Welcome to this month’s How’s Business column in which we call a selection of bicycle shop owners and managers around Australia and start by simply asking, ‘How’s business?’
As always, we ask a follow up question. Usually it’s something topical depending upon the season or what’s happening in the industry at the time. But has this is the last column that I’ll be doing How’s Business in the editor’s chair, I thought I’d be a little more reflective and ask, ‘What’s the best business decision you’ve made in relation to your store?’
Michael Kamahl of Woolys Wheels on fashionable Oxford Street, Paddington in inner eastern Sydney said:
Now that it’s June there’s less people coming and going. The workshop still feels busy but we’ve got two mechanics on holidays.
But the since January, it really hasn’t been busy. We had a bit of kick along when May was lovely weather. I felt then that business was turning around but I was just checking the figures yesterday because we’ve put in a new point of sale system and I compared the two to get a sense of what’s been going on. I had a gut feeling that we hadn’t been travelling all that well and I wouldn’t say that January, February or March were great months at all. Some months have been down 20% (year on year).
I still feel positive. We feel like we’re moving along, but the figures don’t lie.
I always like to tell it how it is, so I don’t know what else to tell you, although that I hear that retail across the board is a bit slack.
For us, what used to be fairly consistent, our commuter market… when you look out on the street there’s so many cyclists going by… but that market feels a bit chopped.
I put that down to other lower tiered brands that have opened up that have attacked that sub $600 to $800 dollar market. That might change now that Reid has disappeared from Sydney.
Mountain bikes are flat.
We were confident last year or so when we did our renovation that we were going to pull all categories up, not let go of any of it.
But that flat bar road bike, hybrid market is floundering a bit.
(Best business decision?) I was wondering and a bit scared when I bought the first section of my own building when I was in my mid 20’s. But Tony Cook’s advice (Clarence St Cyclery founder and former employer of Michael) at the time was, ‘You’ll think that’s the best decision you’ve ever made.’
It’s just that feeling of security. My rents are not going up. You don’t have to move. And when it’s quiet like now… I definitely feel for some shops who have hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to pay in rent and when it’s quieter that would feel like money going out the door really quickly.
Kate Lewis, Manager of Abbottsford Cycles in the inner eastern suburbs of Melbourne said:
It’s going ok. It’s certainly quietened down. We probably got through to the last week of May in pretty good shape, but the cold weather has hit now and we’ve definitely noticed a drop off.
At the moment there’s enough work for our mechanics because Andy’s retired and one of our other full time mechanics has gone on eight weeks’ leave.
At the moment we’ve only got two guys in so there’s enough for them. If we had full staff we’d be doing things like stocktake or trying to tidy up the workshop or shop floor.
We sell Brompton bikes now. It’s not our main focus, which is P&A, so we don’t sell a lot of Bromptons. We got onto them because we thought they’d be easier to carry because they’re smaller and you don’t have to carry multiple frame sizes because they’re one size fits all.
They chug along, but most of our business is workshop and P&A.
P&A has been alright but again there’s been a drop off in people coming in. Online in our P&A sales we’ve had a bit of a drop off in the last few months too. We were doing quite well before then.
Ortlieb bags are one of the major things we sell online. We had a good market share because we’d do their total range. But I’ve noticed recently a few other shops getting more heavily into it so I guess that they’re probably taking some of our business.
We’ve been working out how to combat that.
(Best business decision?) I would say rearranging the shop last year. We pulled the workshop out of the front area and put all of the workshop and office to one side which opened up a big space for retail.
I think that had a positive effect. Everyone who came in after it was done said that they thought it looked really good. They were really impressed with the space and thought it was a big improvement on what we had before. It allows us more flexibility in how to display things.
Jacob d’Alessandro an employee of Cycle2 in Launceston Tasmania said:
It’s pretty good at the moment. You would have heard of the EWS (Enduro World Series MTB round) that came to Tasmania in early April.
Since then and around that time we had an influx with international riders and riders from around Australia dropping into the shop for supplies.
Immediately after that it created a bit of hype with some people who either hadn’t ridden at Derby much or never before and decided to get into the sport having seen how good it is.
The course is about an hour and ten minutes’ drive from our store.
So we were doing really well with the mountain biking side of things and that went hand in hand with Trek doing their annual sale. We’ve been moving a fair few dual suspension mountain bikes in the $2,500 to $5,500 price range.
(Best business decision?) I’m here more for the mountain biking side of things. Before I came there wasn’t anyone here that was heavily into mountain biking themselves. So I guess I brought to the store a pretty in depth knowledge of the trails and mountain bike specific product. I research new products and what the market is doing.
Kerry Cosgrove of Bikeline in Toowoomba, Queensland said:
It’s hanging in there. It’s winter – not that we’ve had that much winter in Queensland yet but it’s just starting to kick. We’ll have a few weeks of cold and then the Tour de France will throw a little bit of interest in. We’ll see that business pick up.
Mountain biking is going strong. It helps us plateau during winter now, when we used to have that bit of recess, the mountain bikers don’t seem to worry about the cold, which is good.
Overall it’s not the days of old by any means. We’re working harder than ever. We’re working smarter than ever. But we’re still here after 30 years and probably will be in another 30.
We’re predominantly Specialized, we carry a few other brands including Ridley and Apollo which we’ve been doing forever because we like to support it being the Aussie company.
But Specialized is our primary brand.
(Best business decision?) That’s a good one… probably one we made very early in the piece.
It’s not so much a decision, but more of an understanding, that the game is not about selling product. It’s about understanding customers and finding our niche and being a step ahead of the game.
By that I mean that it’s all about the use of the product not the sale of it. If we have that approach to things and we’re creative and we offer overseas tours through the store, shop rides – not that any of this is new but it was way back when we started doing it.
We’re constantly trying to reinvent ourselves along those lines.
We have long term customers. It builds family and loyalty. We do a lot of social interaction… drinks on the first Friday of the month. It keeps everyone connected and involved.
If you don’t love what you’re doing, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.
John Bishop of Mt Barker Cycles in the Adelaide Hills south east of Adelaide, SA said:
Business is ok at the moment. It’s cold and wintery down here in South Australia. That is effecting shop traffic and sales at the moment.
We’re in our fifth year at this shop. We started it from scratch. We’re the only shop in town now. That was very fortunate for us, a real bonus when the other shop closed down.
Our catchment area is about 30,000 people. It’s a decent catchment. Our main brands are Specialized and Giant. We’ve been quite fortunate there. We run a couple of other brands as well for variety.
We had Specialized first. We’re counted as a country dealer because we’re out of town a bit.
(Best business decision?) It would be location and reasonable rent. I’m talking both Mt Barker in general and this particular street and shop.
We’re in the heart of Mt Barker but we’re not in the main street. We’re just around the corner so the rent is better. But we’re still in a prime location. Opposite us we’ve got a very large Sportspower store. They say it’s one of the best in the state. It draws like-minded people. Families, sporting goods… it’s not that much of a jump to cycling, so that’s good.
Mt Barker is a fast growing outer suburb area. It’s not really suburban. It’s still like a country town, but commuting distance to the city. So a lot of people are coming up here to live and they’ll commute to the city for work. It’s on the freeway and they can be in town in 30 minutes.