All boomed out

After a long and oddly fruitful year, some bike-shop owners are deciding it’s time to step away from the table while they’re still winners, according to Bicycle Retailer and Industry News.

My man Steve Frothingham reports that the year was both good and bad for a lot of businesspeople. Good, in that they moved a ton of product, made a bunch of money, and dug out from under a mountain of debt; bad, in that it left them fried, dyed and whipped to the side.

“We’ve done well, I don’t want to mislead anybody,” said one retailer. “It just did start to feel like we were in the store-running business instead of the bicycle business. I realize that the store-running business is where the industry is going, but maybe our talents are better used elsewhere.

“And I have to say, we’re just exhausted.”

Some are changing their business models. Others are selling outright, in some cases to Trek. That’s the route Hill Abell and Laura Agnew took with Bicycle Sport Shop in Austin, Texas.

The two announced the sale yesterday, then spoke with Ken Herman at the Austin American-Statesman.

Bicycle Sport Shop had been suffering a downturn until The Bug® turned bicycles into a must-have item.

As a consequence, 2020 has been “absolutely phenomenal, which allowed us to pay down all of our debt and to actually pay our people more,” Abell said. “So it’s been a really good year for the biking industry if you’re a decent operator.”

Despite the banner year, Abell and Agnew were still looking for a way out, and found it in Trek. The four Bicycle Sport Shop locations will close Jan. 17 and reopen a few days later as Trek stores. The store-running business, as the fella says. So it goes.

Anybody else seeing their favorite local shop go corporate … or just go?

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36 Responses to “All boomed out”

  1. canamsteve Says:

    What surprised me was that Canada’s Mountain Equipment Co-op (sort of a Canadian REI) went bankrupt and was sold to some vulture capitalists. You’ll have to forgive me suspecting that the fix was in – profit-making chains hated them for not playing the marketing games and I’m sure they had supply issues from the vertical manufacturers (She-ma-who?)

    Hard also to believe that in the middle of an outdoor rec boom they go bust and couldn’t find financing to continue as a co-op. Of course they did drift into Patagonia-land (kindred spirits and all) but even so, there’s plenty of money in that crowd

  2. katholoch Says:

    I first heard about a Trek Bike Store opening in Berkeley a few years ago from a friend. I don’t think there was a bike store in this location, (but I could be wrong) so I assumed Trek was starting to open their own standalone stores. Then I saw that they bought a two store chain and made it into Trek Bikes. Most recently I noticed a store bought by Trek continues to use the old name, which may be a retail strategy of theirs.

    At any rate, we go to car dealers for specific brands of cars, so why not bikes? I may be wrong, but it seems like shops end up dropping their prices on bikes or not charging full retail so I don’t get the feeling that a brand store is going to undercut independent stores so much. Again, could be wrong.

    My views are a little colored by non-loyalty to any shop. Why is that? Because I’m female and serious about cycling. I’ve been going into bike shops for 30 years and not been treated all that well on a consistent basis. Frankly, I think I’ve gotten better service at the Trek stores. Maybe they train their employees to treat everyone equally?

  3. katholoch Says:

    Hmm, I left a long comment that didn’t publish. Oh well. The gist of my comment was that I hadn’t experienced any negatives from any sales of shops to Trek. Why?? Because as a female rider going to local bike shops for the last 30 years, I had failed to develop any real loyalty to any of my shops as I have never consistently felt seen by the employees. I’ve actually had better service at the Trek stores. Maybe they train their employees to treat everyone equally??

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Kath’, your comment ended up in my spam folder for some reason. Sorry ’bout that.

      Bike shops occasionally remind me of camera shops and computer shops. If you don’t know the Secret Handshake and the Magic Words, or even look like you don’t, you can find yourself being treated like a dufus. It even happens to me, a Titan of the Industry, etc., et al., and so on and so forth.

      You will recall what happened to camera and computer shops.

      I was fortunate when I was a noob back in the mid-Eighties. I got to deal with shops like Turin and the Denver Spoke in Denver, shops that actually treated their customers like people they might like to keep around for a while. Likewise Criterium and Old Town in Bibleburg, and Great Divide in Pueblo.

      They didn’t mind that I was an eejit with a million questions. They were nice folks, and smart businesspeople. I had money on me and they could smell a mark a mile away.

      Another thing, while I’m thinking of it. “Shrink it and pink it” was the industry’s approach to women cyclists for a lot of years. I hope they’re getting past that. But I still see a ton of dudes in shops and in the magazine bidness, too.

      • katholoch Says:

        Yes, I do know what happened to camera and computer shops. I do think a key difference is you really need to throw a leg over a bike to see if it fits or if the ride is compatible with your expectations.

