So, when the American top-end market collapses – as it has done in recent months – it should only be a matter of time before the same fate befalls Brit bike shops.
Er, except we’re doing just great. Luxury togs brands like Rapha and Campag clothing are storming ahead; and the high-end road market is surprisingly resilient given that all the rich bankers – thought to be that sector’s bedrock – have lost their jobs, or at least their bonuses.
At the Pickwick Club lunch at the beginning of May I talked to some of the best UK bike dealers and their stories tallied: for the last four months, business has been booming.
Almost by definition the Pickwick Club luncheon is attended by only the very best British bike retailers so perhaps the glowing comments were skewed by more than just the first warming doses of falling-down juice? But it’s what I’ve been hearing from smaller dealers, too. And from most mid to high-end suppliers as well. The first quarter of the year has been super strong.
There’s no single factor for this boom. It’s a mix of weight worries, planet-awareness, transport rethinks thanks to the recession and bicycle infrastructure improvements. Yet the US has all that too. Perhaps we’re in a British bike business bubble? If so, the bubble seems set to bobble along for a while yet thanks to the weather gods, with the Met Office taking the unusual step of predicting a hot and dry summer. Even if partially true, it’ll help keep the good times rolling.
However, inventory could be a problem. Globally, OEM component suppliers are seeing forward orders reduced. Sales of new bikes via US IBDs are expected to drop by five to seven per cent this year. Other countries are also forecasting softening demand.
Which makes our success all the more perplexing. Yes, we could do with some actual figures to put flesh on the bones of this UK-specific market uplift but it’s hard to get motivated to produce cross-industry sales stats when the sun is shining and there’s hay to be made.
One thing is crystal clear. The servicing side of an IBD’s business is a customer magnet like no other. If your workshop isn’t stuffed to the gills with bikes at the moment, you’re doing something terminal.