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Heather Mason: Here's how retailers can help the US switch from cars to bikes

Published March 9, 2022

By Heather Mason

Nearly two years ago, I wrote an opinion column for BRAIN titled, This could be the start of a Bike Boom 2020. It was early on in the pandemic, and while many were thinking the worst and that bike shops may have to close, I saw people out in record numbers and was optimistic on industry growth. I am thankful that my predictions proved correct as we welcomed millions through our retail doors to find freedom and recreation on two wheels. 

Here we are March 9, 2022, and I sit down to write regarding my predications for another bike boom, as my good friend, past NBDA president James Moore, addressed in his letter to the industry published on BRAIN Tuesday.  

James wrote:

Now that President Joe Biden has announced that the U.S. will no longer allow Russian oil into our country it’s a given that we are on the verge of record gas prices at the pump. Here’s where we, the independent bicycle retailers of America, can play a vital role.

During COVID we saw Americans come out in record numbers to buy bicycles as a safe means of coping with shutdowns. We also put bicycles back into working order that had been dormant for decades, to facilitate the need to get outdoors.

I predict that we’re about to experience a second bike boom but this time with a different demographic. Those who cleared our showrooms of inventory during COVID were affluent Americans mostly looking for a recreational outlet. As gas prices quickly increase to unprecedented levels, we’re about to see those of more modest means seek an affordable way to get to work.”- James Moore.

Taking a trip to Vermont this past weekend, the effects of the rising gas cost hit me personally. Yesterday I sat my kids down and spoke to them about what is happening in Ukraine, how not bringing Russian oil into the U.S. was a way we could do something as a country and ultimately how the gas prices will rise. I concluded by letting them know to expect us to be biking and walking to the market and school forward. It’s not just the cost of the gas — it’s that it feels like it's something we can do to help. 

This is where I ask you for help.

Help us to ensure that our industry is ready to facilitate the switch from cars to bikes for those unable to fill their tanks. 

Plan and get your staff on board

Take time to consider what this means for your retail business. How will you adapt to this new customer and surge in need? Think about inventory, staffing, service center operations, and policy. Call a team meeting and talk to your staff about the rising gas prices and your predictions. Make sure the entire team is on the same page on expectations and deliverables forward. Encourage your staff to start commuting to work where possible, to get them using the bags, racks, fenders and more that they will be suggesting. 

Source Bicycles

With suppliers already restrained on inventory levels this will bring another demand into our market. If you are low on bicycles and can afford to bring in more inventory, go now and see what additional bicycles you can find with vendors. As James indicated, you can also source gently used bicycles from your community. We expect many new cyclists, those we did not capture these past two years, and they will be looking for a diverse price range of products. Make sure you have bicycles to cover every need.  

Re-imagine Inventory and Displays

One by one more Americans will think about the bike as a transportation alternative. When they find your store, in person or online, make sure that they do not have to “search” out the options available. Take time to position transportation options, with accessories (racks, bags, lights, fenders, locks, baskets) front and center. Showcase a bike fully outfitted, ready to commute. Bring in a cargo bike, place milk, an egg carton or other in a bag to show what it would look like. Help the customer visualize themselves using the bike. Bring in a Burley trailer. Think outside the box and be the inspiration.  

Communicate and Spark

The past few months many of us have been sensing a slowdown in sales. We have an opportunity right now to embrace another surge. Let’s throw some fuel on the fire. Light up your website, social campaigns, in-store displays and communication around the bicycle as a source of transportation. Weather is turning favorable over much of the nation and the timing is with us. Let’s turn the world upside down, as an industry united right now to reach a whole new group of future cyclists, the commuter. I beg of you to join your efforts with the industry at large and let’s showcase the power and diversity of a bicycle. 

As James mentions, we will be playing a vital role in the liberation of Ukraine as we help maintain American support for critical Russian sanctions. We will also be taking an active role in keeping the bike boom alive. 

I hope you’re ready to join us. This is our time to serve.  

Heather Mason

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