Sales rep's view: There's no next big thing, but lots of little things - BikeBiz

Sales rep's view: There's no next big thing, but lots of little things

John Styles is an independent sales agent in the bike trade. Here the former marketing manager, product manager and in-house sales rep talks winter trading
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John Styles is an independent sales agent in the bike trade. Here the former marketing manager, product manager and in-house sales rep talks winter trading...

Back in January 2015 I suggested we were going to have a quiet year for bike sales. Sorry for being right, I’d rather have been proved wrong. You can re-visit that article here if you missed it. There's plenty more in the series too.

I also suggested the trade focuses on four key growth areas: MTB, Kids, Womens, E-Bike. So, after a very quiet summer I’m going to get straight to the point and suggest ways to sell more this winter.

New Wheel Size MTBs

The industry is doing pretty well at this. The only thing I suggest is that, on a local level, you either offer all choices (27/29/27+/29+/Fat and 27+/29 interchangeable). Or you make an edit and come off the fence to tell your customers, this format is right for our area. And demo stuff too.

Quality Kids Bikes

Quality kids bikes are selling very well. But not in all areas. Remember that the key purchasing driver is Paul, a 44 year old male with 6 bikes in the garage and a nostalgic streak. Here’s how to sell to him:

  • Get at least 1 high quality/lightweight range of kids/youth bikes in your store 
  • Sell the sizzle not the sausage. Or in this case, the lifestyle, not the bicycle 
  • Buy at least 2 mannequins (adult and child sized) and some kids clothing too 
  • Make a display or window display featuring father and son bikes next to each other. According
    to Phil Barden in Decoded, Consumers are lead by Relative pricing, not Absolute. A £500 kids
    bike next to another kids bike looks pricey, next to a £1500 hardtail, it doesn’t look so much 
  • Dads are the key purchasing driver, but if you have the space you could feature “the whole
    family”. Include his and hers and you stand more chance of getting the whole family on board 
  • Make a big banner “Remember when Xmas was special” 
  • Remind Dad of his Xmas wish list with props/images from his (pre-Xbox) childhood
    (Star wars Toys, Big-Trak, Rubik’s Cube, old brochures or a 1984 edition of BMX Action Bike) 
  • Have somewhere for families to sit down, they shop in packs and at least one is tired/grizzly. 
  • Put non cycling magazines in that area (Cars, Home, Health & Beauty, comics) 
  • Give away a free helmet (or rear light) with every kids bike 
  • Promote this (amazing) video on your web/social media – whether or not you stock the brand
    “The Sales Acquisition Officer” “
  • Get plenty of stock. Now. There may well be shortages this Xmas

Womens (Especially Road) Here’s what you do: 

  • Keep your shop floor (extra) clean, tidy and easy to navigate 
  • Target the New Years’ Resolution road bike purchase 
  • Make a his and hers display (similar to the family display above) 
  • Talk about Benefits, not Features, what it can do for someone, as opposed to what it is 
  • Group women’s’ bikes, clothing and P&A, especially when the colours work together 
  • If you sell clothing, make sure your changing room has a solid lockable door (not a curtain and at
    least 2 big mirrors at 90 degrees to one-another 
  • Actively Recruit/Train/Promote more women staff (especially bike fitters) 
  • Encourage and help to organise both mixed and women only rides 
  • Recognise that there are very positive role models (Lizzie/Emma/Hannah/Rachel etc etc) and drivers for women’s cycling (in its own right) 
  • And there are also demographic factors driving women’s cycling, as part of a family or mixed friends group (notice how many husband/wife type pairs you see out on the road nowadays) 
  • Talk about what you’re doing on your website and social media 
  • Give away money-off-next-time or recommend-a-friend vouchers with every purchase
    I suspect this handful of insights are the tip of the Iceberg. For more, see: What Women Want: The Science of Female Shopping by Paco Underhill. Or better still, check out this new course from some folks who really know what they’re talking about. 

E-Bikes 
COMMUTE

Don’t worry about E-Commute bikes. They will and are “just happening”. But you’d better get on board, there’s 40+ E specialist stores out there and doing a great job already. This mini Boom won’t be as big as the previous 3 (BMX/MTB/Road). But it will happen. And last longer. With or without you.

