Written by International Bike Fit Consultant Winston Tam, edited by Darren Lim.
Our cycling industry is not doing so well.
One of the most significant events in North America, Interbike, has been cancelled for 2019, putting an end to their consecutive 37-year streak. This is a bad sign for our cycling industry. If we all don’t do something about it, our beloved sport may be at stake.
What caused such a change?
According to Winston, two things have drastically changed the world of cycling. Namely, online sales and a change in culture towards vanity. These have insidiously affected our cycling industry, and if we continue to turn a blind eye towards it, outcomes may be disastrous.
Most of us recognised how online shopping had changed the markets around the world. Our cycling industry is no different. Have a good talk with your local bike store, and you’ll learn from them that an increasing number of consumers are not going into bike stores for purchases anymore. Why is that so?
A quick search for your desired bicycle component would usually bring up online distributors like Chain Reaction Cycles which easily undercut the prices we see in our local bike shops. How do we expect our local distributors to compete against these giant international distributors? Not only are their components cheaper, but their websites are also easily accessible, and you can get the parts delivered to your doorstep in a couple of days. How convenient – less time shopping means more time riding!
This change is not only affecting us but the rest of the world as well. In North America, large chain stores have been closing down and smaller retail stores aren’t spared either.
“A lot of the retail stores are not coming in with the times. They’re too comfortable with what they were doing before and are not adapting to the changes.”
The traditional business model would see a product originate from the factory to the distributor, followed by the dealer and finally the consumer. According to Winston, this is no longer commercially viable. Why go through such a long and taxing process when you can order a bicycle online? Renowned bike brand Canyon does precisely this – delivering bicycles straight to your doorstep. If you compare what Canyon can offer to a brand new bicycle of the same tier from a local bike shop, that Canyon bicycle would almost always win in terms of value for money. But, how can we know that the bike we order online is the right one for us? What if it doesn’t fit as well?
This is where retail shops and their services can shine. The local bike shop could find an appropriately sized frame (which is very important for a good bike fit) which in some cases can even be tailored for you. However, do people know the importance of getting a well-fitted bicycle? What if a potential customer simply orders the exact same bicycle from an online store after receiving a good service from the local bike shop? My view is that the onus is not only on the bike fitters but also shared on us as well. If we know of a friend who wants to get a bicycle, we should highlight the importance of getting a well-fitted bike and let them know of the woes from ordering online.
Our changing culture towards vanity.
I am sure after spending a period with the cycling community in Singapore; most could quickly notice the attitude imbued in Singaporean cyclists. Winston declares a controversial observation that, unlike previous generations of cyclists, we are obsessed with aesthetics.
Perhaps the shift in attitude isn’t due to the existing cyclists; maybe it’s just the increasing number of a newer cyclist which already have a thirst for more unique, shinier componentry.
Most of us have heard or known of the ubiquitous rider who spends thousands of dollars on his bicycle which could easily cost more than the race bikes we see in the Tour? I’m sure we could all name a few.
It’s a common sight in Singapore to see cyclists spend thousands of dollars on a brand new shiny pair of wheels and costly cycling kits from renowned brands. Maybe they think it makes them faster; perhaps they believe it makes them look good. Sure, some components may be able to shave off seconds over long distances. However, if you do your research, a proper bike fit would make you much more potent (than a poorly fitted one). A power meter (in this day and age) is quintessential to training, making you faster in the long run. It baffles me to see someone shell thousands of dollars on an expensive frame, wheelset, and cycling kit but is poorly fitted on his bike. It is disheartening to see a cyclist take the wrong route towards vanity.
Granted, these type of cyclist may contribute in sales to some local shops which carry those bling components and branded cycling wear. However, what sort of image do we want to paint for our younger cyclists? With so much focus on the gear, I don’t think it will inculcate an attitude we see in champions. So much time and attention may be spent in the pursuit of the finest componentry that they may forego training.
Why are we in such a situation?
Even if the business model for bicycles has shifted, it need not translate to a decaying retail industry. According to Winston, the main reason for our predicament is due to a lack of talent and unhealthy competition among shops:
1. Lack of talent
“When I look around, the people that open the shops the first thing that comes to my mind – these guys are cyclists – they’re not businessmen. The shops are owned by cyclists that know cycling – they don’t know how to run a business. There are also shops owned by businessman – they treat cycling like trading. There’s a rich culture in cycling. It is sometimes hard to have a good balance between the two.”
Winston suggested an explanation; the Asian market is not as progressive as the North American market. I concur that we are always a little bit behind. If our local shops do not learn or absorb what is happening and adapt to changes, it’s going to be tough for business.
Not everyone is doing well for the last couple of years. Winston brought up a point on price wars that in an Asian market, it is always a race to the bottom.
“The Asian community don’t like to work together. They like to attack each other. Teamwork is the key. Growing the pie is the key. Everyone will benefit. Every market will have an influencing body that can change the perspective of the consumer. If they change the market’s perspective, it will benefit everybody.”
Winston advised that the whole industry works together instead of undercutting each other. He recommends that we invest in education, equipment, time, and effort into being a professional bike fitter.
“Don’t discount yourself and devalue yourself and your service by giving free bike fit services. If there’s no value for that service, it won’t work. You have to win the customers based on value.”
How do we move forward?
The future of our sport of cycling in Singapore may be doomed if we turn a blind eye to our problems. The cycling industry, as we know it, is still salvageable with the right approach. Winston condensed with three ways in which we can move forward to improve our industry so that we can still see local bike shops in Singapore.
Most of our problems here are due to incomplete information.
