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Ray Keener: The S-Word and Manifesto Musings

Published February 25, 2015

Editor's note: Ray Keener is a longtime friend of Bicycle Retailer. Ray's background includes stints as a bike retailer, executive director of the Bicycle Industry Organization, editor of a trade magazine, founder of Growth Cycle and now executive director of the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association. Keener created the Selling Cycling staff training program from 1997-2012, used by more than 2,000 bike shops worldwide.

The views expressed here are Keener's own and do not reflect those of the BPSA or Bicycle Retailer.

I sat down to write a glowing review of the IBD Summit conference after returning from Phoenix in late January. And then, stuff happened.

Fred Clements’ “Dealers Speak Out About the S-Word” BRAIN blog garnered (a record?) 180 comments. I met with Ryan McFarland and team from Strider, Rob Kaplan from Currie, and the National Youth Bike Summit happened in Seattle.

So while we wait for the Interbike folks to (soon) release the Summit Manifesto, I will be brief about the desert gathering: It was good and it’s going to get even better. The expected “S-Word” fireworks never materialized, largely because two key antagonists weren’t present.

Fred’s “S-Word” is Shimano, mine are Strider and Stromer. Stay with me here, we’ll get back to the Manifesto after some random musings on the state of the IBD.

Retailer frustration with UK-web-based Shimano price-slashing is understandable. And some of the quotes from Fred’s piece had me scratching my head: Shimano’s “choking the life out of [retailers]”?

The average US IBD grosses about $800,000 a year. Is it likely that Shimano componentry makes up even 1 percent of that total?  Or is the dealer animus as much about Internet competition in general as about the S-Word specifically?

Clearly, the threat of the Internet, by far the #1 concern of US IBDs by NBDA survey, is about more than just low-priced Shimano. And countering that threat has nothing to do with Shimano, a brand I think we can all agree has done the IBD far more good than harm?

I met with some store managers last Fall, I asked them how they reacted to price-shoppers, armed with their phones and their Wiggle. “It really pisses me off,” one told me. “And our staff treats those jerks like any other customer. I guess they don’t care enough about the shop’s future to get mad.”

My contention: If you care about your shop’s future, you don’t get mad at any of your customers, for any reason. You get even. You find a way to replace that 1%. And try your best to check your politics at the door.

Which brings us to Strider and Stromer. And I choose these S-brands to represent their categories, balance bikes and e-bikes, not as any kind of a recommendation or endorsement.

Ryan McFarland started Strider in 2007, and they’re about to sell their one-millionth bike. That would put him in the top 10 US specialty bike companies in unit volume over that eight-year stretch. And motorcycle shops are selling THREE TIMES more Striders than bicycle shops!

If you‘re an IBD who’s frustrated with on-line brands, and not carrying balance bikes or at least considering e-bikes, how come? Why not replace something that alienates you from your customers with something that builds a future market for you?

Fred also said, “…dealers [are] showing a mixture of anger, resignation and frustration with an important industry supplier.” Resign, retailers. From this fight, at least. Pick one you can win!

Sell something that grows cycling in your community. Give up on the past: Your exclusivity in the high-end component market.

Retailers, if you think carrying off-brand derailleurs when your customers want Shimano is serving you, go ahead. Please, for the sake of your futures, though: Don’t confuse what makes you feel better with what increases your chance of success.

To bring this around full-circle, back to the IBD Summit. I led one of the dozen or so Manifesto-building groups. When given a ballot of 93 items in eight categories, our  group of 15, consisting of about equal numbers of retailers and suppliers, voted the #1 priority by a large margin:

Elevate the standard of the retail experience

There are as many IBD styles and personalities and as many ways to make money in retail as there are IBDs. And offering market-growth products, elevating the experience, delivering on the promise of specialty retail, are all things you can start on today. And no website, no supplier, can stop you.

I conclude with my favorite reply to Fred’s S-Word blog, from Robert Breidenbach in Spokane: ”I'm not a Shimano butt boy, but come on, replace Shimano with Sun Race? Make money where you can and don't waste time and energy worrying about other items. Most of the high-end parts go to guys with smartphones and no loyalty.”

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