John Franzky: Bow Cycle
It doesn't look like your web site offers the option to purchase items online. What is the reasoning behind this? Do you have plans to enter the online marketplace in the future?
"Right now Bow Cycle is not set up for online shopping. We do take payments online, but most of the time products get picked up in store. One of the reasons we do not have online shopping is our dealer contracts state that bicycles cannot be sold online. We respect our suppliers and the relationship with them so we adhere to the rules. Plus, all bikes sold out of Bow Cycle need to be set up by Bow Cycle according to our dealer contracts.
"For online shopping, we feel to do it right the product has to get out the door the same day. Attention to the online orders has to be immediate and the inventory has to be accurate in real time. To do this you need people in place and an inventory system that can deal with the online product linking to your on-hand inventory. Our system does not do that easily and right now we want the staff talking to the people that come in our door, not a computer. I think statistics say 64% of all consumers will make an online purchase each year. With this type of statistic it does drive Bow Cycle to look into an online component for the store. Bow Cycle's owners are still questioning who the online buyer is. Is it someone looking for discounted product or is it someone looking for the convenience of online shopping? I think it is both, with the question being which online consumer is driving the online market? Convenience customer or price customer?"
Has the growth of online shopping caused you to make any changes in deciding which items to stock in the store?
"Not really, people still like to be able to see and handle new cool products. We buy what we think our customers are looking for, and try to keep up on new trends and support our customers' product requests."
Are you less likely to carry a brand if it's available from the larger online retailers?
"It does come into play somewhat; we need to stock our store with quality product. There is some product you can’t get away from selling in store that competes with online. Our relationship with suppliers also plays into these decisions. We want to support suppliers that are IBD (independent bicycle retailer) focused."
As a local bike shop, what techniques do you use to stand out over large online retailers? Why should consumers go to their local bike shop vs. an online store?
"The 'technique' we use is basic customer service. This is our number one priority. Treat everyone the same regardless of their two wheel choice or quality. We are all bike riders. The relationships you build with your customers are huge. People like to go to the shop, smell the rubber and talk with like-minded people. The shop people will have first hand info on what works and how it works. Plus, the customer may have a chance to try the product before they buy. Another reason is warranty issues. A shop can deal with them quickly, offering a loaner item or a bike if needed. Online cannot do this. I have had customers flat out tell me they choose to buy from a bike shop to have the confidence of knowing they will deal with a problem if it arises."
As online shopping continues to grow, how do you see the role of the local bike shop evolving over the next five years?
"The local bike shop will survive. The customer service game has to be upheld and get higher in order to compete against online sales. Dealers will have to be attentive to pricing but still remain profitable. Most people understand the overhead cost of running a retail business vs. online overhead cost. I think people want to support the local shop and other local retail establishments to keep their economy strong. With cycling growing and receiving attention from the municipal level this is bringing a whole group of new cyclist into the market. Along with “sales” customer service, the repair side needs to have the same high standard as well. You cannot bring your bike into an online store, but you can bring it into your local bike shop. And, I bet the trip to your local shop will be a bit more fun than a trip on the world wide web."
The Bow Cycle storefront.
Matt Cole: Chain Reaction Cycles
Who's buying online? Do you think the younger generations are fueling online sales?
"For younger riders, online shopping is becoming the norm, but the benefits of online are there for every age and every type of rider to take advantage of. Customer behaviour is constantly changing too, with more people browsing and ordering via mobile devices. Gone are the days when you were tucked away ordering a list of new spares on the desktop in the corner of the room – now people are watching TV, for example, while browsing the latest bike kit and accessories on the market via their iPad."
What segment of cycling (mountain bikes, road bikes, etc...) makes up the largest percentage of your sales?
"Chain Reaction Cycles’ beginnings were in the off-road segment, where we stocked specialist brands like GT, Marin, Proflex and Cannondale during the early days, and we continue to offer thousands of mountain bikes, parts, clothing and accessories. We’ve also developed a huge customer base in road, triathlon and BMX which have seen massive increases especially given the recent boom in sportive-type rides and the rise in popularity of amateur triathlon races around the globe."
What do you see as the greatest advantage of shopping online? What does Chain Reaction Cycles offer that local bike shops don't?