MTB
Recognise that you may have a distorted view of E-MTBs, also discussed by BikeBiz here. “Nobody’s coming in my store asking for them and the MTBers hate 'em” is something I’ve heard from many stores. The target customer is not who you think it is. It’s Paul’s wife, teenage son, unfit friends plus New Roadies and lapsed MTBers. They don’t necessarily visit your store and may not know E-MTBs even exist.

And Paul, being a fit and committed MTBer regards them as cheating, giving up or something that will undermine his fitness. So what you’re seeing and hearing in store is mis-leading. Paul’s wrong. Enthusiast (winter night riding) MTBers are sceptical about E-Bikes, but they shouldn’t be. E MTBs make the biggest difference in the cold, wet and the mud. They can double your mileage and put a smile back on your face. I know, I’ve tried it. They’ll increase your fitness by providing the motivation to go out more. You’ll work just as hard for the 2 hours you’re out, but you’ll go a lot further.

You can’t tell Paul that. You have to show him: 

  • So, get a small, medium and large demo on long terms and a good price from 1 or more of your suppliers 
  • Make sure they have great big signs on saying Demo Me 
  • Fit them with tubeless winter mud tyres. And really good off road lights. 
  • Loan them to all your enthusiast MTBers when their bikes are being serviced (they will resist,
    you should persist) 
  • Loan them to fit/enthusiast MTBers for their wives, girlfriends, teenage children and less fit
    friends to ride with them 
  • Organise mixed ability rides and loan them to the slowest, least fit riders 
  • Dig out every servicing ticket and email address from the last 20 years. Target New Roadies and
    “lapsed cyclists” to try out E-MTBs – they are the ones who used to ride MTB back in the 90s 
  • Organise specific rides for the over 50s, they have all the Money. And time. Lucky bastards ;)
    Baby Boomers love personal service. Say you take a couple out for an afternoon, all of you on your 3 x E-MTB demos. That’s a £5k his and hers purchase. That’s worth investing time in. And time is something you’ll have plenty of this winter. 
  • Think about the cash. How many MTBs did you sell back in the 90s? And if you only sell 1 E-MTB for every 10 MTBs you sold back in the day? At £2,500, instead of £250. Do the math. Smile, rub hands, get on with it.

Think about (and sell) the E-MTB as a Leveller, a golf handicap. Something to make rides more Inclusive. The drop off I’ve seen in my local group (from 8-10 winter riders to 4-5 over the last few years) has to do with differing levels of fitness. You don’t want to feel you’re slowing everyone else down. For every fit and committed MTBer who rides through the winter, there are dozens more summer-only riders. And so many more “lapsed MTBers” who just gave up (many of them will be aged 50-80). Age is no barrier. SKI-ers need you to help them Spend the Kids Inheritance.

I realise your commercial Inner Chimp will be shrieking about this. Quite right, under normal circumstances, it doesn’t make sense to invest in a new/unknown/high ticket category. And then allow it be used in the winter. After the quietest summer ever. But, these are not normal circumstances.

There is no Next Big Thing that will just come and sweep you along. There are just smaller, more varied markets and you need to work hard at any of them. The handful of E-MTB bikes you sell this winter will lead to many more next summer. You need to create critical mass, a Tipping Point (*Malcolm Gladwell) for E-MTBs in your local area. No-one else is going to do it for you. Stop “waiting for it to happen” and make it happen.

Or to frame this in the words of a real expert, Paco Underhill says this about Society in general:

“Recall if you will that 60-plus percent of disposable income in North America is controlled by males and females fifty and over. Most of them need nothing. They have every shirt, tie, pair of shoes, and piece of jewellery they’ll need for the rest of their lives. ..... The challenge is not selling to them, but through them”

Apply this to cycling and you realise Paul has everything he needs. We need to sell through Paul to his kids, wife and friends. Paco was wrong about one thing though. Paul doesn’t have an E-MTB. Yet.

John Styles is an independent sales agent in the bike trade. The former marketing manager, product manager and in-house sales rep talks winter trading can be contacted via johnstyles2002@yahoo.co.uk

Read more retail front line insights from John Styles on BikeBiz.com.

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