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Carolinas Dealer Tour, Day 3: Weathering natural and retail disasters in Columbia

Published October 27, 2016
Finish Line’s Derek Goltz (left) and Hawley-Lambert’s Pat McGinnis
Tour group also drops in at sponsor Hawley-Lambert for an update on the distributor’s recent operational changes.

COLUMBIA, S.C. (BRAIN) — The final day of Bicycle Retailer's Carolinas Dealer Tour moved on to Columbia, South Carolina, on Wednesday, visiting two retailers and distributor Hawley-Lambert. As has been the case throughout the tour, the weather was fantastic as the group rode between Outspokin' Bicycles and Cycle Center, both east of Columbia's downtown.

As the group toured though neighborhoods surrounding the city center, repair work on many houses was still in progress from last October's one-in-a-thousand-years flood, which put many neighborhoods under water and swept some houses off their foundations. 

Outspokin' owner Brian Curran, whose own home remained dry but was surrounded by floodwater, had just opened a second store in Irmo, a city northwest of Columbia by Lake Murray, when floodwaters inundated that location. Both Outspokin’ stores were flooded, damaging inventory.

“The flood on top of a general slowdown in the bike business  — and here in Columbia, a slowdown as people worked to recover from the flood — has been tough to recover from,” Curran said. 

The only upside Curran notes is that it has forced him to focus closer on his business practices and watch inventory levels and marketing expenses.

Cycle Center, owned by John Green, may have dodged the worst of the floodwaters, but a fire at a second retail store forced the closure of that business, leaving staff to focus on the retailer’s largest location.

Last October's flood and the recent flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew were compounded by the chaos left in the wake of the BikeStreet USA debacle. The short-lived Florida-based retail chain, which at its height operated 17 locations in Florida and North and South Carolina, swept into Columbia almost three years ago, buying up two of the seven stores operating in the city. 

“There were only seven bike shops at the time Bike Street came to town. Another shop closed during that time and now we are down to five shops. BikeStreet really impacted our market,” said Rebecca Eveling, Cycle Center's manager.

In addition to the shop shake-up, Curran says his business suffered as BikeStreet closed out its inventory at half off. The company began liquidating its inventory at the end of 2014.

“For months they were offering bikes at big discounts and that really cut into my store sales. It may be over now but it had a big impact in the local bike scene here,” Curran said.

Columbia is lacking the bicycle infrastructure the Dealer Tour encountered the previous two days in Charlotte, North Carolina, though retailers say they are encouraged by plans to improve cycling facilities. That said, both shops said their commuter market it is growing. Triathlons and mountain biking, with the help of Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association, are increasing rider options.

Hawley grows

It has been a turbulent year for distributor Hawley-Lambert, but in a good way. Canadian distributor Cycles Lambert, based in Québec, and Hawley, based in Lexington, South Carolina, combined leadership one year ago.

Hawley-Lambert’s headquarters in Lexington, South Carolina, has 10,000 square feet of office space and a 50,000-square-foot warehouse.

The company located just outside of Columbia has been shifting staff responsibilities around, as well as moving people between the U.S. and Canada as its work to empower one leadership group to run both companies, as well as two new U.S. distribution centers in Sparks, Nevada, and Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. The new distribution centers allow the company to service retailers with one-day shipping. 

“One of the things we offer our vendors now is North America exposure for their brand by one of our sales team. They have one contact here at Hawley-Lambert for the U.S. and Canada that knows what is going on in both markets. We think that is a big advantage we offer our customers,” said Sylvain Caya, Hawley-Lambert’s president. 

Caya noted that the company is not as pressed to add distribution centers in Canada as retailers there preorder almost half their annual needs, which require less just-in-time service from distributors. 

The company recently added Pat McGinnis as its vice president of commercial and Jason Grantz as consumer brand manager. The company has 225 employees and 70 sales reps. 

BRAIN's Carolinas Dealer Tour was sponsored by Hawley-Lambert, Finish Line, Hutchinson Tires, SmartEtailing, PeopleForBikes and Interbike.

Look for a full report, including individual shop profiles, in the December 1 issue of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News.

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