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Some changes — and growth — in this year's Big BRAIN 10

Published July 14, 2022
Hearing from The Bigs on several topics.

A version of this article ran in the July issue of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News.

Since our first Big BRAIN 10 survey last March, two bicycle brands (Pon and Specialized) have entered the list to replace three IBDs purchased by suppliers (Mike’s Bikes by Pon, Mike Olson’s San Diego and Portland stores by Trek, and David’s World Cycle by Trek).

The unranked list is of the U.S.’s 10 largest brick-and-mortar retailers of IBD-quality bikes. It’s compiled from surveying and interviewing industry members, including suppliers, retailers and others who have a view into the market.

Since most retailers are reluctant to publicly share their revenue numbers, this time we asked them to reported their relative sales levels during the pandemic, setting 2019 sales as a baseline of 100. No surprise: everyone is up. And most said they are holding strong well into 2022.

So let’s hear from The Bigs about a range of topics, including how they’ve re-invested their pandemic windfalls back into their businesses:

Conte’s Bike Shop

Year founded: 1957

Number of locations: 18 locations in Virginia, DC, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida

Brands carried: Specialized, Cannondale, Orbea, Pinarello, house brand “1957”

Owned by: David Conte and Wayne Souza

Relative sales:

  • 2020 = stronger than 2019
  • 2021 = stronger than 2020
  • 2022 = slightly up over 2021

 “You can see the upside of the pandemic in our sales numbers,” David Conte said. “The most significant downside was the impact upon our staff.

“During the pandemic, we acquired some locations, started the build-out of new locations, and bought a central warehouse from which we conduct a robust bike-building operation,” continued Conte. “We also expanded our existing truck fleet.”

“For we retailers who have historically operated on a multi-brand retailing philosophy, the future is great. Creative partnering with OEMs will be the key to the future. Life is too short to approach bike retailing any other way.”

Erik’s Bike Board Ski

Year founded: 1980

Number of locations: 34 locations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, South Dakota, Kansas and Missouri

Brands carried: Specialized, Diamondback, Haro, Cervelo, BMC, Aventon, Norco

Owned by: Erik Saltvold

Relative sales:

  • 2019: 100
  • 2020: 159
  • 2021: 180
  • 2022 predicted: 180

“COVID felt like a game of whack-a-mole,” Erik Saltvold said. “We’d solve one problem and another would pop up. We thought we had ‘safety stock’ built in but no one could see a 50% sales increase.

“The pandemic is not yet past tense but it’s not as intense. The last couple years it was super-easy to sell whatever you had, now there’s more choice out there, so you need to sharpen your selling skills.

“With the ready cash of the past two years, we reinvested heavily in our business. We built a 120,000 square foot distribution, training and office center in Minneapolis that opened in late 2020.

“We don’t see prices coming back down anytime soon. I don’t see any vendors that can profitably lower princes at this point. And that’s not a bad thing, we’ve always undersold ourselves.

“Our industry has never been this financially healthy,” concluded Saltvold. “There will be some reversion for sure. All boats rose for a while, now there will be the more typical  mix of winners and losers.”

Landry’s Bicycles

Year founded: 1922

Number of locations: 8 in Massachusetts

Brands carried: Trek, Giant, Specialized, Electra, Fuji, Santa Cruz, Parlee

Owned by: 100% ESOP employee ownership

Relative sales:

  • 2019: 100
  • 2020: 147
  • 2021: 182
  • 2022 predicted: 167

“The rapid growth was exhilarating and exhausting at the same time,” said general manager Mark Gray. “The pandemic limited our capacity for building strong customer relationships. We also missed supporting in-store and local community events.

“We used our strong cash position to help buy the company from the prior owners, and we are now 100% employee-owned as of January 2022, which is a huge milestone.

“The biggest long-term benefit is that the overall status of bicycling has grown stronger with greater social acceptance, especially for healthy recreation and low-impact transportation,” Gray concluded. “Our industry now has a huge opportunity to keep all our pandemic bike boom customers riding bikes into the future.”

Pon Bike company-owned stores

Number of locations: 18, with 14 in Northern California and four in Colorado

Brands carried: Santa Cruz, Giant, Cannondale, Public, BMC, Orbea, Gazelle

Owned by: Pon Bike

“Working through COVID was incredibly stressful on our coworkers, but we took proper safety precautions, we offered extra paid time off, and our team came together to deliver great results,” said Mike’s Bikes CEO Ken Martin.

We continue to believe in the stickiness of the COVID bike boom,” Martin said. “Our job now is to be sure that all these new cyclists have great experiences and stay in the family. If we keep doing that well, the future is very bright.”

