Beating the downturn
What is it with 20 per cent? Pretty much every bike shop and bike business I've talked to in the last few weeks – big or small – is reporting year-on-year growth of 20 per cent. In a recent email to dealers, Trek CEO John Burke said his company was up by a little over, yes, 20 per cent. Those bike shops who run Cycle To Work schemes tell me the Government initiative now makes up 20 per cent of their turnover.
Are people plucking this one-fifth stat out of thin air? They can’t be, it’s not a show of hands in a big, faceless room, it’s my independent questioning or – in the case of Trek – the unsolicited publishing of sales figures to further bolster its retailers’ confidence.
If true, it’s a good thing – we need a little bit of fat because the economic downturn is going to keep people’s wallets and purses firmly closed. Unless, that is, the selling of bikes is one of those recession-resistant industry sectors that can weather the storm?
Cycling to work is certainly experiencing a boom, which is great news for urban dealers, but what about those out in the sticks? Some are suffering, for sure, no doubt a result of last year’s shoddy weather. Any UK business that relies on outdoor recreation risks being rained off. Bike commuters will keep riding in the rain, and they’ll buy heaps of wet weather gear from bike shops. But with black clouds looming, fairweather recreational cyclists might just go to the the flicks instead.
Looking on the bright side, the recession could bring benefits even to rural shops. Worries about climate change and the credit crunch will mean people will start taking fewer holidays abroad. The ski industry is likely to take a big hit this season. With more Brits at home – Brits who want to be active in the winter – bikes could take the place of skis.
Even top-end, luxury bits of kit might still sell through. There may be fewer investment bankers to buy the latest and most expensive bits of cycle kit but, as one bike-lux specialist told me, cycling is cheap compared to snow frolics in Kloisters or that second SUV. Those investment bankers still in jobs will rein back excessive expenditure, but £150 for a pair of top-end Lycra shorts is small change to some.
To date, newbie cycle commuters seem to be battling the elements. Many bike shops are reporting stronger than ever demand for repairs. Having trained and accredited mechanics could be the key factor to make sure bike shops ride out the recession.
By Carlton Reid