My new book (Bike Boom; I may have mentioned it before) is produced by an American publisher based in Washington, DC. For the book’s official launch I gave a talk in the downtown DC branch of BicycleSPACE, the US capital’s leading bike shop. (It has three branches, and promotes itself thus: “Local knowledge, the best urban brands, weekly rides and classes.”)
The talk was staged in the early evening, after the store had closed, and there were dips, drinks and crudités for those attending. The store promoted my visit on its social media channels, attracting a good number of folks who had never previously visited this branch, and I got to sell a bunch of books. Win/win.
Many bike shops are fabulous at this communal hub thing – organising shop-centred rides, serving “free” espressos, reaching out to newbies and old customers alike. Staging events – such as book signings or rides with celebs (I’ve been on a shop ride with Gary Fisher) – may not result in there-and-then sales. In fact, it almost certainly won’t, but becoming the local cycling epicentre isn’t about pounds and pence.
To begin with. Clearly, this investment in time (and crudités) will have to pay off eventually otherwise you’re a lovable charity not a profitable business, but it’s a long-burn thing.
What impressed me about BicycleSPACE (and it appears to be thriving) is the breadth of events it stages, all with the back-story of “giving back” to the local cycling community, but also cementing in minds that BicycleSPACE is an open, go-to place that’s not just seeking to sell stuff but is also there to stoke excitement, stimulate imaginations and – a critical point for some people – promote cycling in the round.
Organising events is relatively easy, it’s the monetisation that’s the tough part.
I guess it’s all down to a word – and a retail concept – I used in a recent column: serendipity. People need to know you exist, and store events can be the nudge they need. And once a bike shop becomes a “destination” store there’s less likelihood of “showrooming” and having to price match.
Footfall is all, and I know that when I’m next in DC, and need a bike part, I’ll go out of my way to find Bicycle SPACE because, for a start, I now know it exists, but also because I feel an emotional attachment to it.
Pic shows 1970s bicycle advocate Marchant Wentworth (left) and Washington DC’s 1970s transportation committee clerk Carl Bergman. They came to my Bicycle Space talk – neither had visited the shop previously.