Bicycle Shops: Convenience Store or Outfitter?
Wherever we travel, we always stop at local bike shops and play tourist. It gives us a little snapshot into the local cycling scene and also how different shops operate. We’ve visited great shops with beautiful displays and friendly staff, and others that grudgingly answer questions. Bike shops and their employees are the frontline of bicycle tourism. Who else is more qualified to be the local authority on great riding in the area than a bike shop? However, at the same time, many shops don’t see themselves as part of their local tourism industry and are ill-equipped to answer the question: “I’m from out of town, where should I ride?”
After visiting bike shops around the country over the last half dozen years, this got us thinking about how we’ve experienced bike shops as end users. For us, bike shops either function as convenience stores or outfitters. There are shops that only focus on retail and don’t bother with creating an experience for customers and visitors – these are the convenience stores. It is a wham bam thank you ma’am affair with little follow up after the sale. Then, there are shops that focus on retail, and also go the extra step to create an experience for customers and cyclists – these are the “outfitter” type shops. These shops have group rides, host events, or employees that are always eager to share their latest bike touring route or perhaps they even lead a tour themselves. These outfitter style shops also function as a third space, maybe they serve coffee, beer or have monthly gatherings and presentations. Their focus is not only on selling new product, but educating and inspiring you to use the new product. They are your guides, gurus (sometimes a therapist) and ride leaders, as well as your salesperson and mechanic.
We know that this is often a big ask for small shops with little capacity, and there are also some shops that do enough volume through online sales that they are immune to having to develop the community piece. However, with more brands offering direct to consumer, we feel that bike shops will have to offer something of value that will compete with the ease of clicking a button with your pajamas on. We think many shops can benefit by adding “outfitter” style elements from a bike tourism perspective. Any shop can curate a short list of rides that people can do in the area. It could be as simple as printed cue sheets and maps at the front counter or downloadable GPS routes from the shop website. We’ve seen a few shops go that extra step and lead actual bikepacking and bike touring trips like Topanga Creek Outpost (notice how it’s an “outpost” and not a bike shop!), River City Bicycles and their new River City Touring Club, and Good Bike Co and their guided agritourism tours.
From a bike tourism perspective, shops with an “outfitter” mentality are essential because they offer a hospitality and guiding component that is necessary for successful bike destinations. From a customer perspective, the “outfitter” mentality creates an opportunity for people to be educated/inspired on how to use the gear they just bought (“where can I play with my new bikepacking gear?”) as well as provide a support group around the Cycling Experience. This you can’t buy on the internet.
What do you guys think? What shops do you feel have the “outfitter” mentality? We’d love to know!
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