"We were founded as a local family-run bike shop, and we continue with two stores – one connected to our warehouse and another in Belfast – so we’re in a unique position in having local outlets with a huge stock offering.
"Everything we’ve done since the company’s inception in 1985 has been geared towards providing the best possible products and service to our customers and it’s those values that we pride ourselves on to this day. Our product range, in-stock availability and prices are major advantages to shopping online, but the pre-purchase support and after-care we offer is also something that sets us apart.
"We have a 12-month, 365-day hassle-free returns service, a full warranty policy, a 120-man strong customer service team who can be contacted via email or phone made up of a highly qualified Tech Team with all the bike knowledge you could ask for and an international group of advisors on hand who can offer support in seven different languages, including Japanese, Russian, French, Italian, Spanish, Portugese and German."
Chain Reaction Cycles has almost 800k Facebook fans. To what do you credit CRC's success with social media?
"Chain Reaction Cycles is a rider-run company, made up of people just like our customers and fans – we love nothing better than getting out there in the great outdoors during our downtime, and it’s this passion that we think brings people closer to us via the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, ChainReactionHub.com, YouTube and Vimeo.
"Facebook and social media in general is the perfect platform to connect with our customers like never before, giving us an outlet to put our personality across and since joining we’ve offered followers a rich helping of content from exclusive competitions, the latest bike tech news, photos and more. We’re very careful in not using Facebook to just push sales and promotions, and we think our fans respect us for this."
What are your thought on the practice of “showrooming,” where customers check out items at their local bike shop, but then go home and purchase the items online?
"Our goal is to have the most enriched content online so that customers are equipped with all the details they need to make a purchase. We aim to have product specs and descriptions, 360-degree image views, video buyer’s guides, fit guides, and size guides where applicable and we have a dedicated Tech Team who are on hand to offer technical support whether you’ve got a straightforward question on crank compatibility or an in-depth query on bleeding your disc brakes. We always welcome feedback so we can continue to furnish our customers with all the information they need."
How do you see the role of the local bike shop evolving over the next five years? What do you think they can do to ensure they stay viable?
"Founded as a local bike shop in 1985 and now with two stores in the immediate area, we constantly aim to meet the needs of our local customers. What we try to do in our local stores, as well as our retail offering, is try to be an invaluable source for local riders, becoming a real hub for the cycling community – providing workshop support, running regular maintenance courses, free seminars on bike technique and training, gait analysis, bike fit, providing info for local races, group rides, spins and the like. So in the context of what we’re trying to do we feel that the future is good for the local bike shop."
Kevin Menard: Co-owner of Transition Bikes
Do you have pricing rules in effect for shops selling online versus in a store?
“Yes, we have rules in general. We're pretty firm – we only have two or three shops that can sell online. You have to have a physical storefront to be able to sell online. We did that for control reasons, so we can keep an eye on how people are marketing themselves on the internet. If you have a lot of online retailers it's very difficult to police. We have policies that if you're an online retailer you can't sell to a foreign country where we have a distributor, and you need to sell at MSRP, except for closeouts, which have set prices. Basically, it's all about keeping the playing field level. We realize we have a niche product, and we won't have a dealer in every town. There are going to be a lot people that just don't have a dealer that even knows about the product. That's where there is a lot of value in internet shops. I think when you get to a bike of our caliber you need some personalization on the internet. A drop-to-cart feature for a $4000 bike seems ridiculous.
"So many shops have these SmartEtailing carts now. A lot of new shops open and they think when they have a website and can sell online the floodgates are going to open. It's just not like that. There aren't millions of people wanting to buy bikes at retail on the internet. We try to talk people out of that. You're not really missing out, especially if you're a new website that doesn't rank well in search results. Everyone wants to do it – they think it's the holy grail. And I think some guys do really well, but they've taken a marketing approach to it and really focused on it."
Have you run into issue with counterfeit product, or unauthorized sites selling Transition brand items?
"I've never seen any counterfeit product, but occasionally sites will put up stuff on their web store that wasn't authorized. We've had cases in the past where sites were putting up product and discounting it. Not a huge deal, you just need to police it. We keep a pretty tight reign on it."