        But market forces are not as predictable as the economists would like, so I think the jury is still out on the fate of all brick and mortal shops. And I don’t think you can point a finger at anyone other than consumers.

        Hey, I just realized you gave me a new name: Kath Oloch! I like it. In Germany, our name is pronounced with a silent H (and so Oloch).

        • SAO' Says:

          Or go with the Irish Kath O’Loch!

        • Patrick O'Grady Says:

          That would be Kath of the Lake, right? I like it, won’t hear a word said against it.

          I’m old school when it comes to shopping. I like to touch things. A camera that is awesome in every other way may feel like a hunk of junk in your hands. Play with a demo Mac for a bit and you may realize, eh, my old one is just fine.

          And of course riding a bike is the best way to find out if it’s yours or someone else’s. Unless the salesperson is all like, “This is the only one we have for chicks.” Then you say, “See ya” and hit some other shop.

          • SAO' Says:

            Kath of the Lake has a bit more dignity than my moniker, Steve from the Bog.

            Thank goodness someone invented the wheelbarrow, to teach my ancestors to walk upright.

  4. SAO' Says:

    I’m not getting out and about enough to see what’s going on amongst the LBS crowd, but there are a couple of places nearby that I’ve been monitoring.

    We lost our biggest little bike shop before COVID, so can’t blame the changing landscape on their closure. Peloton (no relation) carried all of the big brands and was a Fort Collins institution, but had a habit of changing their address every dozen years or so. They had moved from just off campus to the main drag (Harmony Blvd, the biggest road in town), then moved from there to this quaint little outdoor shopping and dining project. Great location, right by a coffee shop and a crafter brewer, in a sprawling building where they could offer spin classes and other workshops for their customers. But they forgot to pay their city taxes and were shut down overnight with no warning. Very strange business decision on the part of the city. They owed about $60K, and fcgov.com could have restructured the bill, given them more time, gotten some cash out of them, and then either shut them down anyway (but made some cash along the way) or allowed them to operate and generate more tax dollars. Whatever, I’m not in charge of shit, and no one listens to me anyway.

    • SAO' Says:

      The second big development also started before COVID. Lee’s Cyclery was one of the few bike shops with multiple locations, and they were all over the place. I think there were at least seven shops in the Fort Collins, Loveland, Windsor area. And they quietly took down their signage and put up Trek banners almost overnight, with little fanfare. They’re nice shops, and seem to be doing well, but Lee’s was another institution, so it left folks wondering.

    • SAO' Says:

      With 40k college kids in town, you’re going to sell some bikes in Fort Collins. And we have a Dicks and a Scheels, which account for most of the sub-$400 range bike sales. But we have a ton of small shops in town, which all have their particular specialty. Single speeds here, cruisers there, 40 lb. downhill machines around the corner. There are at least two bikes shops that also operate as a bar or restaurant, a couple that are mostly personal trainers that will sell you a bike if you really want one, and a couple that are more repair shops that carry a small but expensive inventory. And they all seem to be hanging in there.

    • SAO' Says:

      So, from personal driving out and about, things look pretty good here. Another bit of anecdotal evidence, there’s a brewery in town you might have heard of, known for giving all of their employees a cruiser to mark their 365 day anniversary, and they ordered a few more extras this year because last year’s model was so popular. (With the addition of the Asheville, NC facility, they decided to add gears for the first time in 30 years.) But they needed a local shop to finish the build, and had to spread the work out because everyone was so busy. I’ve been using a mobile bike wrench chap for small repairs, a great service that does all of the work in your driveway, and I chatted it up with him as much as I could from ten feet away, and it sounded like he was busy with both repairs and new builds.

      My guess is, 2020 should be filed under “past performance is not an indicator of future growth, and your mileage may vary.”

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Fort Collins is a strange place. Fairly conservative politically, right? But really big on bikes. The two don’t always go together. Sort of a country-ass Boulder, or a hippie Bibleburg.

      • SAO' Says:

        You can’t pin a political tag on us. Fort Collins is exactly 25% Republican, 25% Democratic, and 50% Independent. CSU is the biggest employer, and you know all about Pat Stryker’s influence in this town. I live basically in off-campus Intel/HP housing, so everyone is an engineer, not an artist or professor, and yet front yard signage was 100% Biden/Harris, with nary a Trumper to be seen for miles. And yet, you cross I-25 into Windsor and you’ve basically landed in Oklahoma. Most of the country has it’s anti-masker groups, and we took it to the next level with anti-hand-washers.

        The problem pinning down our politics is that we will never be as liberal as Boulder or as conservative as Weld County, so we’re pretty much still in search of our own identity. We’ve had a Republican mayor for quite some time but very progressive congressional reps (state and fed).

