BY LYNETTE CARPIET
KEYSTONE, CO—Oxygen levels were low but spirits were palpably high at Specialized’s dealer launch in Keystone, a popular winter resort west of Denver that sits at more than 9,000 feet above sea level.
Retailers who attended the annual gathering, where the Morgan Hill, California, company unveiled its upcoming 2011 bikes and equipment, pointed to strong sales through the first half of the year as reasons for their positive outlook.
“We’re setting records right now. 2008 was our best year, we were down about 10 percent in 2009, but now we’re back up to 2008 levels,” said Denny Vandecar, owner of Denny’s Central Park Bicycles in Okemos, Michigan.
This past May was the best he’s seen in years. Vandecar, 69, has been at the helm of the family owned shop his father started since 1962.
Brad Hill, president of Goodale’s Bike Shop, said sales are up 35 percent through the first six months of the year at his three New Hampshire shops.
“It’s been phenomenal. We’ve seen ridiculous growth this year,” Hill said. “I get nervous when I think about how I’ll maintain that growth next year.”
Dale Brown, owner of Cycles De Oro in Greensboro, North Carolina, said sales so far this year are hitting levels set in 2005, the best year since the store opened back in 1975.
“Last year was down, but it’s been an extremely strong first six months,” Brown said. “The industry seems buoyant.”
Goodale’s Hill said he’s seeing the largest increase in sales coming from women’s bikes and equipment.
“The women’s product presentation was the most important for me because we’ve seen the largest increase in sales in this category,” Hill said.
Rachael Lambert, women’s product and marketing manager, said Specialized has seen the fastest growth—double digits—in this segment both in bikes and equipment, prompting it to begin early shipment of select 2011 models to ensure dealers have inventory as many sold out of 2010 bikes by March and April.
But retailers are also seeing robust sales in mountain bikes—mostly hardtail 29ers—and do-everything hybrid bikes, models like the Specialized Crossroads or the Crosstrails that offer a short-travel fork coupled with 700c tires.
Even bicycle fit services seem to be a bright spot. Tom Henry, co-owner of Landry’s Bicycles in Massachusetts, said fit now represents 2 percent of total sales. Landry’s has invested in fit, creating a dedicated area at each of its four stores. More recently Henry said he has had to adjust staffing levels to handle the growth. Landry’s employs three certified BG fit technicians.
Though retailers said they’ve had to contend with shortages of key bikes not only from Specialized but other mainline suppliers as their season got off to a strong start, they’ve still been able to close sales by stocking similar models from fill-in brands or in some cases exchanging with nearby competitors (see related story page 20). Many described their inventory this season as a hodge-podge of product.
About 600 retailers flew into Denver, Colorado, then took a shuttle or drove two hours up to Keystone’s conference center, where they sat through new product presentations, as well as seminars on merchandising and updates to BG Fit.
From the conference center they took shuttles running every 10 minutes to demo tents set up with rows and rows of road and mountain bikes, which they could test along scenic roads or lift-assisted trails. Keystone offered varied downhill terrain, rated from red (service roads) to double black diamond (extreme terrain featuring rock gardens, roots and free-ride features), giving retailers an ideal backdrop to try out short and long-travel bikes.
Bruce Miller of Berlin Bicycle in East Berlin, Connecticut, tested the 29er versions of the Camber, Specialized’s new full-suspension mountain bike positioned as a blend of the Epic and Stumpjumper FSR, as well as the Stumpjumper Expert Carbon. Though he calls himself the skeptic of the shop, he said he came away impressed by what he saw from Specialized.
“I like the Camber—the Stumpjumper grew out of what it was,” Miller said. He also liked that the company is now spec’ing 2x10 drivetrains widely across its mountain bike range.
“We come every year and the bikes look the best I’ve seen,” said Parker Jones, owner of Capital Bicycle in Annapolis, Maryland, a Specialized concept store.
Jones said that it’s tough to leave the business for a few days during July, typically the busiest time for his store, but he comes back to his shop reinvigorated with fresh ideas from networking with other dealers.
Brown of Cycles De Oro said sharing miseries, joys and successes with other dealers is the main reason he leaves his store for a whole week during the prime selling season to attend.
One idea he gleaned from a fellow dealer he talked to while there: take photos of new customers with their recent bike purchase and post them on Facebook.
“It doesn’t cost much other than time, but it’s great ego gratification for the customers,” said Brown. “These are the type of ideas that I get from these events.”