly to walk-in customers that find the $359 bikes from larger specialty brands too expensive for their taste.
“The business kind of happened by mistake,” admitted Kamler. “We didn’t go after it at all. It grew on word of mouth.”
Kent currently ships products to about 200 specialty shops. Its dealer business has doubled over the last year, prompting the appointment of Bill Barrett as sales manager of intermediate accounts. In this role, Barrett serves as an inside sales rep specifically for bike shops.
“We first noticed a bump in dealer business when CPSIA (Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act) came into effect a few years ago and kids’ bikes were harder to get from a shop’s traditional source,” Kamler said.
The CPSIA, a nearly three-year-old law, requires costly third-party testing of lead content in children’s products, including bikes. Kent International was an early adopter of new lead testing requirements, so it had a full product line available when the regulations went into effect.
“CPSIA compliance adds complication and cost and drove up the price of kids’ bikes from traditional supply channels. For bike dealers that still want opening price-point bikes, our bikes look attractive,” Kamler said.
Though Kent has offered dedicated lines to bike dealers before, the interest wasn’t as strong from the channel since the price gap between mass and specialty was minimal. But as labor, raw materials and transportation costs increased, so have opening price points from specialty brands, which are now in the $300 range. Mass-market adult bikes, meanwhile, remain under $200.
In fact, Wal-Mart launched its up-market Genesis brand last year hoping to appeal to shoppers looking to spend under $300. The Genesis line includes a $149 fixie, a $149 four-bar full-suspension mountain bike and a $199 29er—filling solid bike shop categories, but at greatly reduced prices.