        I used to think Colorado had a good thing going in the being purple department. But we’re as deep red vs dark blue as everyone else. There might be Republicans coexisting with Democrats here and there, but their street addresses have adjacent zip codes.

  5. khal spencer Says:

    I suspect the Agnews saw the writing on the wall. Bike shops are a volatile business. They probably figured that they rode this Covid-fed wave as far as they could and should hop off before wipeout. My guess is once all the usual distractions are open again, there will be a lot of bikes sitting in the backs of garages again.

    Yeah, Kath is victim of “we ignore girls” disease in bike shops, garages, hardware stores, etc. I don’t know the reputation of the shops here in Fanta Se as far as how they treat women. All the shops are small businesses, at least the ones I know of (Bike N Sport, Rob and Charlie’s, Broken Spoke, Mellow Velo). Word gets around if you treat your customers like doofuses or ignore them. Even a Fred like me gets respect, for some reason unknown to me. Given the small margin on bike shops, if I were an owner of a LBS I’d treat everyone as royalty.

    • katholoch Says:

      To be fair, my customer service experience has been inconsistent. Sometimes great, sometimes not. Who’s to say that isn’t normal (especially if you ever read yelp reviews)?

      At any rate, I do have a funny story. I lived in Albuquerque from 1994 through 1997. I had a Klein mountain bike with a Manitou fork and decided to get grip shift at a local shop. Only went in there once (for the install). Think this may have been 1995 or ’96? I moved to Portland, OR in the winter of 1998. Walked into a bike store and was looking around. The sales guy asked if he could help me and when I turned around to talk to him he recognized me immediately and said, “Didn’t you used to live in Albuquerque?” I guess I stood out for having a Klein, being a female, into mountain biking then, or whatever… Ended up becoming friends with the shop guy and his wife.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      That is a funny story. It’s a small world after all. Cliff Loucks is the only other Duke City Klein rider I can recall from my glory days.

      Meanwhile, GripShift! We still have it on our mountain bikes. Mine is a combo platter (Sachs/SRAM/GripShift) while Herself’s is the original.

      My combo platter

      Herself's OG GripShift

  6. JD Says:

    PO’G: Best I can tell in your old haunts of Bibleburg, the local shops here (John Crandall’s Old Town; Criterium; Ascent; Ted’s; etc.) are all hanging tough albeit many with reduced hours and certainly reduced inventory. A few however have opened an additional location and/or moved to bigger digs in the past 2 years and recently. Time will tell how that works out.

    The local Performance Bike closed its physical store but is still online. Bicycle Village has reduced hours. REI however is constructing an adjacent additional larger building that will be for the larger outdoor sports equipment (bikes, skis, camping stuff, etc.). They had really outgrown the current facility about 2-3 years ago.

    E-bikes are the current big growth sector here — all sizes, shapes, weights, capabilities, etc.

    Will be interesting to see how the post-COVID bike industry evolves.

    Meanwhile the City Planning Commission is considering reducing (from 7.5 acres/1000 people to 5.5 acres/1,000 people) the open space requirement developers must meet. More to follow on that.

    Light snow starting again here. Stay safe, healthy, and sane everybody!! 🙂

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Reduced inventory is going to be a thing for quite a while yet, I expect. The used-bike market may also continue to be a thing, as noobs get tired of their latest shiny objects and/or vaccines set them free to pursue new ones.

      E-bikes will likewise continue to be a thing, perhaps The Next Big Thing®, but I’m not sure we’ve thought that one all the way through. The bike industry, like its customers, has trouble resisting Shiny Object Syndrome.

      More open space good. Less open space bad. And snow? Always good. We gotta have water to put in those water bottles or the cycling gets awful thirsty awful fast.

  7. SAO' Says:

    Speaking of going … someone got gone real quick like in Morgan Hill.

    https://www.bicycling.com/news/a35004955/bikes-stolen-from-specialized-headquarters/

  8. Patrick Fowler Says:

    My local 40+ year place closed it down and retired. I’m glad to have escaped a similar long stint in “The Industry”, with some sanity and my love for the bike intact. The Industry, not so much

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I still love the bike. Tell you what, though — when I was cartooning, commenting, reporting, editing, posting, live-updating, and everything other damn thing, and it was all about the bike, I flamed out and how on the actual riding of the bicycle.

      Being a professional cook must feel comparable. You cook all day long, the last thing on your mind at quitting time is, “Jeez, I should really cook something.”

