Bike shop survey: UK retail trends

As two of my sons work part-time in bike shops – one in a large chain and one in a small independent – I hear the view from the retailer's side: issues like margins, stock levels, cash flow, what is profitable and what is not, etc. During November, BikeBiz gathered the thoughts of 95 independent bicycle retailers in the UK on a variety of topics. The rest of this Post is mostly cobbled together from BikeBiz and Evans Cycles, one of the largest bicycle retailers in the UK.

[In the following Q&As only the most significant answer is included.]

Q: Which of the following have caused, or continue to concern your business?
A: Grey import competition: 50%

Q: Where would you like to see BikeHub contributions spent?
A: Promotion and development of cycle routes on and off road: 30.6%

Q: Is the workshop more or less important to the business than this time last year?
A: Less: 3.3%

[Comment] Though seemingly growing in popularity, entirely workshop-based businesses still represent a tiny fraction of those surveyed. The majority are accounting for up to 40 per cent of their annual profit via cycle mechanics. Many stores charge up to £80 for a full service, without complaint.

Q: In the past year, which of these sectors have seen a notable increase in in-store demand?
A: Road [bicycles]: 58.1%

[Comment] There are two clear winners – road bikes and the leisure sector. Electric bike interest appears to be creeping up.

Q: Year-on-year, have you increased online business?
A: No: 40.2%

[Comment] Half of those independents surveyed have largely been inactive on the web front. There are, however, bold moves by a small minority who claim to have doubled their online trade in just 12 months. A further eight per cent state growth has been significant. Nearly 34 per cent will channel profits into developing online trade.

Hot trends for 2011 from Evans Cycles: Evans blogs Google Zeitgeist trends for bikes, finding that searches for road bikes lead the pack.

[Evans] We all know that cycling has exploded in the last few years, and that the industry as a whole is doing well for itself – you can see this on the high street with many new bike shops opening, cool bike cafes opening up, the creation of the Sky pro tour team and of course who can forget the rise of the MAMIL! [middle-aged men in Lycra]

According to Google, interest in road bikes has exploded, partly by the increasing popularity of sportive events. The graph ... shows the sales trend of road bikes over the last 3 years. It definitely reflects the growing interest in this discipline as a whole.

What about other bikes? Well, sales of hybrid bikes continue to increase year on year. Indicative of the growing popularity of cycling as a whole, due to economic factors and people's desire for greener, healthier transport.

We expect to see continued growth of road and hybrid bike sales. In hybrid it seems that we're looking at an ever increasing variety of bikes, perhaps the most interesting factors being Boris bikes and whether we'll see more upright equipped bikes and 29'er light. Also perhaps we'll see a bit more diversification in these categories as people start to push the envelope again. We've had the retro and singlespeed theme for a while, and cyclocross has been growing at a rate. Over the next few years I'd expect to see touring and audax make a resurgence also.

In the MTB world the biggest topic is definitely 29ers. It does seem like 2011 will be their year.

Other news:

London sees 7% shift away from cars. The number of Londoners getting out of their cars and using bicycles, public transport and walking has increased by seven per cent, according to Transport for London's third annual Travel in London report.

Two million journeys have been made by Barclays Cycle Hire [Boris Bikes] since its July launch. According to the survey, two-thirds of trips made by Cycle Hire would previously have been made by 'mechanised mode'. Early reports indicate that there has been an increase of 24 per cent in average cycle flows on the first of the Barclays Cycle Superhighways.

11 comments on “Bike shop survey: UK retail trends”

  1. Mary wrote:

    A very interesting post Patrick. I use online ordering for about 98% of my cycle stuff. Sadly, this is mostly due to

    a) LBS being out of stock when I turn up to purchase brake pads for example, so I always have to come back another day. So the internet is usually faster.

    b) LBS assuming a woman of my certain age, cant possibly be a serious contender for a decent sale of any thing beyond a cycle basket.

    c) Not much choice in LBS for ladies clothing, and no nice changing area to try clothing on if they happen to have anything in that might fit, and isn't a blokes top.
    I do find LBS are very much a male domain, you need to be quite confident to go in there.

    Really pleased to see the sharp spike in bicycle usage in general. The Boris bike seems to be a great success doesn't it? Loved Hilary's post on this.

    I have recently purchased a new road bike. Totally online sadly, as the LBS simply did not stock the bike I wanted. I didn't want a highly painted bike, that would mark me out as a road racer, just wanted a plain frame. So went online and got a wonderful machine that fits as well as my Hetchins does. I am a happy bunny, with my winter rider at last.

