BICYCLE BUSINESS BOOMING
Pandemic fuels surge in bike sales with some shops running out of stock
UNLIKE some retailers who are worrying about how to convince people to come back to the stores, bike shops are facing a whole other problem — running out of stock.
Demand is not the problem. Bike shops that have been around for decades are experiencing something they have never seen before — people queuing up to get in. But some are worried about what they’ll have left to sell as the summer months kick in.
The lineups are partly a result of the social-distancing regulations once customers are in the store, but demand for all things biking is spiking.
Riding a bicycle sits in one of the few sweet spots in the world of COVID-19-enforced social distancing, but shop owners are having to deal with the extra pressures of keeping their workplace up to the new safety and health standards in addition to dealing with a surge in cycling enthusiasm.
“I don’t think you can find many ladies bikes in the whole city,” said Brian Burke, longtime owner of Olympia Cycle & Ski on St. Mary’s Road. “I have sold out and reordered and then sold them out even before they arrived.”
Like many other popular consumer goods, bicycle manufacturing has succumbed to the global supply chain that is now almost exclusively based in Asia.
Tim Woodcock, owner of Woodcock Cycle Works, said: “It doesn’t matter if the bike is made in Taiwan or Bangladesh or Vietnam, most of the parts come from China.”
Shipments of all things from China was disrupted months ago by the coronavirus lockdown that happened there first, and shipments have still not caught up.
Coupled with the fact prime biking weather is now upon us, more people have more time to ride. That means shop owners are scrambling to deal with an unusual confluence of high demand, limited supply and a scenario where they can only have so many people in the stores at once.
“I’m a little stressed,” Woodcock said.
He said he prides himself and his store on being focused on customer service and now he’s forced to make people wait outside. Then there’s the added pressure of discouraging excessive window shopping, what with the lineups outside.
Claude Brunel, owner of Lifesport on Henderson Highway, could barely stop to take a call from a reporter.
“I can’t get bikes, that’s the problem,” he said. “All the bikes are made in China.”
Woodcock, who acts as an adviser to a Chinese bicycle manufacturer, had a good perspective on market development early on and made the decision to stock up on supply, ordering more earlier in the year than he typically might.
“There’s normally three major shipping windows,” he said. “We realized by the time the second and third shipping window came along vendors probably would not be able to supply us. So we took as many as we could to have them later if there was a shortage. Now we are starting to see those shortages.”
But even with that kind of planning, Woodcock said they are still scrambling to keep bikes on the shop floor.
Most shops are operating on reduced hours, and it may be just as well, because it gives them the chance to have mechanics in at night assembling bikes and also dealing with the overwhelming demand for repairs.
“We’re getting bikes (to repair) that don’t look like they have been on the road for 20 years,” Woodcock said.
At Olympia, Burke said he’s been hiring repair people who are working every night from 5 to 10 p.m.
“We have adapted,” he said. “You have to adapt.”
Walter Jozwiak, owner of Lifesport on Pembina Highway, said the supply crunch is unprecedented.
“It’s like selling Coca Cola and you’ve run out of Coke,” he said. “I was saying to one of my staff, ‘what am I going to do two weeks from now?’” In addition to running out of women’s bikes, popular-priced models — between $500 and $800 — are what people are looking to buy. Many say the “exotic” bikes that can cost as much as $4,000 are not what people are looking to buy.
“It is a problem for everybody in the industry,” Jozwiak said. “We didn’t realize the general population would need something to do and this is one of the few activities that they can do in a safe mode. That’s what’s happening.”