With online sales in general taking off, do you see the role of the local bike shop changing at all?
"I've always been an internet guy. Personally, when I shop, like for clothes, a lot of times I'm shopping online. But, for the bike shop experience I've found that when I've utilized my local bike shop it was when I needed something right away or needed help with a repair. They just have that expertise. I think the role of a bike shop is to create relationships with individuals in the community. They become connected to that shop. It's very hard to connect with a website. A good bike shop will create a relationship – they become your buddy. A good shop will have the products you need when you need them. I think internet shops do well because a lot of local bike shops don't cater to an individual's riding style. They don't have, say, replacement parts for a Hope brake, or they don't know how to work on a suspension fork or bleed a brake. I see a lot of people become more self-sufficient and relying on the internet because of this. But, I still feel like the brick and mortar shop is always going to be strong if they focus on that relationship with the customer. I don't think a shop should ever be afraid of internet business if they know who their customers are and what they want.
I do hear some grumbling about the discounting of model year product by the larger online retailers. Items like forks and shifters and brakes – that sort of thing is detrimental to the industry. It devalues product when it shouldn't be devalued, and I think bike manufacturers and component manufacturers need to police that. It's not necessarily the fault of the online retailers. Shops get pissed off at the websites because they're selling model year bikes and model year products for below MSRP, but it really should be the manufacturers that put their foot down and say they're pulling their product out. I think there's some joint responsibility, but at the end of the day the manufacturer is the one selling the product – they have the control. I think the two can coexist really well as long as there are some checks and balances."
Mark Graff: Co-founder, SmartEtailing.com
With search results dominated by the bigger retailers, can independent bike shops hope to compete in the world of online shopping?
"Actually, I disagree with two elements in your question: first, that search results are “dominated” by bigger retailers. You only have to consider what “near me now” means in today’s search offering to realize that the new focus of search is locally directed purchases. Sure, paid search budgets from larger firms are going to make it possible for these entities to maintain a presence, often in the absence of more relevant, local results. Yet the power of local access, which includes ease of returns and handling service issues, can’t be underestimated. Second, consumers today don’t think about shopping 'online' or 'offline.' The variety of connected devices and the nearly ever-present access has led to what observers today have labeled as omni-channel shopping. It means that consumers expect companies, including retailers, to be wherever and however they wish to interact. The good news for local retailers is that services such as ours help them match or even go beyond what some of the larger firms currently can provide."
As the internet and online shopping have grown how have you seen the role of the brick and mortar store change?
"We consider the future of local specialty retailing to be more vibrant than ever. There’s only so much satisfaction that can come from impersonal packages being dropped at your doorstep. There’s magic in retail that a flat-panel display can’t match. The service and sizing components of matching product to people is also a key differentiator. Yet, bicycling is not about products. The products are simply a means to the end, which is the experience. This is where local specialty stores will always have the edge (unless they’re simply not willing to put forth the effort). From advocating for access to promoting and sponsoring rides and events, local bicycle retailers play a direct role in improving the lives of people in their communities."
What makes SmartEtailing different from other software options out there?
"We work hard to tailor our web-based applications to the exact needs of our clients, yet software is only one-third of our solution. Another important element we bring is expertly prepared content. Our team of content professionals have intimate knowledge of the products and topics that they write about, plus they know how to present the information so that it’s fully accessible and helpful to consumers on behalf of specialty stores that present it. This highlights our third major difference, our people; in addition to our content creators, we also have a dedicated team of retail consultants and technical pros that offer assistance whenever our clients have questions. Many of our staff have owned or managed specialty stores. They know the challenges and opportunities firsthand and are able to go well beyond the kind of basic help-desk assistance that you typically hear is what’s offered by technology firms."
What can independent bike shops do to encourage customers to physically step through their doors?
"Start by recognizing that customers start thinking about their purchases and where they will spend their dollars long before they come to the store and, in some cases, may not need to visit. Therefore, stores need to respect how their customers wish to buy from them. This means making your store accessible via all of the ways that consumers shop. Yes, it means you need to adopt new processes and be proficient with these so that you achieve the same consistent levels of customer satisfaction that you’ve worked hard to provide within the walls of your physical store."