The latest GCN Show on YouTube discusses the worth of real-world bike stores versus their online competitors. The eight-minute segment was prompted by a BikeBiz article written by an anonymous bike-shop owner.
"Use Us Or Lose Us" was published last week, and has been going viral since then. It currently has 1,800 Facebook likes and, ironically, has been much discussed online, with conversations sparked on cycling forums and on news sites, such as Treehugger.com of the US.
The GCN coverage of the article is also generating a great deal of heat and light, with comments on the channel's YouTube page ranging from highly supportive of bike shops to downright dismissive.
The GCN channel has 1,262,488 subscribers. Last night's episode has already had more than 40,000 views.
The show is fronted by former professional cyclist Daniel Lloyd and under-23 British national mountain biking champion Simon Richardson. A transcript of the episode can be found below.
GCN stands for Global Cycling Network. It was created in 2013 as part of Google's YouTube Original Channel Initiative and was founded by ShiftActive Media's CEO Simon Wear.
Simon Richardson: Here in the UK industry magazine BikeBiz last week published an impassioned plea from a local bike shop owner. It was basically a call-to-arms to bring up the issues currently faced by the bike industry and, in particular, local bike shops.
The title of the article was "you will miss us when we're gone". Some independent retailers are, frankly, struggling to make ends meet – many have already gone out of business.
Daniel Lloyd: Yeah, it is a difficult topic for us because one of our partners, Canyon, are at the spearhead of online cycle retail. In essence it seems to boil down to the pressures of online shopping which is firstly the price point but also the choice you get.
SR: On the flip side though with online shopping the argument goes that you don't get to try before you buy, you don't get that face-to-face interaction to discuss your purchase and also you risk taking advantage of local bike shop owners if, and when, you need their assistance later down the line.
DL: So you then have two questions, the first of which is "do you need local bike shops?", and depending on your answer s to that one, you could then ask should we be fighting for them?
SR: Well, I tell you what my heart says 100 percent: yes, we should be fighting – bike shops have played an incredibly important role in my cycling and, therefore my life. The two are inextricably linked so from putting up with me when I was a young kid just hanging around looking at shiny bits of bike that I could afford to then giving me my first sponsorship – thank you again Jerry from Mud Dock.
DL: It's not though, unfortunately, as simple as pure nostalgia so we have spoken to a couple of local bike shop owners, and the first one when prompted said 'no, you shouldn't fight." His reason being that as he buys books through Amazon, he couldn't therefore ask his customers to have different buying habits than he has himself.
SR: It begs the question if we're not actively fighting for local bike shops what can local bike shops do to survive?
DL: It's a difficult question but I wonder if we should look at books as an example – there aren't many industries that have faced more pressures from online retailers than book shops but those pressures have spawned some innovation. For example, the local books bar – you book a consultation appointment with a literary expert where you tell them your literary likes and dislikes then at the end of that consultation process they recommend and then sell to you a whole load of books.
SR: Well, that's a cool idea isn't it? To be fair, the bike industry is doing very many similar things in regard to innovation. Another shop owner we spoke to basically adopts the same principles he makes sure that he adds value to everything that he sells. So, for example, if you go in and buy a thousand pound bike you also get a free bike-fit, and then they'll also happily swap your stem out if you need it as a result of your bike fit, and then there was a free service as well after six weeks or so – so all in all that adds up to a couple of hundred quid maybe.
DL: Which seems reasonable doesn't it? Although he did then go on to say that when the price of bikes goes a little bit higher than that those two hundred pounds worth of extras might not be enough to sway things in favour of your traditional High Street bike shop, but then again when things got even more expensive towards super-bike prices things were going really well
SR: Yeah, a traditional bike shop so cheap bikes and super bikes were doing really well for them for that reason but also because there's an added service element at both those price points, but the cycling enthusiast was slightly harder to cater for – it's harder to add value but in those cases many bike shops are looking at other areas of weakness for online and then looking to exploit that.
DL: Because we do need bike shops because as well as selling us bikes and products they also offer extra services such as the aforementioned bike fits, but also more obviously their workshops ...
SR: That's right, so you could conceivably go and buy components online, walk into your local bike shop and then ask them and pay for them to fit and set them up. That seems like a solid transaction – slightly controversial transaction in many cases it seems because whether or not bike shop owners want to become in effect service centres is another matter entirely but many are and they look to be doing all right out of it
DL: Like those bike hubs, for example, which are doing really well are quite fashionable at the moment they have a nice coffee machine where you can drink your nice coffee whilst hanging around your mates in somewhere they've allocated for you, all that time while you’re gossiping, they've got a workshop where they can be fixing your bike.
SR: Yeah that's pretty cool – the flip side to this the most depressing point is again if we go back to that book analogy, if there's less business going through bricks-and-mortar outlets then that's going to lead to closures , and in the cycling world in this kind of transition period whilst people are fighting online that leads to some really difficult times for business owners, and we've got to say it's not just about business for many bike-shop owners, it's a vocation not just a business.
DL: Yes, and I can completely sympathize – it could be quite devastating for a local cycling community or an individual rider, but for cyclists in general maybe it's not so bad? I mean you can get a really good bike now a more affordable price than you could fifteen years ago even if the top-end bikes are still going up in price.
SR: True, the top of market is totally skewing things but quality components are more affordable – I spent more on a 105 rear derailleur in 1994 than I did buying the same thing in 2016. I thought it was incredible and if my 9-year-old self had been able to save 20 quid that would've been a bonus.
DL: These new bike centres, though, are just cool – and there's no reason that they need to be any different to the bike shops that you and I loved in our youth, in that they can still foster young cycling town, the sort of place where you can go and gossip and talk about cycling all day long. They can also help to run local cycling events and champion local cycling issues so it's not all doom and gloom, is it?
SR: I saw this really cool story on Bicycle Retailer about a couple in Missouri who are converting two railway containers to start a new shop, a new bike shop on the Frisco Highline trail and I think it's great they're gonna do bike hire, they said they're gonna do food and drink and they're also gonna sell stuff as well.
DL: Yeah there's no doubt that this is a difficult topic as we mentioned at the top of the show and I actually am a prime example of some of the issues that bike shops are facing at the moment in that I when I'm doing anything else in terms of buying something at retail I search for the best deal possible whether that is furniture or petrol prices or consumer electronics or my hair product whatever it might be – I does love a bargain, I do. It's almost like a hobby for me to find things at the cheapest price I possibly could, and if I wasn't in such a fortunate position myself within the cycling industry I daresay I would be exactly the same. I’ve bought products online, but does that make me bad? Well, we'll leave it up to you.
SR: Well I imagine there's probably a lot of people who work within the cycling industry watching this we could use your thoughts as well as the rest of us who are just cycling consumers as well so vote: should we fight for our local bike shops or should our bike shops perhaps be fighting to keep us shopping? I totally I don't know the answer I don't know what I think either I support my local High Street when it comes to buying food and so forth but there's a reason for me to do so whereas I think I'd struggle going in and spending a hundred percent more on a replacement cassette just to my local bike shop.
DL: I support a local friendly pub even though there are some cheaper beers down the road.