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Just how many bike shops are there, anyway?

Published April 9, 2019

Editor's note: A version of this article appeared in the April 1 edition of BRAIN.

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WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. (BRAIN) — It's a frequent, obvious, and frustrating question from anyone trying to get a handle on our industry: "Just how many bike shops are there in the U.S.? And how fast is that number shrinking?"

Our answer to the first depends on how you define "bike shop." But no matter your definition, the number is almost certainly larger than those that many industry pundits have been tossing around in recent years.

And our answer to the second question is ... no one's really sure how fast the number is shrinking — there's even some evidence the number is going the other way.

And our third response, to a question that wasn't posed, is: "You really ought to talk to Christopher Georger."

Georger is an industry veteran (in fact, a third-generation industry veteran) who has made it his mission to put together the most definitive and useful list of U.S. retailers. Based in upstate New York, he has worked quietly for decades on projects for most of the major bike brands in the country.

Now, for the first time, he's making a list more widely available for sale from a new segment of his business, called TheBikeShopList.com.

To end the suspense, Georger's list of shops includes more than 7,000 bicycle retailers in the U.S. — that's nearly twice the number some sources have quoted in recent years.

Georger's list is gleaned from the dealer locators of more than 60 bicycle brands. He defines a bicycle retailer as any company that is listed as an authorized dealer of any of these brands. His core list sells for $2,500, with many sorting and targeting options for individual buyers.

Georger has been maintaining this list since the late 1990s. "In 1989, we sold our family business [Howard Georger Company] to GT, and I became the general manager of Riteway East in the process," Georger said, recounting just one step in his career in the industry that began in about 1971. His family can trace its connections to the industry to 1889. His brother, John Georger, is another veteran, currently the vice president of sales at Univega USA.
At Riteway, Georger said, "I needed shop profiles to make decisions. What kind of store is it? What brands do they carry? Wow will we meld in with other brands in that shop and other shops nearby? So I started to develop a database on my own to answer these questions."

That database is the foundation of Georger Data Service, his main business, and now contains more than 900,000 cells of columns and rows of detail. Beyond the expected information about all shops present and past (store name, address, phone, website, email), Georger also keeps track of all bike brands carried and other key factors from census data, such as median market income and each shop's congressional district.

Over the years, GDS has engaged many of the top brands as well as some retailers looking to evaluate their presence in the U.S. Census Bureau's 331 U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs). The brand-specific content of his list, which strongly guides the brands' decision-making, will not be included in the new offering due to Georger's nondisclosure agreements with current and past clients.

"I feel that it's time to take something that's been quiet and make it public," Georger said. "The industry is at a junction, and a clear definition of who our retailer base encompasses, that anyone can access, is a step toward greater cooperation and understanding."

The current generally accepted industry retailer base has been defined for decades by the list maintained by Jay Townley in conjunction with the National Bicycle Dealers Association, which as of 2016 contained 3,700 retail store locations. That list's definition includes any retailer who does 50 percent or more of their sales volume in bicycles, bicycle-related products and services.

That list would exclude sporting goods stores and ski stores, and hybrid bike shop/coffee shop operations, for example, if non-bike sales accounted for more than half the business. It also leaves out mobile bike service businesses. It excludes businesses like REI and Scheels (Trek's No. 1 retail customer), both of which sell huge volumes of dealer-quality bikes.

The NBDA/Townley list hasn't been updated since 2016, and most industry observers estimate it has been shrinking by about 5 percent a year, putting the current estimate, using the NBDA definition, at about 3,400 stores — less than half Georger's number.

Georger makes no claim to have a definitive answer. "There are many ways to define who is or is not a bike dealer," he said. "I don't know any criteria or methodology other than my own. While my number is 7,354 today, I prefer to say 7,000-plus, since it changes every day. I can demonstrate that my list does include the margins, or fringe, that the NBDA may not be capturing."

Since Georger's list finds retailers who sell 60 major brands who maintain dealer directories that he has accessed, some really small shops, including service-only operations and nonprofit community bike shops, probably are not on his list (or the NBDA list). There are about 250 community bike shops in the country.

Distributor Midway Bicycle Supply specializes in selling to small operations. Many of Midway's customers can't get wholesale accounts with other distributors, so they probably are not included on either Georger's or the NBDA's list. Midway's mailing list has about 3,500 shops on it.

It should be noted that the Townley/NBDA list and Georger's list both count locations, not owners, so each one of a multi-store chain's locations is included.

Some have expressed skepticism about Georger's use of dealer locators to form a list. When asked about the GDS list, the NBDA's board chair, Kent Cranford, said, "When I have seen [the GDS list] in the past, it reflected as accurately as the dealer locators do, which I don't think are very accurate."

The NBDA recently began selling its own Retailer Directory with more than 600 names on it.

Questions about Georger's methodology aside, he has an enthusiastic group of industry collaborators, including nonprofits, suppliers and others, who use his list without qualms.

"PeopleForBikes leverages information provided by Georger Data Services to demonstrate the power of the bicycle industry," said Jennifer Boldry, the director of research at PFB, which buys the complete GDS list annually. "Christopher provides us estimates of retail sales for congressional districts, which we use to gain support for pro-bike policies and funding at the federal, state and local levels.

"We also use estimates of retail sales at the city level to better understand the connections among places to ride, ridership and industry health," Boldry continued. "For example, a recent analysis revealed that median IBD sales per capita is more than twice as high in cities with good bicycle networks than in those with poor-quality networks."

While Georger declined to give a list of his private clients, Bill Schouman, vice president of sales at Quality Bicycle Products, had this to say about Georger's methods and results: "I've used Christopher's data for more than a decade, which is a testament to his dedication to figuring this out."

Schouman, who also worked at Cervélo and Specialized during that period, added, "His numbers line up well with ours: We have just under 6,000 bill-to accounts and in the high-7,000s ship-to accounts, and we know there are a lot of dealers we don't have."

As a past president of the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association, Georger is very familiar with industry collaboration. "People have been asking me to [make the list available] for years," he said. "I believe that the bike business needs to change in the direction of more openness about the bike dealer culture. I hope this might get people putting their cards on the table and working together."

And if you are wondering about the second question posed at the top of this article — how fast the number of shops is dwindling — check out my Guest Editorial.

 

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