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Posts Tagged ‘niche’

Do You Remember Bike Shops?

Monday, January 10th, 2011 by Mick Allan

The siting of your local cycle shops and their geographic relation to each other follows the same principles which govern the relative locations of ants nests in the Amazonian jungle. Bear with me. If you look at a map of ant nests they follow a loose hexagonal grid. Each nest sits in the middle of an area which shares it’s borders with several other territories. To survive each nest must defend its territory to protect its food source. A loss of area to an aggressive neighbour represents a loss of valuable resources and threatens the very survival of the nest.

Cycle shops are sited to optimise their exposure to cyclists. If sited too close together they risk competing directly for the same resources (customers), so they space themselves out. But they can’t be too far apart – if they locate themselves too far from centres of population they risk having no customers at all. It’s a fine balancing act – they want to be close to lots of people but not too close to each other. Very specialist (recumbents, cargo bikes etc) shops can survive further out because their wares are so rare that those wanting them are prepared to travel. This works if they can retain control of their niche but if the things they sell suddenly become mainstream and sold in every other bike shop they can find themselves out on a limb.

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Cycling has seen a massive spike in popularity over the last few years. This is great news for anyone who loves cycling. What’s interesting about the latest figures is that this rise in cycling has been matched by a corresponding rise in the success of web based retailers. A lot of new ‘food’ has appeared on our forest floor but it hasn’t really benefited the ants.

I love bike shops. I’ll never miss the opportunity to visit a new bike shop in a new town. I love the smell of them and spotting the things which make each shop unique – how the layout and the choice of stock define each shop’s character.

Without exception good bike shops are staffed by actual cyclists, people who believe passionately in cycling. Whether it’s BMXing or track racing or just pedaling to the shops – they work in bike shops all their lives for less than the national average wages because they are bike geeks. They work in bike shops because they want to share their enthusiasm, to make a difference. To get bums on seats. They don’t do it for the money but perhaps they dreamed all along that one day – when cycling eventually hit the mainstream – that they would start earning a decent wage. Well cycling has finally hit the mainstream but not very much has changed for most independent cycle shop employees.

As fast as we are attracting new people to cycling we are losing them to internet based retailers and corporate chains. I know it’s a-dog-eat-dog-survival-of-the-fittest deal out there in the retail business jungle. But what has happened is that the success and growth in the cycle sector has been noticed by some big players and they want some of the action. The long term result of this is likely to be that, starved of resources, our local bike shops will simply go under. One by one. We could simply shrug our shoulders and say ‘c’est la vie, that’s business’.

But there’s a problem. When they disappear they probably wont come back. If they are replaced on the high street they’ll be replaced with high volume faceless chains with poorly trained staff. Your traditional independent cycle shop simply cannot compete on price with the www.retailers¬† but they are an invaluable addition to our high streets. They employ local people. They usually have a wealth of knowledge and experience, and they have a mechanic who knows what she’s doing.

People cannot be blamed for being attracted to the best deal but they should be aware that their choices can have repercussions: if you want your local bike shop to go out of business just keep buying your bikes and equipment on-line.

Cyclorama believes in bike shops, we urge you to support your local bike shop before it disappears.

Read about cycle shops in Cyclorama’s Bike Culture section