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State of Retail: How has COVID-19 changed your business?

Published November 9, 2020

A version of this feature ran in the November issue of BRAIN.

BOULDER, Colo. (BRAIN) — For our November magazine edition, we asked our State of Retail panel members: “What long-term changes have you made to your business as a result of COVID-19?”

SEATTLE: Christiaan Bourdrez, owner Ride Bicycles

Christiaan Bourdrez

Our customer base has broadened due to the pandemic, growing from mostly hardcore daily riders and commuters into a wider group of people interested in cycling. We see lots of new riders or riders getting into the sport to gain extra outdoor exercise time. We are open two more days per week than a competing store, and this caused more new riders and diverse customers to visit us. As a result of this growth, I just opened a second location near some mountain bike trails. It has lots of customers already! Also, our online sales continue to grow.

My manager completely overhauled our merchandising with a new slat wall and the improvement is increasing sales and improving our cash conversion rate on our inventory buys. Due to increased demand from COVID-19, we are stocking more quantities of bikes, parts, and accessories to keep products available at both locations and meet demand. We’ve focused on fewer SKUs with higher inventory to make shopping quicker and wholesale buying more efficient. 

BOISE, Idaho: Diane Cutler, owner Spokey Joe’s Bikes & Gear

Diane Cutler

Earlier this year, we added an on-line sales platform to our website to accommodate those customers who prefer to shop from home, whether due to the pandemic or just a convenient alternative to in-person shopping. We have no additional plans to make significant changes to our business model. 

In the past year, the biggest change to our customer base was a substantial jump in new and born-again riders. The majority of these new customers were families with school-age children, but there were also young couples, middle-aged office workers now working from home, college students, and retirees. 

The surge in demand for bikes, parts and accessories during the pandemic helped to reinforce that we had a solid product mix based on what customers were asking for — while supplies lasted, at least! As inventory continues to become available, we plan to restock with much of the same product as before the pandemic hit.

CHICAGO: Justyna Frank, co-owner Cosmic Bikes

Justyna Frank

One modification that we’ll make to our business model is continuing to offer our customers more online conveniences, such as pre-ordering items for store pickup, or pre-booking service with free pickup at their home, but — as long as we can get product — we're not making any dramatic changes beyond that. Our customer base has not changed as a result of COVID-19, but it has grown, since more people were exploring bike shops outside of their normal range in search of bicycles.

Before the lock-down, we were exploring ways to add more product lines to our store. However, after this season, we're thinking it's a better strategy to focus on some of our specialty products and vendors with whom we have long-standing relationships and create a more solid foundation for any potential growth. It's very tempting to go after the volume, but we want to ensure that we continue providing value as well.

FULLERTON, Calif.: Mike Franze, owner Fullerton Bicycles and Buena Park Bicycles

Mike Franze

We have a larger mix of customers because of COVID-19, and a lot of them are new to cycling, so our job has been to teach our customers how to ride, what gears to be in, how to set the correct seat height, etc. We’ve temporarily cut back our group rides due to COVID because they typically attract between 40-125 people, and our local health order prohibits that. We have also put special nights such as team nights and hosting guest speakers on hold until things get more back to normal (if that ever happens).

Our two locations have always had a good mix of customers across all types of riding, but with COVID, the MTB segment has been the one with the most growth. Our middle-aged consumers are coming back for tires, helmets, gloves, etc., which leads me to believe that they are enjoying cycling. Two years ago, Giant remodeled our shop, and it’s still looking good, so we will not be making any changes to our main location. We are planning some cosmetic changes to our new e-bike store to make it look more like our existing shops, with more branding to our key suppliers.

HOUSTON: Tad Hughes, owner Tad Hughes Custom Fit Studio

Tad Hughes

Since COVID-19, my customer base has changed, mainly from the addition of many brand new riders seeking their first professional fitting. I have also seen an increase of occasional or infrequent riders. This increased volume of interest has been addressed as well as stock disposition has allowed. The lack of availability is a big challenge that has slowed many people looking to vertically integrate, for example, moving from a 6-month-old hybrid to a road bike. Shop events currently would fall under the restrictions of local mandates, and stock has been aligned based on the bikes on order and current information available of manufacturers’ forecasting. I made many of the physical compliance changes that were required for COVID from the onset of the pandemic, and these will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

Kansas City, Mo.: Christina Baanders-Decker, owner Midwest Cyclery

Christina Baanders-Decker

We’ve made some significant staffing changes as a result of COVID-19: adding a full-time sales person and a full-time mechanic due to the sheer volume of work and increase in business. We’re looking to add two part-timers in late winter early spring, as well. Another change is that we are planning more engagement for our newer clientele. We’ll be organizing more "new rider" events during the winter to teach people how to fix flats, how to bikepack, etc. We’ve been delighted to see that COVID has changed our customers into happier people who are excited and ready to learn about cycling and enjoy it. The jaded cyclists are few and far between. 

We’ve been frustrated by our supplier "partnerships" and the lineup in our shop will look surprisingly different in 2021. Our current suppliers’ demands on us to fulfill our end of the dealer agreement, regardless of their ability to ship a full range of sizes, has made it a one-way street. We can only sell so many extra small step-through bikes!

BROOKLYN, N.Y.: Joseph Nocella, owner 718 Cyclery and Outdoors

Joe Nocella

We’ve observed that ordering online for in-store pickup, something we started during the pandemic, has really taken off, so we plan to continue that, and we’re working on processes that make that interaction smoother. Similarly, our in-store classes have transitioned to online. Our customer base pre-COVID was traditionally "adventure cycle curious," but it has expanded to include more commuter types of riders. We are looking at changing the size of our overnight Micro-Tours to make them safer through smaller groups.

SAN DIEGO: Mike Olson, owner Trek Superstore and Bike Gallery

Mike Olson

Our customer base has become much more diverse in most every way as a result of COVID-19. We’re investing in our website to make it easier to use, as well as more educational and inspirational to our customers. We will also be focusing on getting these new bike buyers the parts and accessories they need. Overall, we are trying to figure out how to get that personal connection in a socially distanced world. For example, large road rides might be off the menu for awhile, but small groups of distanced mountain bike riders could work. I would summarize by saying that our healthy business is accelerating actions that we have been wanting to take anyway. Let's not forget how lucky the bike business has been during this time of great hardship for many.

CHICO, Calif.: Kate Sage, bicycle technician, and

Kate Sage

From the types of products that have sold, it’s obvious that many customers are breaking out old bikes to ride. A lot of our new customers are families and first-time cyclists. We’re selling a lot of large wheel diameter BMX bikes to men in their 30s and 40s who want to ride with their kids. We are acquiring extra inventory, but not changing our offerings very much. The bulk of our product offerings is still based on consumer demand and supply-chain limitations. 

Our brick-and-mortar store has adopted a concierge approach to shopping in order to prevent many folks handling our products. Our online store has made a number of user experience and interface changes as well as adding alternative shipping options. Behind the scenes, we continue to hire new folks to keep up with the increase in online shopping. We’re still holding off on in-person shop events, but getting excited to host online bike events through social media and platforms like Strava and Zwift.

Topics associated with this article: State of Retail, From the Magazine

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