As the list of independent brick and mortar bike shop closures grows at an exponential rate, we’re also seeing speculation surrounding the roots of the closures grow. It’s no secret that ultimately, this period of instability stems from a number of core factors, the centre of which seems to be the progression of the online price-slashing trend. It doesn’t help that many of the biggest companies contributing to this trend have spent the past decade consolidating into industry giants, and in terms of runaway pricing, there is simply no room for dealers to compete with the consistent – and frankly short-sighted – de-valuation of its core assets.
Some have stated that the recent cull was inevitable given the ebb and flow of retail and bicycle popularity. The stores going under, they say, are the ones not moving fast enough to present themselves as a progressive hub of activity. Although this may be the case for some, it feels like an oversimplification given some of the surprising names making the list in recent months.
Are we honestly supposed to believe that respected pillars of local cycling communities – with carefully curated ranges, trusted mechanics and popular group rideouts – are simply not doing enough to stick around? Of course, even those who are working hard to combat the looming threat of online retail are also having to battle rising property rent, an unstable economy and import/export fallout from Brexit. For many, staying afloat truly is a war on many fronts.
When discussed at trade shows, meetings and industry events, the question frequently arising is what, specifically, can a company be doing to support the IBD? Ultimately, there isn’t one simple answer. Improved communication between dealer and distributor would go a long way for many – particularly those who feel their historic partnerships have been diluted in recent years. IBD-only products and impressive POS can provide a much-needed boost, and significant efforts are being made in this regard to ensure brick and mortar shops don’t simply become showrooms. We’ve also seen a rise in the number of start-ups looking to reach out to the IBD community with suggestions of mutually beneficial marketplaces, EPOS and marketing tools. It’s a complex issue, but at its core, it simply comes down to support.
In mid-April, the United Nations put the greater cycling community into the spotlight and declared 3rd June as World Bicycle Day. The idea was floated at the 72nd regular session of the UN General Assembly, and was championed by a collective of no less than 193 member states.
The event, according to the UN, will celebrate the “uniqueness, longevity and versatility of the bicycle, which has been in use for two centuries, and that it is a simple, affordable, reliable, clean and environmentally fit, sustainable means of transportation, fostering environmental stewardship and health”.
The UN also recognised that “the bicycle and the user fosters creativity and social engagement and gives the user an immediate awareness of the local environment” and that “the bicycle can serve as a tool for development and as a means not just of transportation but also of access to education, healthcare and sport”.
The concept of a unified world cycling day has been floated multiple times by a whole host of activists, cycling bodies and the general public. Finally, the movement will have a definitive singular day to focus their efforts on. This means far more than simple acknowledgement; the creation of World Bicycle Day cultivates momentum. I’m sure we can all agree that a day in which advocacy for cycling is championed is a very positive move. One key element of the equation is not being talked about, and that is where the shops at the heart of the industry – the ones struggling more than any other single area of the cycling community – will fit into the plans. Yes, the creation of the day is a positive, but what’s the point if it doesn’t lead to any quantifiable change for those on the front line?
For a model of how such a movement can positively influence those at the core of an industry, we need only look at the humble LP. The music industry has faced its own ongoing transition in the last 20 years. Pirating digital music, giant streaming services and the death of the CD format as a key influencer have all prompted monumental shifts in the way consumers regard the music sector. Even the very device that sparked the digital revolution, the MP3 player, has itself been rendered essentially redundant by the progression of smart mobile devices. Who would have guessed that in an age where the majority of music is now streamed, the 12in record would make such an unprecedented comeback? The movement demonstrates the continued appeal of a physical product – one that any evolution of digitalisation may never replace.
The record, along with the record player, is a loved object, just like a bicycle. It is an object that people delight in owning not as a necessity, but as a statement about their lifestyle. Once again, the record industry has adapted to this shift in consumer values, and thousands of independent record labels, record shops and record cafés have sprung up around the world to meet the increased demand. From this renewed interest also came a small campaign to celebrate the industry.
