SAN DIEGO, CA (BRAIN)—BRAIN’s San Diego Dealer Tour wrapped up on Thursday with a 40-mile inland circuit stopping at Black Mountain Bicycles, Hi-Techbikes.com, Trek Bicycle Superstore and North of the Border Bicycles.
Black Mountain Bicycles has been a staple on the busy Mira Mesa Boulevard since 1973 back when the community consisted of about 100 military homes for the nearby Miramar Marine Corps Air Station—then a Navy base—and not much else. By the time current owner and longtime employee Bryan Whitbeck bought the store in 1995, San Diego's technology business had sprouted with the headquarters for QualComm, Nokia, Sony, Hitachi and Hewlett Packard all nearby.
Whitbeck pulls 60 to 70 percent of his customers from about a 5-mile radius, but the area’s transformation into a technology center hasn’t necessarily raised his average selling price.
“We’re the family store,” Whitbeck said, later mentioning that he sells 400 to 500 units of kids’ bikes per year. His brightly painted 6,800 square foot shop is well stocked with Specialized, Trek, Moots, Pivot, Look and BMX brands Fit and Mirraco.
Hank Montrose, owner of Hi-Techbikes.com, located on the opposite side of the Miramar Air Station, has seen a dramatic shift in the buying habits of new customers as well as long-time regulars who come to his road and tri shop. Before the recession began to bite into employment and paychecks, Montrose had few problems selling bikes priced at $4,000 or more. Today, some customers tell him they’re surprised when he points them to road bikes with $2,000 price tags.
But another trend he has seen emerge is the number of couples, married and otherwise, who come in to look for bikes and they hope to get involved in cycling, he said. He’s also observed more customers who come in, kick tires, get and idea of proper fit and then go elsewhere or on-line to buy their bikes.
“We see a lot of people leaving for price-point bikes,” he said.
Still, Montrose was all smiles when recounting sales this past January—they set a store record during a month when California and usually sunny San Diego was awash in a tsunami of rain.
Montrose, who started Hitechbikes.com as a mail order business 16 years ago, remains upbeat about the future of cycling.
Less than two miles away, Mike Olson has made his business thrive through his relationship with Trek.
He took ownership of the two original Trek Bicycle Superstores in 2003, a year after Trek opened them as their first concept stores.
Since then, Olson has opened two more San Diego stores. Olson has a licensing agreement to use the Trek name, which he said offers name recognition. “One of the advantages is if I open as Mike’s Bikes, there’s not immediate recognition. As Trek, right away I get tons of business,” he said, citing the initial success of his newest store, opened last summer in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The stores sell predominantly Trek bikes and some Cervelo, which Olson said is a nice complement. In wheels, accessories and apparel, he carries a broad assortment of brands in addition to Bontrager. In shoes, in particular, he’s gone deep in styles and sizes. “I’ve probably got a year’s worth of inventory, way more than I would really want, but I hope to be a destination for shoes. Customers really want to be able to try them on.”
North of the Border Bicycles, a niche mountain bike shop situation at the trailhead for Sorrento Valley’s well-ridden Los Penasquitos trail system, recently expanded its product offering to road bikes, displaying a size run of Marins in the small 2,000 square foot space, along side fat tire 26 and 29-inch bikes from Turner, Ellsworth and KHS.
That’s helped keep business moving during the unusually wet winter when many nearby trails have been closed.
“I think a lot of customers are happy [we’re carrying road bikes],” Wolkon said. “With all the rain this year, people are coming in saying, ‘Can you get me a road bike?’”
But, the core business remains mountain, and Wolkon is seeing interest in 29ers continue to grow—sales lean about 60 percent toward big wheel bikes—, as well as trends toward wider handlebars and singlespeeds.
This season, he plans to stock up on more $2,000 full suspension 29ers to appeal to the pricepoint shopper. North of the Border has also invested more heavily in apparel, dedicated a corner of its shop solely to Zoic, which is headquartered down the street.
Photo: Black Mountain Bicycles/Jake Orness