Ever wonder what drives small-business success?
There are, of course, myriad factors involved, and the topic is far too broad to discuss in a single blog post. So let’s narrow our parameters, and focus on the industry that concerns us here at Spinlister the most: bike shops.
By industry standards, it’s a rough time to be in the bicycle selling business. The market peaked during the 1970’s, when a scarcity of oil and an abundance of 10-speed derailleur gears led to the largest cycling boom in American history. Since the early 2000’s, however, there’s been a steady decline among specialty bike retailers in the US, as noted by the National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA).
“The specialty bicycle retail channel has faced consolidation in recent years, as…fierce competition and tight profit margins continue to be challenges for bicycle retailers. Given the importance of physical bike shops to American cyclists, the decline is troubling. Without healthy and vibrant local sources for bike products, service and repair, growth in cycling participation will be difficult to achieve.”
In the face of such sobering statistics, we turned to several Spinlister Pro partners around the globe to help identify the core elements essential to running a successful bike shop. Below are the five that appeared with the greatest frequency, along with some examples of how they were put into practice.
Put the Best Bike Rental Management System to Work in Your Shop:
1.) IDENTIFYING YOUR NICHE
Marketing specialists will tell you that, if you’re going to attract a healthy customer base, you have to identify your sweet spot: aka the niche market that exists at the intersection of consumer need and your particular skill set. For Tim Smith, master wheel builder and owner of GS Astuto in Kawasaki, Japan, it was all about pairing his passion with the right location:
“I would take my track bike out and go ride around on the streets. The process really opened up my eyes to what was going on in cycling in Japan at the time, which was wheels. I thought, ‘Hey this is the land of golden opportunity. I’m already doing stuff that’s 3-5 years ahead of the curve.’”
Of course, you don’t need to take up an apprenticeship or relocate to a different continent in order to find your sweet spot. Just ask Justin Shannon and Kristie Holt, owners of Local Hub Bicycle Company in Deep Ellum, Texas.
“We don’t sell high end mountain bikes or road bikes – we sell bikes that are utilitarian. We wanted to introduce the everyday person to cycling, and here in Dallas there really wasn’t a shop that had fun bikes that were affordable.”
2.) DIFFERENTIATING YOUR SHOP
Sometimes a robust cycling culture, like the ones you’ll find in Portland, San Francisco, and New York, can be both a blessing and a curse. Lots of cyclists means lots of potential business, but they usually signify an increase in neighborhood competition as well. This means you’ll have to think more creatively than hot coffee and weekly mechanic classes if you want to stand out from the crowd.
At 718 Cyclery in Brooklyn, it’s all about tapping into the sense of adventure that most travelers (and residents, for that matter) don’t often associate with the Big Apple. From mountain bike rides in Queens to 100-mile micro camping tours up the Hudson River Valley, owner Joe Nocella works to supply his community with experiences they’re unlikely to find anywhere else in New York.
“There are always going to be people who want to take an adventure,” he says. “We’re into it, because that’s the kind of riding we do.”
3.) CUSTOMER SERVICE
It may sound cliche, but there’s still no substitute for incredible customer service. As Chris Daniels of Singletracks.com puts it: “Online reviews are the great equalizer in today’s market, giving the consumer a powerful voice and an informed choice.” Drop beneath the 4.5-star level on sites like Yelp and Google and you can safely assume that potential customers are giving your competitors a second look online.
If you want to see this philosophy put into practice, drop in on Russell Pickavance in Austin’s Cycleast. His shop is redefining what 5-star customer service looks like in the Texan cycling capital, building loyalty and relationships that go far beyond your typical interaction between shop reps and customers.
“Every single person that walks through that door is family. Owning that love and appreciation for the individual, that’s why we have so many 5-star reviews. We never talk down to people, and we’re very solution oriented. Because every customer has a problem that needs to be solved.”
4.) EMBRACING TECHNOLOGY
In 2016, Amazon topped Exxon Mobil to become the 4th most valuable company in the world. This should tell you something about the power of the online retail space. To combat the resulting “showroom effect” that takes place when customers test out products in a store only to buy them cheaper online, some bike shops focus on the experiential side of cycling (shop rides, classes, etc.). Others, like Western Bikeworks in Oregon, take a more tech-centric approach.
“Our core idea is providing boutique level service with e-commerce level depth of inventory,” says General Manager Colin Ross. “It’s essentially embracing the showroom effect. There are going to be products that people need to look at, touch, and feel before they make a purchase. A big part of the reason we have the [Spinlister Pro] rental program is to give them an opportunity to engage with a product before they decide to spend the money.”
It’s this type of pro-active thinking that has positioned Western Bikeworks among the leading online retailers of road-cycling gear in the US.
5.) DIVERSIFYING YOUR REVENUE STREAMS
Like bicycles themselves, bike shop management isn’t a one-size-fits-all game. Even within your niche market, there are often a variety of goods and services that your shop can offer to help broaden its appeal and supplement the revenue generated by retail alone.
For many bike shops, rentals are low hanging fruit in this category. Rental software like Spinlister Pro has come a long way in the past few years, offering an intuitive management system with extras like point-of-rental kiosks and industry-leading rental fleet protection.
“Having a kiosk really takes the cumbersomeness out of the rental process,” says Anna Maria Wolf, co-owner of Sun And Air bike shop in Williamsburg. “The first day we were setting [it] up we were renting bikes. The response to our rental fleet from the beginning was overwhelming.”