Is the gap between high and low-end sales widening?

Dickon Hepworth, MD of Jungle Products pens his observations of buying habits for this month's BikeBiz
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Words by Dickon Hepworth

Bike sales are on the up! Tour de France fever hits the UK! Olympic boost to UK cycling!

All of these have not only been part of various media headlines over the last 18 months, but also part of almost all regular conversations I have had with non industry folk when they learn what trade I’m in.

Certainly the public awareness of cycling has never been higher, but has this translated into more sales for your average bike shop? Based on the vast majority of dealers that we speak to day-to-day the answer is a resounding ‘No’. This may come as a surprise to some, but if anything serves to highlight the widening gap between high-end bike sales and the low-end ‘bread and butter’ bikes.

Sales of high-end bikes – by which I’m talking models £3k plus – have never been healthier. Enthusiasts seem more and more willing to part with significant sums of money, especially if it is deemed to give them a lighter weight, more durable, and more technically advanced bike. And, despite some media comments to the contrary (the exec editor of this very publication was quoted in The Guardian recently as saying “mountain bike sales are dead in the water”) – this applies to mountain bikes as well as road bikes. True, some of our larger customers have been relatively quiet on the MTB side of things over the last 12 months, but recently have reported significant increases in sales and enquiries on high-end mountain bikes.

The split, if there is one, is not so much road vs off road, but rather high-end vs low-end. Or perhaps rich vs poor. The occasional cyclist, or dabbler, has certainly been more adversely affected by the economy than the regular, enthusiast cyclist. To the latter, the economic uncertainty has almost had a galvanising effect on their purchasing – spend more to ensure a better quality, longer lasting product, it’ll be worth it in the long run. The dabbler, however, unsure of how many times the bike may actually get used, has resorted to giving the new bike purchase a miss, viewing it as a luxury rather than a necessity.

Clothing and accessories continue to climb in price to match these higher-end enthusiast bike sales, and undoubtedly lend significant, and more regular retail sales than the average three-year gap between actual bike purchases.

Springing up in support of these high spend enthusiasts, is almost a mini industry of specialist add-ons designed to help get the most out of the new purchase – individual bike fit, specialist travel holidays, tailored training plans... the list goes on.

The high price of these supporting goods and services make them an attractive proposition for most dealers serving the high-end market – but it is debatable how relevant they are to the average bike buyer and whether they in fact distract from the perhaps more important focus of generating more first time bike buyers. And, more importantly, do they stand to widen the perceived gap between the high and low-end bike buying customer?

It is relatively straightforward selling a high-end bike and its associated add-ons and accessories. The would be buyer has pretty much set aside the money and finance to facilitate such a purchase – it’s more a matter of which brand, model and in fact colour to decide on.

It is a much, much harder sell to persuade someone to part with, what is for them, a significant sum of money for something that they may have only limited experience of.

But unless we shift the focus of attention from the enthusiast to the dabbler, we risk ignoring the bread and butter sales that have formed the basis of most UK IBDs business and further widening the gap between high and low-end bike sales.

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