    • Pat O’Brien Says:

      The fastest way to kill the joy of a hobby or passion is to turn it into a profession. For years Sandy loved to make quilts. The she opened O’Brien Professional Quilting. We built a studio for her onto our house. Once she retired and closed the business, quilting went bye bye.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Yeah, it was fine when I was still in the newspaper game, because cycling was a change of pace. Then it became a way of life and I needed something to distract me from my distraction.

      I’m much better now.

  9. khal spencer Says:

    Here we go again.

    https://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/briefs/man-faces-vehicular-homicide-charge-after-cyclist-dies-in-taos-crash/article_59f501a6-4180-11eb-9b0b-ff1f2a484f2c.html

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      OK, this is officially creepy. I know that stretch of road real well too. I’ve gassed up at that Speedway station, once with a rack full of bikes; dude gassing up next to me had a bike on his roof, and we started talking about, well, bikes.

      I sez to him I sez, “I reviewed that bike for Adventure Cyclist magazine.”

      He sez to me he sez, “I bought that bike based in part on that review.”

      Small world. Even smaller road, especially once you get south of that Speedway station. Shit crowds up right quick down to there, especially when the crazies are abroad in the world. It would give me The Fear on two wheels.

      • khal spencer Says:

        NM 68 between Rancho de Taos and Velarde always gives me The Fear. Someone does something stupid and you pretty much have nowhere to go. Especially that stretch right in the gorge.

  10. Ronald P Howard Says:

    Discount brands Performance Bike, and Nashbar closed in 2018. Only to reopen as boutique bike shops. Six thousand $ frames, 12,000$ bikes. Everyone can’t afford Assos, Pinarello, Specialized high end goods or 85$ tires. Had depended on Nashbar when he didn’t have catalog, only print out in envelopes 1979-80.

    • khal spencer Says:

      I remember back in the early eighties when Bike Nashbar was Bike Warehouse with a mail out catalog. A bunch of us in grad school, freshly into cycling, needed bike stuff but had grad student stipends as limiting factors. No way we could afford high end stuff. Nor did we need it. Bike Warehouse and Performance Bike were good places to get affordable spare parts, clothing, and other goodies. As a friend of mine and I joked after we both had well-paying faculty jobs, “now we have money and no legs. Back then we had legs and no money”.

      Sigh.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        Don’t forget Bikeman. And Cambria Bicycle Outfitters. Both made their mark early in the “buy from a considerable distance” market,” as did Excel Sports and Colorado Cyclist.

  11. Joby Dynneson Says:

    We sold out of bikes, now we are selling out if skis (we are a nordic ski shop). The hardest thing has been getting good at telling people that we don’t have much and don’t know when we will have anything. We kept a stringent store covid policy since day one and that has made life easier by reducing the in store population. We are in a busy tourist location and we have had hoards of out of towners that came to Montana to escape the lockdowns in other states. The effects of the hoards of covid refugees can be seen our housing market, the “value ” on my house, increase almost 200k in three months. We tried to keep our shop personality but some of that was hard without group rides and trailhead gatherings. We are not selling and are going to keep on truckin.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      One of those years, hey? Sell right down to the floorboards, and then … wait for resupply. Tick, tock … tick, tock. …

      Do you guys do any used bikes at all? The shops here mostly use them as down payments on new bikes, I think. “Sure, we’ll take your old Bianchi and give you a couple hundy toward that new Moots.”

      Colorado is having similar issues with out-of-staters flooding the market. Mostly Texicans, I think, but some East Coasters too. Hitting the ski towns hard, especially the educational systems therein. And property values? Elon Musk wishes all his rockets took off so well.

      Good on you for hanging tough and not selling out.

      • Joby Dynneson Says:

        We don’t do used, of course this year there has been no used bikes. I am curious how all this goes, especially when people resume normal, will the trails stay busy or will the used market get flooded with some bairly ridden equipment?

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        It’ll be interesting. Inertia is a tough thing to overcome, and Americans are famously inert (“What’s on TV? Any potato chips?”).

        Every Christmas people get exercise gear, and every February you see it in the yard sales, or on Craigslist, barely used, bargain prices. I hope the new cyclists stick it out, though. We could use the numbers in the ongoing battle for our fair share of the roads and trails.

  12. Not USUK Says:

    Ordered a bike for my birthday in August may see it in time for my July Gravel race. geez In the shoe bizness we can still get some product but it’s slow. Every aspect of every order takes 3 times as long as pre covid days. At least 2000 times a week I wanna close the doors and stay in Crested Butte for the end of days. Then I get stoopid and go back to work. I ain’t never been smart like O’Grady but he’s not black Irish like me.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      It’s an international tragedy, to be sure. Why, I understand that some people, unable to find a bicycle at any price, have been compelled to take up (shudder) golf. The horror … the horror. …

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