Founded in 2007, when the industry was still in the midst of a crisis, the idea was a simple one; on a singular day, record labels would release limited edition vinyls, and consumers would head to their local retailer to purchase them – hopefully along with a selection of other products. The movement quickly swelled and in 2018, over 500 limited releases were available to purchase in over 200 UK stores from over 100 record labels. On the day, thousands of customers queued for hours, some overnight, for the chance to pick up limited edition releases and to support their local establishment.
In the week leading up to and following Record Store Day, the #RSD hashtag was trending on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. With the aide of the movement, record sales have seen a massive upturn, with a trade increase of 34 per cent since the start of 2017 to £88 million – the highest rate since the early 1990s.
With such obvious verticals between the two industries, isn’t it time cycling embraced a similar movement? The ball is already rolling, to a certain extent. Canada’s Bike Store Day, which took direct influence from its music industry sister, takes place annually on 24th March and is starting to gain a reasonable amount of traction. In March of this year, Walton-based bike shop Gravity Cycles wised up to the potential of mirroring the event in the UK, earmarking 6th October as the ‘official’ date on our side of the pond. Retailers immediately confirmed their support, as did members of the general public, but ultimately the campaign has so far struggled to generate the attention needed to launch a comparable and sustainable annual event.
IBDs need the support of the cycling community, their partners, peers and the media, so what needs to happen for such an event to truly take root and blossom into an event comparable to Record Store Day?
The investment from dealers is absolutely essential. “One of the main reasons Record Store Day is now a huge success is because it was the retailers themselves who took control and made the day what they wanted it to be,” the ACT told BikeBiz. “To make Local Bike Shop Day a success, we need every single retailer to get behind it and rally together to spread the word! Random Adventure’s Daniel Jones has done a great job getting retailers signed up to say they want to be involved in the day, and we are promoting these shops on the LBS day directory, but retailers need to make sure there is something going on in-store to drive customers there on the day.”
Whether this be simply circulating news of the event via social media channels and tweeting the #supportyourlocalbikeshop hashtag – or even hosting special in-store events to attract customers – remains to be seen. Ultimately, without the universal support of the dealer network, the idea is doomed to fail. Jones suggested: “This is the chance for your local bike shops to show why you should shop there. This is your day to show your support for the backbone of the cycling world; go for a demo ride, buy a bargain, see a talk.” These simple acts resonate far beyond a simple day’s event. If properly invested in, the day could present a chance to invite your local community into your retail environment, potentially for the first time. By supporting the effort, you may be opening up your business to a whole new clientele. This could mean a demo day, it could mean a barbecue for your customers, or it could even mean hosting a series of talks in-store. Not every ‘in-store event’ has to be a sale.
Distributors take note: it is equally important that investment in the medium comes from the other side of the industry. Every distributor on the planet extolls the importance of the local IBD to its local community; a National Bike Shop Day presents an ideal chance for them to put their money where their mouths are. In the music industry, this meant creating limited edition records.
Why shouldn’t this work for the cycle trade? Creating a limited edition downhill bike is a tall task, but corresponding with brands to create limited edition colourways of helmets, saddles and cleaning products? That is easily achievable. It’s also a chance to spend a little on some limited POS aides for your valued dealers. If your customer buys a new wheel, why not send them home with a branded #supportyourlocalbikeshop branded water bottle or tote bag or some cool stickers to shove on their laptops? It’s a relatively inexpensive move, but the customer leaves feeling like they’ve taken part in a fun event, and the dealer gets a sale that they wouldn’t have got on a normal day.
Ultimately it’s a concept that will either capture the imagination of the industry, or it won’t – in which case, it’s an opportunity wasted. As we ponder the significance of advocacy, another shop is losing the battle with retail’s modern demons; online retail isn’t going away any time soon and realistically, price slashing isn’t something that’s going to stop overnight, but with the embrace of wide-scale advocacy, we as a community can put the bike shop right back alongside the record shop at the heart of our towns and cities. Record Store Day has proven that people will make an effort for the things that they care about, and taking steps now could ensure that there’s a healthy and celebrated brick and mortar cycling industry for decades to come.