Outside Magazine has a very interesting article entitled “ The Death of the Local Bike Shop“. It’s about how many small independent bike shops are struggling to survive, despite the increase in the popularity of cycling in recent years.
It appears small local shops are becoming a victim of changing shopping habits. More people seem to be drawn to large stores with lots of floor space, and that offer a huge selection of bikes, equipment, accessories, and clothing (including a large parts inventory). Local shops also face the prospect of online sales taking an ever increasing share of the market.
Small shops are also being squeezed by the large bicycle manufacturers. Through various techniques (one of which is described in the article), large manufacturers are trying to force shops to carry only their brand. I know one shop owner in Ottawa where a manufacturer forced him to drop a competing line of bicycles. Through the marvels of online computing, that same manufacturer monitors the shop owner’s inventory. The minute he sells a bicycle, a replacement unit is automatically shipped to him. He has to accept this arrangement in order to carry that manufacturer’s brand of bikes.
This approach is in keeping with where the larger manufacturers want to take the bicycle retail industry. In recent year they have been experimenting with large boutique stores that sell their brand of bicycles and merchandise almost exclusively.
The magazine article also looks at what might happen to bicycle repair services with the disappearance of local shops. It suggests that mobile mechanic operations such as Velofix and Mobivelo will be able to pick up the slack. There is also the possibility of Uber-type apps or other online services that will put cyclists in touch with independent mechanics. However, I don’t think this can completely replace mechanics working in brick-and-mortar shops.
Despite the trend in various cities in North America, Ottawa still has an abundance of local bike shops (although we have lost a few in the last couple of years). Whatever the case, bigger shops and large outdoor/sport stores such as MEC and Bushtukah seem to be doing alright.
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