December is a funny month in the bike industry. Everyone knows cycling is a seasonal endeavor, and as goes the riding, so go the sales. Years ago, December was a welcome winter respite for weary retailers who had watched sadly as their cash registers fell silent in October and November.Now, the reality is somewhere in between. On-line retailers have taken the lion’s share of seasonal spending out of the shops, leaving them to flog late-season inventory at greatly diminished margins and cold weather maintenance services. The entire fat bike movement is, perhaps, born of the need to have a bike to sell at the LBS in December.
In the past, the local bike shop was the car dealership, THE place to go to buy a bike, get it serviced, see the new parts, the accessories, but as the internet surged in with low rents and no sales tax, margins eroded at retail. The role of the LBS changed. It is not uncommon for a customer to bring a part, purchased on-line, to a shop to have it installed on their bike or to skip the shop altogether, sourcing and installing parts themselves.
Self sufficiency is a good thing, and so are low prices, but what is the cost and who is paying it? On-line retailers can provide manufacturers higher volumes than single shops, but who will ultimately service the parts once the home mechanic’s expertise is exhausted? And why should the shop work to sell products they are being actively undersold on by their suppliers? And why does the local retailer have to charge sales tax, when the out-of-state on-line store doesn’t?
It should be clear by now, that I am biased towards bike shops. I work with them every day. I see their struggles.
I believe the counter arguments run something like this, though. The staff at the local shop is rude and unprofessional. I know more than they do. Why should I pay more just so they can stay in business? It’s more convenient to have things sent to my house. I’m too busy to get the store, and their hours aren’t convenient. Their selection sucks. They don’t have my size.
All valid statements in my experience, or at least potentially valid. There are some really great shops out there. There are some…uh…less great ones, too.
I wonder, though, do we want the LBS to turn into the local service station, nothing but tubes and lubes? My greatest fear is that, in prioritizing price over community, we’ll lost that community and further, that we’ll lose these hubs where beginners become the initiated. For all of the charms of say, Competitive Cyclist, no one is going there to become a cyclist.
This week’s Group Ride asks if you’ll be buying ANY gifts at your local bike shop this season. Or, are you primarily on-line shopper? Are you cool with how bicycle retail has evolved? Am I just being a retro-grouch? Or is cycling on the shoals of ruin at street level? This Group Ride is not about bad retail experiences or the evil of shopping on-line, but more about the proper role of these things in what we hope is a growing cycling community. What is important? And what isn’t?