MONTEREY, Calif. (BRAIN) — The stats don’t lie and shrinking shipments of bikes to specialty retailers as well as sell-through of those bikes to consumers suggests more needs to be done to boost cycling participation, provide more accessibility with entry level product and sell the experience of cycling rather than complex technology. Those were the takeaways from Wednesday afternoon’s panel on industry statistics at the Bicycle Leadership Conference.
“The U.S. population is growing at a substantial rate but we’re selling less bicycles per person in the U.S.A,” noted Michael Forte, operations manager for Felt Bicycles and head of the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association statistics committee.
Forte and Liz Stahura, senior retail analyst at Leisure Trends, provided a recap of 2013 sales and a look at the first three months of 2014—both in sell-through and sell-in, or shipments of bikes and accessories to retailers.
It’s no secret that for both suppliers and retailers, 2013 was tough. Dollar sales were down 3 percent for the year at IBDs. For their part, suppliers never made up for lost sales due to poor weather in the first quarter—ending the year down 10 percent in units and 6 percent in dollars compared to 2012. The biggest drops were in road and BMX bikes. Road ended the year down 17 percent in units and 14 percent in dollars while BMX saw decreases of 25 percent in both units and dollars.
And the decline continued into early 2014 with overall retail sales down through March. Unit sales of all bikes at IBDs were down 1 percent, though there was dollar growth in mountain, lifestyle/leisure and transit/fitness bikes.
Meanwhile shipments of bikes to shops were up 8 percent through March. Transit bikes were up double digits in units while mountain bike as a category was down 2 percent in units.
Both Stahura and Forte noted that while sub-categories like 27.5-inch mountain bikes and transit/fitness bikes are seeing some growth in units and dollars, this represents a mere shuffling of market share but not growth in overall volume.
“27.5 is not doing enough to increase mountain bike volume—both 26 and 29er sales are down at retail,” Stahura noted. And the same is true of wholesale shipments to dealers. Forte noted that mountain bike shipments were down 3,042 units through March despite shipping several thousand more 27.5-inch mountain bikes. “There’s growth in 27.5, but we’re not growing the overall pie,” Forte said.
They pointed to higher average selling prices at retail and wholesale—and that could at least partially explain why unit sales are on a downward trend, especially in categories like cruisers and BMX. In a consumer survey, Leisure Trends found that only 5 percent of consumers purchased a bike priced at more than $1,000. So offering more entry level price points is key to attracting new riders.
Stahura referenced research that points to fundamental changes in how consumers buy and their expectations of retail. The modern consumer relies on multiple sources for information and will often buy from multiple channels—online, brand direct, at specialty as well as sporting goods and big box stores. “There’s no such thing as a loyal cycling consumer,” she said.
Consumers also want to know why they should purchase a particular product. Rather than talking tech, retailers and suppliers must market the experience of cycling and how products enhance that experience, Stahura said.