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For retailers March is the new May—this year

Published March 26, 2012

BOULDER, CO (BRAIN) Monday March 26 2012 2:34 PM MT—Daffodils are blooming in Minneapolis, cherry blossoms in D.C. In Chicago, "We're having May temperatures in March!" said Uptown Bikes' Peter Anderson.

For retailers from Denver to Boston, March has been a stellar month for sales and service. In stark contrast to the very late spring that afflicted retailers — especially in the Northeast — last year, this year's "year without a winter" combined with a re-energized economy to get cash registers ringing.

The only question for some is whether the weather has just shifted the spring buying frenzy earlier on the calendar, at the expense of the traditional sales spike later in the year.

"Normally there is some anticipation build-up over the winter and then a 'pop.' A few retailers are concerned that they won't get that 'pop' later on," Jason Gaikowski, QBP's director of sales and marketing, said.

"Nationally we've seen that sales are really solid, with unusual levels of sales in some areas," Gaikowski said.

At least six major cities — Indianapolis, Chicago, New York, Kansas City, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Pittsburgh — are on track to set all-time records for the hottest March.

Uptown's Anderson said he's seeing a lot of early season tune-ups for his urban Chicago clientele. "(The weather has) really jumped out our March sales," he said.

At Freewheel Bike Shop in St. Paul, Minnesota, sales manager Stephen Cottrell said "the light switch has turned on" for the season, thanks to downright hot conditions at times over the last few weeks.

"We're crushing last year's numbers," Cottrell said. The shop had to bring in seasonal mechanics earlier than expected. It's signing up more customers for clinics and classes and customers are already asking about weeknight group rides.

Quality's Gaikowski said it's too early in the season to say what kind of product trends might be developing. For the most part, sales appear to be spread out evenly over all the usual categories. The one exception might fat bikes, which are going off for QBP.

"There's really been explosive growth of fat bikes over the last several months," he said. While the crazy looking bikes at first appealed to hard core riders looking for something new, they are becoming the ultimate comfort bike for some entry level customers, to the surprise of Gaikowski.

"We see people coming in to buy a hybrid and they test ride a fat bike and come back with huge grins. They say they are the most stable, comfortable bikes they've ever ridden. The category may turn out to be bigger than we thought."

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