Welcome to our monthly survey of six bicycle shops, each in a different State or Territory. Although a sample of six shops is small, I always deliberately select a mixture of city and country shops, large and small, family market and high end to try to give a representative snapshot of what’s happening across the full spectrum of the Australian bicycle market.
As always, I asked a follow up question. This month I asked, ‘Do you prefer to do business with sales reps who visit your store, or just via phone and internet?
Leighton Thomas of Geraldton Bikes in the regional city five hours’ drive north of Perth said:
It’s great thank-you. Going really well. There’s a little bit of that disposable income that’s not around. That’s probably affecting other industries more than ours like the housing market and the jet-ski market and big toys like that.
That only would have made a small percentage of our turnover. Commuters, triathletes, road racers, all the other aspects where your business comes from are definitely alive and well.
It’s two years and one month since I started this shop from scratch with $200. I leased the premises, gave it a coat of paint, I just had some basic tools from when I’ve done bike shop work previously.
I had a wooden bench top to put my tools on and that’s how I started.
From that $200, every time we did a service and made a couple of extra dollars we bought a few more parts off Shimano and eventually started buying bikes.
After 12 months we were the largest Apollo bicycle dealer in Australia, starting from nothing.
But it’s been a long road since we started. I don’t know if I’d do it again. But I didn’t have any debt when we started. I didn’t have a shop full of miscellaneous bits and pieces that you can’t really sell because they’re too out dated.
I don’t have drawers full of half worn out tools or tools that are obsolete.
Starting a shop from scratch in what would be considered a downturn in the economy didn’t affect us too much.
I picked Geraldton because it’s my home town. I’d been gone 20 years until I returned two years ago to start the shop. Of course it was a girl from high school that brought me back, who I hadn’t seen for 20 years!
We’re open six days per week. Saturday is only 10 am to 1pm. Sunday close. That’s still regulated in WA, especially regional WA. No business on Sundays.
I did a stint at some shops in Sydney and the seven day work week… I mean we turnover seven days’ turnover in six days. It still all averages out. I don’t miss the Sydney workdays at all!
Apollo is our bread and butter brand. We do BMC for something a little more exclusive. I really believe in their bikes and like something a bit European.
We also do Merida and Specialized for our premium mainstream brands. We find they don’t really conflict with each other. We do a lot of women’s specific bikes through Specialized and a lot of general $1,000 to $3,000 bikes through Specialized.
(Regarding sales reps) If the sales rep has genuinely got something they need to tell me face to face or a new product to show me, yes, I definitely like to see them.
Apollo call on me three times a year. The same with Specialized and I haven’t really seen a rep from the regular brands in the two years I’ve been here. Not by choice, we nearly do everything via phone and email.
Paul Fitzgerald of Echuca On Your Bike in the historic Murray River town of Echuca, Victoria said:
Very good. On top of the world. I’m having the best April I’ve had for a number of years. October, November and December were through the roof. January was fantastic, February and March were much the same, in turnover, which is good.
I’ve now got a new full time mechanic on. He’s working really well. The workshop has really picked up and floor sales and floor traffic have picked up.
I put my success down to a positive attitude. Very good ranges of bikes, being Giant mainly. Fuji is my second range of bikes. Very good bikes, both of them. Giant especially is brilliant. They’re doing a lot of innovative ideas.
I’ve been in business here for nearly eight years. The shop has been going for 34 years. There is another bike shop in town too. We’ve got a population of 15,000 or 16,000 people.
(Regarding sales reps) I find the reps are getting worse. I do most of my ordering over their B2B sites. Just nice and easy to do.
Larry Dwyer of Dee Why Bike Hub, in Sydney’s northern beaches said:
The last 12 months have been fairly difficult. I’ve been in the business for 30 years and it’s probably about as difficult as I can remember. Probably about as bad as the financial crash around 1989-1990.
There’s no rhyme or reason to what people are buying. Road bikes have just dropped off the planet. We’ve pretty much stopped carrying road bikes, although that might be due to the fact that we have a couple of shops near us which specialise in those sort of things.
But this year full suspension mountain bikes have really also paled. We really are going back to our roots as a family shop. It’s sub $1,000. Lots of kids bikes. 24 inch bikes keep turning over.
Hybrid bikes are coming back up again, pushed by the fact that a lot of the people like the look of the retro style bikes but want more gears. They want something a bit more practical.
The retro bikes have slowed.
Repairs are up at the moment. All through the school holidays we’ve be chugging along with repairs.
Where we’re missing out the most is those add on sales. I’ve just about given up on clothing apart from black nicks. I think that’s mostly gone online now.
I don’t think I have been offered long sleeve winter jerseys from any wholesaler this year. They’re all doing arm warmers, leg warmers, shoe covers… but winter clothing as apart from these accessories, seems to have gone by the board.
The people who know what they want go to Wiggle and buy 10 tubes and half a dozen tyres, so high end tyres have dropped right off and tube sales generally.
We’re catering for people who don’t know what they want. They don’t want jargon. They don’t want anything too expensive, but they want something nice that’s going to last and work well. They just need to be guided and they’re really happy when you can spend a bit of time with them and explain why this bike is better for them than that bike.
