The internet won't fix your bike. That was a key message from bike shop owner Adrian Timmis as he revealed on social media that he had to lay off his two members of staff. Timmis is a former Team GB cyclist, an Olympian and a rider in the Tour de France. Latterly he retrained as a bike fitter, and opened Cadence Sport, a bike shop in a small town near Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire.
In a series of postings across Twitter and Facebook Timmis has been laying bare the challenges small independent bike shops face in the price-wars taking place online, and which make bike shops look expensive. With consumers openly "showrooming" – sizing up clothing and bikes in bricks-and-mortar stores but then buying cheaper online – many bike shops are struggling to stay afloat, especially as customers believe they are being "ripped off" when, in fact, some of the bike parts available online are offered at below trade price. When bike shops "price match" they're often losing money, but hoping to gain the fee for fitting the parts.
"It is with great regret that I'm having to let Pedro and Steve go from Cadence Sport," wrote Timmis on Facebook, stressing that the shop wasn't closing.
"I'll be continuing my successful bike fitting business, selling bikes, doing repairs and bike builds which I've done since I was 16, offer training/advice and other services for cyclists, but I'll be doing it on my own for the short term."
He added: "The current retail climate is changing fast, with a lot of online prices at or less than our trade, which is hard for your local bike shop to cope with – this is the main reason that I can't justify three full time wages any more, we've built a successful reputation and service, but this on its own doesn't pay the bills."
In a line perhaps not many consumers will understand, Timmis wrote: "I'll continue to work with brands that work well with the shop."
Some brands seem to be happy for their products to be "price shagged" by the online discounters; they pay lip service to the mantra that they "support bike shops".
On Twitter, Timmis asked why consumers bought online, and received some frank answers, with Greg Charman admitting to "showrooming":
On Facebook Timmis wrote: "I think people were shocked by my decision to let Ped and Steve go because from the outside cycling looks like it is still booming, which it is, which for a sport I love this is great, but peoples' buying habits have changed with the internet."
He pointed out that the prices he pays for bikes and parts are often higher than the prices consumers pay for the same bikes and parts online, an unsustainable position for a margins-keep-the-lights-on retailer.
"Chatting to people during my bike fits, who come from all around the country to see me, it’s the same story for their local bike shop," said Timmis.
"I realise the business model of a bike shop is changing fast and it has to be more service led, bike fitting, workshop, coaching etc, and work with brands who’ll work with the shop and help us compete with the internet."
His hope is that "there will be still plenty of small bike shops around the country in future and that the big onliners don’t strangle the life and soul out of your local shop where ever you are."
Timmis stressed that bike shops are perhaps more vital than enthusiast consumers realise: "Remember when you needed that last minute repair on Saturday for that race on Sunday or those tubs glued on for the weekend? The online shops won't be able to do that for you. Support your local shop."