  2. Chris wrote:

    I think that buying a bike is a bit like buying a computer. I’ve heard or read that people tend to go to a Dixons/Currys/PC World-type shop to buy their first computer. Next time they buy online. Why? Well, if you remember that old Not The Nine O’clock News sketch where Mel Smith tries to buy a ‘gramophone’ you could replace the music shop jargon today with cycling-specific lingo and I reckon it would feel just as intimidating for non-cyclists – or returning cyclists – to get a bike from certain places these days. If you do manage to buy that bike and find out a bit about what you really wanted for next time – assuming there is a next time – you might want to avoid that experience again.

    At least that represents my impression, and the one gained by people I know who tried to buy a bike under the Cycle to Work Scheme from a cliquey shop. (They went elsewhere.)

  3. Hilary wrote:

    My experience is much the same as Mary's, virtually all my bike goodies are bought online. I think the niche for the LBS these days is selling stuff to people who need advice on what best suits their needs. Someone who knows exactly what they are looking for will almost always get a better deal online and a small shop can obviously not stock a wide range of clothing in all the different sizes and styles.

    Many years ago my ex and I bought all the components necessary to build up our new frames from Keith Lambert Cycle Sports in Bingley. He gave us 6 months interest free credit and never even asked for our full names or address – just knowing that we were regular cyclists was enough for him. Those were the days!

  4. Alan wrote:

    It must be handy having a couple of sons in the business, Patrick!

    The guy in my LBS today was trying (without success) to get a pedal off a crank for a customer. I suppose the trade for a small shop must be very seasonal.

    Mary: changing facilities, yes, I'd never thought of that. My LBS doesn't have any (as far as I know). I don't suppose they get many customers trying on tights in front of their massive shop windows.

  5. Mary wrote:


    Quote "I don't suppose they get many customers trying on tights in front of their massive shop windows."

    ALAN, Im having a glass of wine and nearly spurted it over my laptop! 🙂 🙂 🙂

  6. Patrick wrote:

    Long live the profitable bicycle workshop. I'm sitting in mine, although I do like going in proper bike shops, smelling rubber, and having a chat. Good news about London cycling. I think my Post is good news generally, and so is:

    (Mary) I have recently purchased a new road bike.

    Hope to read about this beast in due course.

  7. Chris wrote:

    Hmm. Maybe my comments were a bit harsh, and I was only thinking of some bike shops. However, I've had a few negative experiences. Once, I went in to a local shop and stood behind a couple who were chatting to the owner (?) about, oh, this and that. I waited patiently, then impatiently, while they caught up on the latest events in their lives etc. then I walked out. Honestly, they were talking for ages.

    The chap behind the counter followed me outside and belatedly seemed to realise that he hadn't been the greatest exponent of customer service. He asked me if I wanted anything in particular and I said I just wanted some new wheels building for my Road Ace, but I realised he was busy and didn't want to trouble him so I unlocked my bike and rode off. That was an independent shop. It has since closed.

  8. Patrick wrote:

    The small independent bike shop (where one of my sons works part-time) has a workshop at the back, with a bike mechanic who makes cups of tea for elderly dyed-in-the-wool cycling chappies who come in for a natter. At least they're in the back. I agree with you about being made to wait. I suppose the owner doesn't quite know whether to offend the regular or the potential new customer.

  9. Kern wrote:

    Our impression (based on limited observation) is that European bike shops are not well stocked for selection compared to Canadian (and presumably American) stores.

    As an example, we needed to buy cycling gloves in both Ireland and Germany; in both instances the selection was haphazard at best. The same was true of components.

    To us it appeared that bike shops catered to the lower-end, mass-produced market for family bicycles. At that end there is very heavy competition from retail chains, with corresponding pressure on margins. However the move upmarket is risky for a LBS, and probably can be supported only in very large urban centres.

  10. Garry wrote:

    I get quite a bit of stuff on-line, mostly stuff I can't get here. My LBS is actually very good and has a good selection of most stuff. I hardly ever get them to fix anything as I like to be able to do it myself. It's handy to be a good mechanic when you tour as much as I do. One complaint I would have is that they stock goods that are unnecessarily expensive when cheaper is available. An example is chains. If I can get a chain elsewhere for 10 or 12 euro, why would I choose to pay them 27?

  11. Patrick wrote:

    As long as there is a steady supply of people paying 8 pounds to have a puncture fixed – and it seems there is – there will be local bike shops. At one LBS you have a two-week wait for bike repair work, he's so busy (in spring and summer, that is). Doesn't open Wednesdays.

    There are maybe 10 bike shops within half an hour's cycling from here, and 20 within half an hour by car. They are mostly as Kern says: lower end mass market family bicycles. But you can still buy a £3,000 bike in a few. If I was spending that much I doubt if I'd buy online – nor clothing. Tight-fitting clothes have to be tried on first. Any bike shop owner trying to sell clothing with no changing facilities for men and women is a fool!

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