Against the backdrop of economic downturn some of Vermont’s shops have been able to thrive. Like their local peers, they been forced to change their practices — but have enjoyed a remarkable uptick in business.
Bike shops have proven an example of riding out the crisis.
A variety of factors have allowed for this success, however one reason stands out among the rest: “Nationally, biking is surging because it’s a one of few safe and accessible options,” said Dan Hock, general manager at Old Spokes Home in Burlington.
The non-profit bike shop specializes in unique and used bikes, and serves a wide customer base around the region.
Commenting on the shifts made in the business over the last few months, Hock said, “We’ve definitely had to do some thinking on our feet as local and state policies kept changing.”
He’s referring to the challenges of adding unprecedented safety practices like social distancing and sanitation. Bike repair, a significant source of revenue for the business, now involves a phone or email appointment, masked drop-off and bike sanitation — a significant change.
Sales have grown more complicated too. “We’ve always been very brick and mortar, so having to shift a bit and get more of our inventory on our website was different for sure,” Hock said.
Augmenting their online presence, staff have been uploading 15-20 used listings every week. “From there, we try to work with people over the phone to make sure that what they’re looking at is catered to what they’re trying to do,” Hock said.
In South Burlington, Earls Cyclery and Fitness echoes these themes.
Andrew Boczar, co-owner and service manager at Earl’s acknowledged the obstructions the pandemic has created for normal business operations but said, “It’s been a different busy, but it’s been a good busy.”
Earl’s has added new bike service stations, secured two new phone lines and hired more staff to keep up with demand.
Both stores have enjoyed a customer base that has been forced to become more decisive.
“I think people are eager to get out on bikes and have a limited time to make a purchase decision. The number of people leaving with a bike compared to the number of people coming to the store is higher than normal,” Hock said.
Boczar emphasized increased sales on new bikes at Earl’s, mainly for kids and new “MTNB-ers” – mountain bikers. He said Earl’s has experienced a greater demand for new bikes than for repairs and credits the growing popularity of mountain biking in the state, especially since the pandemic.
To keep up with demand in bike shops like Earl’s, larger brands, such as Trek and Giant are considering releasing 2021 models early, Boczar said. These products are typically released in late August or September, however, it may be necessary to augment existing stock.
The cause for “bikes from the future” is a nuanced one.
Hock spoke to this: “We work with a variety of domestic base whole sale dealers so we’re obviously further down the food chain, we’re the last stop. Many of the countries of origin, such as China, have been forced to cut back on production for public health.” This means fewer parts produced for repair work and fewer new bikes produced overall.
Since many companies assemble new releases early, those have become the choice to meet demand that is reaching well above forecasted levels.
“Scarcity has been arising on the supply part of the industry because of the pandemic, in part because of underproduction but also as a result of tariffs,” Hock said. “We’ve faced shortages in bikes, accessories, and components but what gives us more resilience is that we specialize in used stuff—we’re able to work on a more local level and we’ve got a pretty ample inventory of used bikes from the last couple years.”
Even after the pandemic, Old Spokes Home plans to contine with their online uploads, seeing the discovery as a silver lining. Hock said, “We’ve realized how beneficial it is to have customers shop for used bikes online. I think, outside of the pandemic even, people are getting more and more used to perusing and shopping from home.”
Earl’s, too, is considering their online presence – a revamped version of their annual May used bike swap may appear later in the season in an online capacity. “We are very lucky to be in the industry we are. Everyone’s in this together and we’re really happy to help get people outside and accommodate their needs where we can,” Boczar said.