I love visiting local bicycle shops (LBS). It is fun to see the newest bikes, the latest jerseys, check for local rides and discuss cycling with the owner. I seldom buy anything. Even when I do it is seldom more than a tube of chamois cream. The LBS may be coming to an end as we know it. Of course, I am part of the reason the LBS is dying but I am not alone.
The LBS is coming to an end because of what economists call secular trends. Shops are being hit by Internet competition, consumer-direct sales by manufacturers, bikes that are simpler to assemble, use and maintain, as well as mobile bike services that will come to your door to fit, maintain and repair your bike. I have purchased my last four bikes online and then did the fitting at my LBS. I love my LBS but I am not going to pay thousands more for a high-end road bike just to shop local. Canyon is entering the US market this year without a single brick-and-mortar operation. All bikes will be mailed to your home. I still use my LBS for repairs and tune-ups but I have the option of having Velofix come to my home to do the work. None of these trends is going to slow or reverse.
Donny Perry of Specialized noted in his 2013 book Leading Out Retail that the number of LBS’s had fallen from 6,195 in 2000 to 4,055 in 2013. He writes that in the future, “the drop in the number of bike retailers is not going to be linear, it will be exponential.” He suggests a 35 percent loss in storefronts in 15 years, but adds “I believe the change will be faster.” Locally, 16 bike shops have closed in the Tennessee-Georgia-North Carolina region in the past 18 months.
Some bike shops will remain. Trek seems to have taken advantage of the situation by opening stores in selective locations. Performance has combined its huge Internet operation with a limited number of stores and a return policy that no LBS can match: one year return no questions asked. A number of high-end niche LBS’s will survive.
I am going to miss walking into the LBS smelling new tires, touching new bikes, shooting the breeze, and checking the closeout bin in the hope of finding a gem. Of course, I am sentimental I miss gas station attendants, elevator operators, escalator attendants, telephone operators, and travel agents. Unless the LBS reinvents itself, then this is the end.