In my work, I have the opportunity to speak with bike shop owners all over the country. Right now, there is really only one conversation, and that is, when will things go back to normal, when will we be able to get what we need to serve our customers again? There is frustration, resignation, bewilderment.
There seem to be dominoes cascading in multiple directions, like one of those videos made my bored college kids in the ’80s. As shops worry they won’t be able to get inventory, they begin to hoard parts, which exacerbates supply issues for other shops. It also puts the hoarding shop in jeopardy of having too much inert inventory when the season ends, i.e. now. Customers who’ve been told ‘no’ by their shop strike out on their own and source parts via the internet, which keeps those dollars out of local coffers.
Suppliers sitting on bikes and components they know will all be sold consider their channel mixes. If they move more direct-to-consumer and cut out the shops, they can eke more margin from limited supply/capacity. Their material and labor costs are rising. Supply and demand exert inexorable pressure on the system.
However it pans out, I know a lot of shop owners feel burned by the manufacturers. Relationships have suffered.
For you and me, these are luxury problems. Cycling is a hobby. Very few of us get paid to ride, Most of us have a bike already.
In other ways, the industry’s current challenges will shift the retail paradigm yet again. Shops are going out of business. Others are adapting with appointment-only hours, more streamlined inventories, more focus on service. I haven’t spoken to anyone yet who really believes they have it figured out. The ones who expressed some relief at the beginning of the pandemic, as demand soared and there was less pressure to maintain a seven-day-a-week business schedule, are now beginning to worry they’ll be so starved of product in 2022 that they won’t be able to make ends meet.
It’s always funny to me that creators of ads for small-business services or banks or really any random product just love to use bike shops as sets, as emblematic somehow of a fun, lifestyle business.
This week’s TCI Friday asks, where have you been getting your stuff? Do you have a local bike shop (LBS) you support? Have you moved to online shopping only? What do you think fixes this situation? Is it a simple case of working through the back-ups at the ports, of hiring more truck drivers? I suspect the pandemic has only sped up a process the industry is struggling with, how to best get bikes and bike stuff in the hands of the people who want it in the age of the internet and a new global marketplace.
As the philosopher Ted Leo once said, “…if you’re gonna call it art, then there’s a cup in front of you,” and so I’d ask you to consider subscribing to The Cycling Independent. It’s the only way we can afford to buy the bike parts that aren’t available right now.