REI Co-op

Year founded: 1938

Number of locations: 174 in 41 states and DC

Brands carried: Cannondale, Electra, Tern, Co-op Cycles, Salsa, Ghost

Owned by: 21.5 million co-op members

Relative sales:

  • 2019: 100
  • 2020: 138
  • 2021: 143

“The upside of the pandemic was greater demand than supply for multiple seasons,” said Ron Thompsen, REI’s senior category manager for cycling. “The downside of that: shortages were disappointing to both customers and staff, leading to tough conversations and many missed sales.

“We invested in inventory much further in advance than we typically do,” said Thompsen. “We are now healthy in areas like youth bikes and sub-$1000 adult bikes. We’re very light in enthusiast-level product.

“We believe that the pandemic’s impacts will be positive in the long run,” concluded Thompsen. “We’re seeing increased awareness of the need for better access and infrastructure to help keep more people riding.”

Bike Mart

Year founded: 1962

Number of locations: 6 in Texas

Brands carried: Trek, Giant, Specialized, Electra, Cervelo, Santa Cruz, Orbea

Owned by: Ken “Woody” Smith

Relative sales:

  • 2019: 100
  • 2020: 140
  • 2021: 145
  • 2022 predicted: 105

Last year, Smith changed his stores’ name from Richardson Bike Mart to Bike Mart.

“From the outside, it all looks like upside when sales go up, right? We shared the same pandemic downside with everyone else: Not enough of the right inventory for bikes and parts,” said Smith.

“The influx of cash over the past two seasons allowed us to open up three new stores and remodel two more of them. We bought one of our buildings and set up an offsite 15,000 square foot warehouse.

“We are over-inventoried by 20-25% as of mid-June,” Smith said. “I would say we all need to be careful. Don't over-inventory yourself! There will be deals in the coming months on inventory that is just sitting in our vendors’ warehouses.”

“Looking to the future, we are aligning ourselves with vendors that want to be a true partner, not our competitor,” concluded Smith. “I believe in first-in, first-out for buying and allocating product. I don't care if you have a $400K a year store or you have 20+ stores. It should be the same for all.”

SCHEELS All Sports

Year founded: 1902

Number of locations: 30, in 13 states in the central and western U.S.

Brands carried: Trek, Electra, Super73, Stacyc, Strider, Haro, Kink

Owned by: 100% employee-owned

Scheels operates massive destination sporting goods stores, with speciality departments that carry upscale brands not seen in department stores and other sporting goods chains. Its stores include full-service bike departments.

Specialized company-owned stores

Year founded: 1976

Number of locations: 50+

Brands carried: Specialized

Owned by: Specialized

After operating just a handful of company stores until early 2021, Specialized got into the acquisition game along with Trek, which had acquired several of the company’s best dealers, in New England, Texas, California, and other markets. Unlike Trek, Specialized usually doesn’t change the name of the stores it acquires. The company confirmed it now owns more than 50 locations, and some industry sources said Specialized has set a goal of 300.

Trek Bicycle company-owned stores

Year founded: 1976

Number of locations: more than 500

Brands carried: Trek, Electra, Bontrager

Owned by: Burke family

Trek rarely comments on its retail acquisitions and the retailers who sell are often bound by non-disclosure agreements. But it’s hard to miss some of acquisitions, such as when the company bought Florida’s David’s World Cycle in April 2021. David’s, with 21 locations, was on the Big BRAIN 10 on its own right last year. 

Trek declined to cooperate with this article. Two suppliers said they have shipped to more than 500 distinct Trek store addresses in the U.S., which operate under nearly 500 distinct regional store names (Trek Florida, for example, has 21 locations). 

Wheel & Sprocket

Year founded: 1973

Number of locations: 12 locations in Wisconsin and Illinois

Brands carried: Trek, Electra, Giant, Salsa, TerraTrike, Riese+Muller, Tern, Yuba

Owned by: Amelia Kegel and Noel Kegel

Relative sales:

  • 2019: 100
  • 2020: 145
  • 2021: 155
  • 2022 predicted: 160

“We are a significantly better company in 2022 than we were in 2019,” Noel Kegel said.   “One downside of the pandemic has been the disappearance of in-person events. It felt strange not being out there, supporting and developing opportunities for people to ride.

“Even pre-pandemic, W&S has been on a growth path and virtually every dollar of profitability gets plowed back into the business. Since 2020, we've opened three additional locations, remodeled others, paid down some debt, and raised wages.”

“Consolidation at retail has been happening for some time, and the pandemic has significantly accelerated that,” Kegel concluded. “The challenge for us will be to evolve and improve without the massive resources available to major brands that are interested in retail as well.”

Topics associated with this article: From the Magazine

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