Much like everything else, one of the ways we could improve our situation is through education. Our endgame ought to be a culture which emphasises the inherent joy of cycling – never mind its aesthetics. The cycling community in Singapore has a huge role to play in this aspect. It is not all about your gear, or what you ride. It is not about what you wear, so long as safety standards are preserved.
The onus is on our local cycling clubs. Maybe in the future, instead of complementing each other’s brand new bling kits and bicycles, we should perhaps start by complementing each other’s ride history. Before Armstrong’s fall from grace, he espoused the value of hard work instead of aesthetics. “It’s not about the bike”.
There was another idea discussed that we should educate people about the value of services. Bike fitters, mechanics, and even coaches, or anyone in the service industry for that matter, must be able to justify their prices. There needs to be increased awareness into the ways prices are conceptualised. Prices may sometimes boil down to the equipment used or the qualifications of the bike fitter or mechanic.
“You can’t just be selling stuff anymore. You have to keep customers engaged – they will come back to you.”
2. Business Consultancy
“Asian-run bike stores don’t have a business plan; I’ve seen it many times.”
In North America, some organisations help shops develop sound business plans. Winston introduced some organisations such as the National Bicycle Dealer Association and World Bicycle Industry Association to me which may prove useful in this context.
Maybe you own a bike shop and recognise that business isn’t doing so well. Instead of watching the ship sink, perhaps you should approach a business consultant.
As emphasised heavily in the preceding paragraphs, to survive in today’s landscape we need to have at least some form of service.
Winston recommends that each shop starts somewhere by providing some form of bike fit service. Even a conservative investment into the fitting service via tablets or lasers for a static 2D fit is a welcome start.
“You don’t need to spend SGD 20,000 on equipment. That doesn’t make you a better fitter. In Asia, what I find is that people care about vanity. Equipment doesn’t make you the fitter. The bike fitter controls the equipment.”
While some bike shops are struggling to survive, some are prospering. Take a look at VeloFix – a mobile bike shop that offers bike assembly and service at your doorstep. You can order a bike online, get a fit done and set-up the bike at the comfort of your home.
“There’s enough information out there that highlights the importance of bike fitting. Every market has established bike fitters, and they’re all doing marketing. If not, they won’t survive. It’s the other shops (that are not providing the services) that are struggling – what else can they do to get on with the times?”
Here lies another strong emphasis on service – especially bike fitting.
“Bike fit is both an art and science, and business.”
An interesting idea was raised about the possibility of bike fitters that work from home. For example, these bike fitters could establish networks with bike distributors. On top of being a bike fitter, you may also be a bike dealer. You can find the right bicycle for your client. From a customer’s standpoint, that’s killing two birds with one stone.
“Because of bad times in our cycling industry, bicycle companies are thirsty for business. Now, you don’t even need to have a retail license.”
A typical bike fitter certification course would set you back about SGD2000, which could be the ticket to start your own business. A successfully established bond with the customer based on loyalty would also be beneficial to you as they will come back should any issue arise – you know their needs best.
“Being a bike fitter opens the doors for many things.”
Does this mean the end for the professional bike fitters in the market? Even if you are a certified bike fitter, you may not be able to fit yourself or others correctly. It is more often than not, the bike fitting equipment that separates the bike fitting professionals from those who are merely certified. Having the appropriate equipment is what will set professionals from the amateurs. Moreover, if you are thinking about getting the bike fit equipment to fit yourself like how you can fix up your bicycle without a mechanic, it isn’t an excellent idea. Boutique bike fitting equipment typically costs several thousands of dollars – a far cry from the hundreds of dollars required for the sufficient tools to set up a bicycle from scratch.
Bike fitting has also changed with the changing landscape. Due to the gaining popularity of indoor riding bike fitting expectations have changed. When you are riding indoors, you lack the ability to unclip and stretch (much like what you would do at a traffic junction). On top of that, that consistent high-intensity load that you do indoors is different from what we experience outdoors. Taking these into account, bike fitters will have to make adjustments accordingly. My point is that even if you are in the bike fitting service market, you still have to keep up with times.
“It boils down to the experience of the bike fitter and the experience of the rider. There’s no bike fitting standard — no ‘correct’ price. It’s about adding value. People have money. You have to add value to your service and explain why they are set at that price.”
The general focus of our discussion was about the bike fitting service. What about other forms of service like mechanics and coaches? My opinion is that the same principles apply. We have to adapt to the changing landscape and add value to our service whenever possible. I think that a unique specialisation will be hugely beneficial to your business. It will set you apart from the rest of your competition.
What does this mean for you and me?
We all have a part to play in our community if we want our sport to thrive in Singapore. I firmly believe that a shift in focus towards training (like other sports) would bring a change in our culture and this would have ripple effects. Who knows, maybe one day we could see Singapore clinch an Olympic Medal.
I also agree that a cycling industry with a strong emphasis in service would be beneficial for everyone. Imagine how prosperous we would be if our mechanics, coaches, and bike fitters all focus on sharpening their quality of service? Looking at how times change, it seems like the best course of action would be to adapt to a greater emphasis on service.
We can easily buy the best bike parts on the internet, but we certainly won’t be able to purchase a tailored bike fit online. This is where our local bicycle service industry will thrive.
I think that there is also a delicate balance between the focus on the bicycle and rider. From what I could gather throughout the meeting with Winston, we may have mistakenly tipped the scales in favour of equipment obsession.
Change is not always adverse, but as we progress, we have to keep in mind what values we want to keep and what kind of culture we envision for the future of cycling.
Perhaps the transition to a more service-oriented business model in the bike industry is inevitable for all other retail sectors. In the future, maybe the service sector is the only way to thrive.
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