The only area of growth is the Porter style bikes that Malvern Star are doing. The Vogue men’s and women’s to go on top the cheaper retro bikes. I see that as a growing market but it’s going to be a bit of a niche.
It appeals to people who want something practical but also appeals to hipsters. It has an inner city urban hipster look to it.
Our turnover’s pretty stagnant. I’m cutting staff back slightly, the odd casual. It’s hard to find and keep good staff so the regular people I’ve got, I’m hanging onto. Rent and wages are your two biggest costs and there’s not a lot you can do about either.
(Regarding sales reps) With a lot of the companies, I tend to just phone them up. But having reps call, particularly from our bigger accounts, is good if you’ve got problems. They’ll also remind you about a certain product or line.
With the smaller companies, when you’re not buying stuff from them that often, you can forget about them entirely if they don’t have reps coming around. It’s a hard thing for the companies because obviously reps on the road are expensive for them.
I probably don’t see reps as much as I used to.
I can remember some Mondays they’d be almost lined up out the door. But these days I hardly ever see two or three reps in a day. Probably the only rep I see once a month is the Sheppards rep. They’re definitely our biggest supplier.
Aaron Draxler of Master Cycles in the Adelaide suburb of Plympton, SA, said:
Business is going really well at the moment. We’ve actually downsized the shop. We’ve only got about half the floor space. We did a renovation and it’s doing really well. We probably doubled our growth since we did the renovation and we’re pretty happy.
John (Sennett, who ran Plympton Cycles at the same premises for many years) used to have it as a double shopfront. We closed it off with a dividing wall and moved into the right hand side one which is the slightly smaller one. We figured that we’re more of a service and repair centre so there’s no point in having a big showroom with one or two bikes in it that always looks empty.
We did a full reno on this side of the shop and it’s looking really good. We’re subletting the other half of the shop at the moment.
We do sell bikes. We have a few brands, Felt and Marcini are our two bike ones. Marcini is very boutique but that suits our market. We’re aiming at that boutique end of the market anyway. My background is in road and track racing so I tend to do mostly custom builds.
We have picked up business because the site was previously a very well established bike shop. It was here for 40 years, but a lot of the market they had was low end. We will still service anything, but most customers walk through the door and look at what we have hanging on the wall and think twice about asking for the K-mart special sort of bike.
(Regarding sales reps) It’s a mix of 50/50. Having been a rep myself, I know the benefits of a good rep, for the wholesaler particularly. It pushes the product a lot more. If you’ve got a rep coming in regularly it puts that particular brand or wholesaler at the forefront of the retailer’s mind.
I tend to do quite a bit of my stuff through the B2B websites. I think it’s about a 50/50 split.
Michael Bryce from Onya Bike who has three stores across Canberra, ACT said:
Business has been good mate. The start of the year has been quite amazing actually. We’ve had considerable good weather which I think helps and it’s still kicking on now.
Normally Anzac Day is the turning point, but it’s still quite warm today (two days after Anzac Day). I think we’re 24 degrees today, so still holding onto the dream!
We are exclusively Giant. It has it’s good points and bad points but at this stage still working quite well. Obviously it gets a little bit harder when it gets towards the end of the season on stock, what’s available.
I think it’s (adding another brand) something we’d consider in the future. Just to keep everyone enthusiastic and it’s good for the staff and customers and well. Maybe… definitely… I’d never say never!
We’ve had a pretty strong road season. Giant had a new TCR all-rounder road model which took off. That always helps when you’ve got something fresh to show people.
Everything’s been ticking along quite nicely though. The family market and kids bikes are definitely the biggest part of our business, which is always very strong.
(Regarding sales reps) I don’t have a lot to do with reps. I’ve just got a couple of business partners who have come on board and I’ve kind of stepped away from that role.
But I think it’s sometimes easier to deal with reps just with a phone call. Sometimes they chew up too much time. Some of these web shop based companies are really easy. You can see for yourself what’s there. Whether you still need reps anymore, probably not as much as you used to.
John Ayres from Boggo Road Bicycle Cycle Centre in inner city Brisbane, Queensland said:
Business is ok. We’re just turning up every day and chipping away at it. We’ve recently made a change to our trading hours to try to capture some of the commuter market. We’ve been opening earlier of a morning with our workshop to allow folk to drop bikes off a little bit earlier.
So we’re just trying to grow the workshop side of the business because that’s always a good area to try to do that in.
You’ve got to be doing stuff all the time. Chipping away, being a bit proactive.
It has only been about three weeks now so probably too early days to give us an indication of how it’s going to work, but encouraging signs so far.
Because of where we are, our market is predominantly commuter and family. We seem to sell a little bit of everything across the board. Then occasionally we might sell a fat bike.
We’ve been doing a little bit to introduce ebikes to the store and that hasn’t worked particularly well, which has surprised me.
(Regarding sales reps) It’s a tricky one. I guess they have to visit the store, but it’s really good if they make a pre-scheduled appointment. If they just lob in and we’re not expecting them, it doesn’t help the flow of things. We’ve got a few guys who are in tune with that and it works pretty well.
We do a lot of our ordering online. A lot of the warranty issues we can also do online. So the only real need for the reps is when they’ve got new product or some sort of deal going that they need to present to us.