Last night I spoke at Pitch Perfect Club about my rediscovery of cycling. Middle-aged men in lycra (Mamils) as we are known are happy to spend ridiculous amounts of our disposable income indulging our new obsession. Mamils are helping the bike industry BOOM, but the industry (with a few notable exceptions) is still stuck in its traditional ways.
Now, for those of you car drivers annoyed by cyclists who treat the Highway Code with contempt, you are not alone. Whilst some white van drivers vent their anger by deliberately intimidating cyclists, no one hates cyclists more than other cyclists. You see cyclists are tribal. Whatever you ride and whatever clothing you ride in will cause another cyclist to be contemptuous of you.
This is good news for marketers though. Tribes mean market segments. These segments can be clearly defined e.g.‘Hipsters on Fixies’, ‘Sportive Monsters’ and ‘Commuter Gents’.
Some manufacturers know their customers incredibly well and have positioned themselves accordingly, notably Brompton (the folding bike company) and Rapha the top end clothing brand. Like most great brands they are divisive – it is difficult to be indifferent about them.
The trouble is the retail side of the bike industry is largely stuck in the past. All too often bike shops are owned and manned by real cyclists. These are people who have grown up with cycling in their blood and are often contemptuous of the newcomers like me usurping their sport. Many bike shop staff are left-field, slightly anti-establishment, highly intelligent, massively over qualified and massively underpaid. Understandably they struggle to empathise with these wealthy newcomers.
Rather than rejoicing that so many new people share their passion, rather like early Mac adopters, they struggle to deal with the fact that their passion has moved from minority to mainstream. As a result they can be quite surly. In fact there is a bike brand of that name! Often highly opinionated bike shop staff are quick to provide solutions for customer’s immediate queries, but rarely have I seen them thinking about customers in terms of lifetime value.
To illustrate, many Mamils are relatively affluent and we want to indulge ourselves. The more we learn about the sport, the more we will spend. There are so many different facets, so many different pursuits, so much history to tap into. So the challenge here is for bike shops to help these emerging segments learn more about the sport. Some shops like Cadence in Crystal Palace have embraced this need to educate. They have provided a hub for local cyclists not just for retail, servicing and coffee, but coaching services, fitness facilities and much more besides. They are still fine-tuning their operation but they are well ahead of the market.
There is a warning here for any of us running businesses. Good market conditions are great, but they can lead to complacency. We constantly need to be assessing changing customer behaviour to make sure our business models can cope with the inevitable downturn. My fear is that many traditional bike shops will struggle to survive.