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Bike lanes, trails a boon for Cap City retail

Published March 1, 2012

SACRAMENTO, CA (BRAIN) Mar 1, 07:43 MT — From decades-old stores to relative newcomers and from transportation bike-focused to custom builds, retailers downtown run a wide gamut. And their diversity seems to be paying off as they say sales are up despite being in a market that felt the sting of the housing crisis. A network of bike lanes and a bike trail that connects the city to outlying suburbs has played a role in their success. While foot traffic was light yesterday due to wet and chilly temperatures, most reported a strong start to the year thanks in large part to a mild winter. Here’s a rundown of our retail visits on day two of the BRAIN Dealer Tour:

Mike’s Bikes

The downtown Sacramento Mike’s Bikes store, which turns six this May, is one of the newer locations of the 9-store Northern California chain that this spring will grow to 10 stores. And it’s consistently one of the top three performing stores for the company, which opened its first store in San Rafael in 1965.

“Every year we’ve been here we’ve grown,” said Brian Durling, the store’s general manager, adding that it draws customers from Reno, Nevada, Oregon, Fresno and Southern California to its annual sale. “And company wide we’re doing well.”

Durling said his clientele is wide ranging, from the person buying a kids’ bike to a high-end Wilier equipped with Campagnolo’s new electronic group. The wall behind the three cash registers is a testament to his high-end business—about $70,000 worth of carbon fiber bikes equipped with the lightest components decorate a slat wall.

Its three biggest brands are Specialized, Raleigh and Cannondale and Durling said last year alone it put more than 2,200 butts on bikes. Sales so far this year are off to a good start in large part because of warmer weather. Durling said the store also benefits from its close proximity to the American River Bike Trail.

The 10,000-square-foot store and adjacent space that offers another 3,000 feet of storage allows him to keep more than 600 bikes on hand. “Our big success is in the product we carry—we carry everything and try to have a good mix. We try to stay on top of trends,” he said.

Bicycle Business

Five years ago Bicycle Business was a destination fixie track shop that also serviced its local neighborhood. Today, general manager Zack Waddle says he’s getting up to speed on how to route wires for dynamo lights. “I’ve only been here a year but the interest in our touring and commuting products is really taking off,” Waddle said.

And it’s hardcore customers looking for product. Waddle said they find the shop by searching its website. The website was a huge driver of its fixie business and is starting to connect tourists to the shop. Bicycle Business just hired a full-time web manager.

Its custom wheel program is still mostly fixie wheels, but it has laced a few dynamo hub wheels for tourists. Waddle is stocking up on Breezer and Surly bikes as gas prices are already bringing customers in the door looking for bikes to use for transportation.

City Bicycle Works

The hot item on the agenda at City Bicycle Works is its NAHBS (North American Handmade Bicycle Show) party, in part sponsored by Lagunitas Brewing Company. And then if truth be told, the staff was itching to dig into the SRAM boxes air-shipped to the store full of new Red. But those sealed boxes were going to builders at NAHBS, held here this weekend.

When things aren’t so frantic, the 31-year-old store does good business with a wide range of bikes. Hybrids, cruisers and commuter bikes are popular items at its downtown Sacramento neighborhood location.

The sub-$400 cruisers, frequently sold with baskets, are popular with college students living in the cheaper housing in and around old Sacramento. “We sell bikes for the American River Bike Trail, mostly hybrids. And with better-marked bike lanes in town, more people are commuting. It’s not a huge trend, but it’s noticeable,” said Jess Polakoff, who opened City Bicycle Works in 1981 as a road bike store.

Polakoff has a second, smaller store about 15 miles away in Citrus Heights where he hardly sells any cruisers and hybrids. The Sacramento store’s downtown location and nearby bike paths have impacted his product mix.

Practical Cycle

Tim Castleman spent several years sketching out his business plan for a storefront in Sacramento’s Old Town. After running a series of financial scenarios on Excel, he plugged in some numbers for electric bikes and, bingo, he opened Practical Cycle in an historic building not far from California’s state capitol.

He and his son Cassidy preside over an intriguing mix of bikes: electric bikes by Pedego, a well-stocked rack of Breezers, several Worksman Cycles’ Movers, XtraCycle cargo bikes and trikes from Nihola, a unique cargo and people carrier from Denmark.

Toss in some adult trikes and a penchant for encouraging customers to attach a BionX electric conversion kit to multi-speed Breezers and his financial planning has paid off. Oh, and let’s not forget his rental business.

Castleman sums up his decision to start a store to “pure luck and persistence.” The 53-year-old former heater and air conditioning installer left Phoenix to return to Sacramento where he grew up. His boyhood home is only a few blocks from Old Town and his store.

While it may sound politically incorrect, Castleman wants women, 30 to 50 years old, often pear-shaped, to give cycling a try. “No spandex, no funny shoes. Our focus is on the non-enthusiast,” he said. His store’s proximity to the American River Bike Trail and the many festivals held each year in Old Town generate a phenomenal amount of foot traffic. “That was a key part of my financial equation,” he said.

Ikon Cycles

Adrian Moore’s tiny storefront in downtown Sacramento caters mostly to enthusiasts who understand bike fitting and who are willing to spend several hours undergoing a rigorous fit process. “If I had to do general retail, I wouldn’t,” Moore says with a laugh.

Moore and one other employee run Ikon Cycles. And its success depends primarily on an occasional ad on public radio, word-of-mouth and personal relationships developed over more than four years of bike fitting and sales. Moore, though, is the first to acknowledge his strategy is unlikely to make him rich, but the former engineer has carved out a small but successful retail strategy.

While his stock is limited: Fuji, Breezer, Argon 18, Fondriest and several others, Moore has set his sights on delivering expertly assembled bikes that fit. “Before I even sell someone a bike, I require that I fit them first,” he said.

Moore also credits his custom build business, which accounts for 80 to 85 percent of his sales, for his success as another one of Sacramento’s unique retail establishments.

—By BRAIN Staff

Topics associated with this article: BRAIN News

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