We asked Rich Bartlett, the founder of Block Bikes in Lancaster, California, if he could share some of his thoughts on what it takes to start a bike shop.
As brick-and-mortar bicycle shops seem to become more and more obsolete, the need to be a true destination is more important than ever. The key elements are to be relevant and have experience. You must have value to the customer that they are unable to find online.
Location is a bigger factor now than ever before. In the world of online shopping, it is difficult enough to get customers in their cars, let alone to have them walk through your door. Being near the trailhead is good, but better yet is to be where they already frequent. Grocery stores, restaurants, chain centers, and strip malls still pull the most retail clientele, but the lease prices of these locations can make the numbers difficult to balance.
Bike brands and accounts are the most difficult. Most of the franchises get locked up for certain radiuses and zip codes of competitors. Startup shops are limited to second and sometimes-third tier brands, because existing bike shops have the top brands locked up. The numbers tell the story. Unless you have resources and a big budget, it is rare to get one of the top four brands on startup. The top existing stores will hold tight to the exclusivity of the brands that they carry.
Bike shop margins are extremely low. Discounts and “bro-deals” make it nearly impossible to balance a budget. You must have a purpose, a draw, and experience to lure customers away from competitors and online sales. Service has become the number-one reason that people enter a shop these days. So you had better be thorough, experienced, and professional. Today’s customers are in a hurry, so a week or more is absolutely unacceptable. There is not a very big pool of bicycle mechanics to fish from, so more often than not it will be you training the next generation. Good mechanics are not grown overnight so expect to get your hands dirty!
Local activities, group rides and race teams or clubs are some of the best ways to get people into your store. Social media give you an outlet of thousands of enthusiasts who are starving for bike-related events. This comes at a price. You must protect yourself with insurance, which is extremely expensive.
Overhead is not just rent and payroll. There are a number of hidden costs that you must be aware of. Subscriptions to point-of-purchase systems, meeting groups, e-mail accounts and accounting are just a few of the things that have monthly fees. They can be done on a budget or no subscription fees, but you would be paying someone internally to do these things. So one way or another you will pay.
There is still a huge need in the world for good brick-and-mortar bike shops. They will not go away, but it will take more time and effort than ever to lure people into your store. Passionate bike shops with good value and service will continue to exist. Stores that are simply cash-and-carry are slowly weeding out and going away forever. There is a saying: “Pick a career that you love, and you will never work a day in your life.” This has never been more true than in the bicycle industry. bmx.blockbikes.com
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