Sales rep's view: what to expect from bike consumers in 2015

OPINION: BikeBiz gets some predictions for the next 12 months from the front line of the bike trade…
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John Styles is an independent sales agent in the bike trade. The former marketing manager, product manager and in-house sales rep gives us his thoughts on what to expect from consumers in 2015…

If we want to know what’s likely to happen in 2015, we need to listen to Paul. Who is Paul? Paul has pretty much single-handedly been responsible for the ‘Big 3’ bike booms of our age (BMX 80s, MTB 90s, Road 00s). Paul has been visiting your shop since he was 13 and bought his first BMX, a Skyway TA that’s still in his loft. Born in 1970, he’s now 44 and there are 7 other bikes hanging in his garage. Every shops knows Paul. He’s one of your best customers. Or all of them. Paul is important. Very important.

Following the BMX crash of 1985 he put his Skyway in the loft and came back and bought a Marin. After disappearing to Uni, he became successful in his late 20s, bought a BMW and drove it back and forth to South Wales every weekend with a Turner 5-Spot on the back. Then he had kids and realised that his wife wasn’t happy when he did that. So, he bought a road bike and snuck out for an hour around Richmond Park instead (babies were the cause of the Road revival, not Lance Armstrong).

There is a fundamental and very important difference between Paul and his generation of over-40s and customers under 40. The BMX market died a sudden and sad death in the summer of 1985 when he was 15 (my local jump spot was packed with 20-30 kids in 1984, but in 1985 there were just 4 of us). The bike trade has been feeling the effects ever since, although, perhaps not in the way we might expect. What the trade lost that year was the passion and commitment of the next generation of cyclists. We (the over 40s) were raised in an age when “playing out” was the norm. So your bike was freedom, fun, transport and status – all rolled into one. The generation that came just a year or more behind us were raised on Manic Miner, Out-Run and Street Fighter. Plus Mum had a car by then too. So, for the most part, they never made the same deep emotional connection with a bicycle that we did. Which means the same person (Paul) has largely been driving the market ever since.

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This is why many local MTB clubs are mostly over 40s. Or why Veteran is the biggest group in many off-road or Sportive events. There’s the odd under 40, but largely the passion for cycling has skipped a generation. People in their 20s and 30s are just not consuming bicycles in the same way as Paul did. This could be a time-bomb or potential cliff. But there is hope. Now we see Paul cycling more and more with his wife and/or his kids (often on a lighter bike, cue Isla bike, Moda or Team Sky Frog who are riding this demographic wave). He wants them to be the next Bradley Wiggins or Victoria Pendleton, so long as they’re safe – which is why Paul rides with them. Above all, he wants them to make that same emotional connection with a bicycle.

So, given Paul’s stage in life, there isn’t going to be another big boom. He’s already been there and done it. He’s reaching his peak earning but in terms of happiness he’s at his most dis-satisfied - he’s in the U-bend of Life (Google that, it’s on the Economist Website if you want to know more). That’s why he spends hours on his Linked-in profile or shops online while he’s at work. He’s bored and unhappy while he’s there and just wants to cycle more.

So the most important question we can ask ourselves about 2015 is “What does Paul want next?” And for the first time in his life, Paul isn’t sure. It used to be easy to categorise him as a MAMIL or MAMBA or whatever. Now his needs are more complex.

Some days he’s feeling super fit and wants to train for the Etape. He’s all books and turbo-trainers and custom foot-beds. Other days he’s asking if it’s possible to squeeze a 27.5 tyre in his old Turner 5-Spot - or if a fat bike will corrode if he rides it on the beach. Meanwhile he’s quietly eyeing the electric MTB demo you have in the corner and wonders if it’s somehow admitting defeat or perhaps a whole new adventure. These are his bike needs and naturally you may be very familiar with those.

He might also be spending money elsewhere too, on high quality kids’ bikes (now they’re a little older and can come with him). Or a really nice bike for his wife (now the kids can be left alone and she can come with him). Either way, Paul has realised that the only way to get even more cycling in his life is to include his family some way or another. Once again, demographics are the driving force.

So we have a four-way crossroads for Pauls’ generation of Cyclists:

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Paul wants many things because he has multiple, conflicting and overlapping base motivational drivers. If you’re lucky, he’ll spend out on all of them. He wants advice and solutions to a variety of problems and can’t be bothered to research them all. He’s cash rich, time poor and a little bit fed up. This means 2015 is the first year in a long time he’s feeling a little less inclined to showroom his local shop. Treat him well, offer him a small ‘token gesture’ discount or a package deal and he’ll set your tills ringing.

So, for 2015, the next Big Thing is…a little bit of everything. This year, probably within the next two weeks, Paul is going to walk through your store’s front door and surprise you. He’ll ask about training camps in the Med’ – I thought his wife wouldn’t let him? Or he might say, do I need a fat bike? Possibly he’ll bring in an Isla bike and ask you to change the tyres – did you know he had kids? Or he’ll ask what women’s road bikes you carry and what he needs to spend to get something decent for his wife. Ah…I see, she’s going on the camp too. More likely, he’ll ask you about many of these things all at once.

When he does that, be sure to look after him as you always do. Ask about his job or business, where he’s going on holiday, but most of all, ask about his family. Paul has seen your store through the last 30 years but spending on his bikes may have already peaked. Spending with his family is just beginning. And they may be your best hope for the next 30 years – starting with 2015.

You can get in contact with John Styles via johnstyles2002@yahoo.co.uk

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