Sonoma County bike retailers tackle major changes
Sonoma County may be a hot spot for cycling, but national trends have made it a lot harder for local bike shops to survive.
Faced with growing numbers of competitors, the rising popularity of online bike shopping, and bike sales nationally as flat as a popped tire, local shop owners remain optimistic and have chosen to get creative.
Some have turned to rentals and home service calls. Others have leveraged their affiliations with major bike brands. Still others have opted to offer a variety of enticements to their customers, from cafes to taprooms.
According to the Bicycle Recycler and Industry Trade News, national bike sales to retailers fell in 2016 by 8 percent. That comes after the National Bike Dealers Association (NBDA) reported a 3.4 percent decrease from 2014 to 2015 with 17.4 million bikes being sold. Sales have averaged around $6 billion annually in past years.
“It’s a no-growth market right now,” said Lynette Carpiet, editor of Bicycle Retailer and Industry Trade News. “That’s what is driving things.”
The effect has been stark on the specialty shops, the small retailers that cater largely to cycling aficionados decked out in florescent spandex jerseys and tights, who can be seen on back country roads from Occidental to the Alexander Valley on weekends. The shops’ numbers have dropped by 39 percent from 2000 to 2015, when there were 3,790 stores across the country, according to NBDA. The result has produced consolidation and deal-making within the industry; last year, for example, the bike company Advanced Sports International bought the nation’s largest bicycle retailer, Performance Bicycle, which has a Santa Rosa location.
Locally, Sonoma Bicycle Co., Revolution Cycles in Sebastopol, Rincon Cyclery, Everything Cycles, Jonathon’s Bike Shop and Cambria all have closed their doors in the last five years for various reasons.
Yet even with the grim statistics, local shops are sensing opportunity. Trek Bicycle Store in Santa Rosa, for example, now offers 24-hour service turnaround time, free demonstration bikes and a free bicycle fitting with a purchase.
Velofix, a new company out to fill a niche, will come to your house to do repairs and even assemble the bike you bought online, as Amazon has increased its marketing to younger consumers who don’t think twice about buying a bike online. Canyon Bicycles, a well-regarded German bike manufacturer with a strong online presence, will enter the U.S. market this year with consumer direct sales thanks to an assist from TSG Consumer Partners, a private equity firm based in San Francisco.
“If you don’t pivot, you become like the Yellow Pages,” said Bret Gave, store manager for the Trek Bicycle Store.
His shop, which he claims has the largest fleet of rentals in the North Bay, offers free pickup and delivery of bicycles for upkeep and maintenance work, a crucial service as repairs provide 11 percent of a typical shop’s revenue while parts and accessories are another 36 percent, according to NBDA.
“Companies in general, not exclusively retail, if they don’t change at the same rate inside as the rate on the outside, they are not going to be around for very long,” Gave said. “I think that is one thing that bicycle retailers have been very good at is thinking on their feet to adjust and move with the economy.”
That’s the thinking over at TrailHouse, a new bicycle shop right next to Howarth Park. To call TrailHouse a bike shop, though, isn’t quite accurate - it also runs a taproom with brews from Russian River Brewing Co. and HenHouse Brewing Co. and offers burritos from Lepe’s Taqueria and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
The idea came to Glenn Fant as he saw the number of cyclists mountain biking at Annadel State Park, regarded as one of the top off-road biking areas on the North Coast, who would then go over to Russian River Brewing Co. afterward for a pint or two.
“We feel it’s one of the best trails in the world. It’s world class,” said Fant, who also owns NorCal Bike Sport as well as the Bike Peddler. The TrailHouse space also includes 4,000 square feet for bike storage as well as a service area with two mechanics.
Customers can rent a top-notch mountain bike for about $100 per day to go on the trails - a price that will be discounted if they buy a bike - and there are options for guided trips as well. But the store also caters to families, as it rents cruisers and kids’ bikes by the hour for a leisurely ride around Spring Lake and Howarth parks.
“We really didn’t know what it was going to morph into,” said Fant, who noted TrailHouse has attracted many in the local cycling community as well as newcomers and tourists. “It’s about the connections we are making there.”