Wednesday, January 7, 2015

"Peddling pedals for profit"--Florida Weekly feature on local bike shops

Thanks to Florida Weekly's Roger Williams for this in-depth article about SWFL bike shops and the new Go-Girl Cycling shop that reflects the trend of a growing market niche--women riders.  Article also mentions BikeWalkLee and Naples Pathways Coalition efforts to make our roads safer for cyclists.

Peddling pedals for profit, Florida Weekly, Jan. 7, 2015


Tina Sujana of Go-Girl Cycling shows off her favorite bike in Fort Myers. 
Tina Sujana of Go-Girl Cycling shows off her favorite bike in Fort Myers. ERIC RADDATZ / FLORIDA WEEKLY
  Fit, 40-something and properly fickle in how she does business, Lynn Sharp realized more than three years ago the seemingly obvious — so obvious, that nobody else figured it out and acted on it the way she did: Neither the manufacturers of bicycles and gear, or bike-shop retailers in the growing cycling market were doing much more than patronizing women, in her view.

Sure, some makers of bikes, helmets, clothing and gear had begun to design models and styles for females years earlier, but they sold them from the corners and side-racks of shops that still seemed significantly male-oriented, says Mrs. Sharp.

“The ladies cycling market is totally underestimated,” she explains. “It’s a huge market, and I thought ladies deserved their own store.”

So a couple of months ago, along with her husband and co-owner Jonathen Sharp, she opened Go-Girl Cycling exclusively for women and by women, with an all-female staff. Go-Girl is the third in the Sharps’ neat trifecta of shops called Paradise Bicycles — one in Cape Coral, and one in Fort Myers next door to the new Go-Girl.

Bicycling enthusiasts have more options with new shops popping up all over SWFL. Paradise Bicycles has opened up an attached Go- Girl Cycling shop to focus on women. 
Bicycling enthusiasts have more options with new shops popping up all over SWFL. Paradise Bicycles has opened up an attached Go- Girl Cycling shop to focus on women. ERIC RADDATZ / FLORIDA WEEKLY
  It’s all part of an increasingly competitive niche bicycle economy now blooming up and down the Southwest coast, from Naples to Port Charlotte and beyond. Independent shops such as Paradise or Naples Cyclery — with its adjoining Fit & Fuel cafĂ© and sandwich shop for bicyclists — have begun to thrive, along with so-called concept shops such as TREK or Schwinn.

There, owners focus primarily on selling a brand, which allows them to maintain corporate connections to those big-name companies.

But they still run their shops with attentive care for the customer and a careful eye on the complex details of merchandising now required in the selling of bicycles to more sophisticated and varied markets, such as fitness bikers, mountain bikers, road racers or triathletes.

“There are a few more players in the game, and it’s a tough business to get into because you don’t just sell a widget — you’re selling a range of products and you’re servicing them,” says Joe Du Bois, owner with his wife Jane Du Bois and partner Marc Lubin of eight Trek stores in Florida, four on the west coast and four on the east coast (the newest, in Boca Raton, is not yet open). Bicycles in his shops range from the hundreds of dollars models to Trek racing bikes that weigh about 10.5 pounds and sell for about $1,500 a pound, or $15,000.

Each of these independent shops can also provide technological marvels with two wheels and two pedals (sometimes sold separately) that range from the hundreds of dollars to many thousands. They come with names like Giant and Specialized and Scott and many others.

“The technology advances quickly, so managing inventory is a big thing for bike stores,” says Mr. Du Bois. “There’s a relatively short window when you can move that inventory. Knowing when to carry, how much to carry — there are so many variables.”

But right now, on the rising tide of 2015 New Year’s resolutions, business is booming along the coast and inventories can drop quickly.

At The Bicycle Center of Port Charlotte, Aric Armstrong, a customer representative, notes that one of the biggest changes in bicycling in recent years is comfort — and that’s thanks to new technologies.
“People buying bikes now are riding them more than they used to,” he observes. “Part of it’s that they’ve become so much more comfortable. For example, flatfoot technology, as they call it, means the rider doesn’t have to be up on the tip of his toes when he stops; instead, he can stand flatfooted. And the pedals are out in front of you by quite a few inches, so you sit more upright.”

At Naples Cyclery, Peter Marsh, the business co-owner with Mark Trudeau, was hustling to meet the demands and probably thanking his lucky stars that he and Mr. Trudeau decided to close their shop’s expansion to Bonita Springs a few years ago even though it was making money. At the time, they decided just to concentrate exclusively on the Naples community of bicyclists.

But they also opened Fit & Fuel next door to their expanded original shop, turning it into the heart of the biking community.

That was by design — not just business design, but living design, says Mr. Marsh.

“It’s a common goal for businesses to expand and cover more territory. We made money in Bonita, but we found that in this marketplace it’s hard to find good people, so we ended up closing that down.

“In addition, community is such a huge aspect for this industry. Developing rapport with the clientele — we love that, and it’s key. We can sell a bike, but this business is more than that. And coffee shops and bike shops — they partner well together.

So when he and his partner asked, “How can we move forward?” Mr. Marsh recalls, “we were also asking how we could manage that fine balance of staying human and not turning into a robot.”

Fit & Fuel was the answer, not another bike shop — and how it’s a gathering place for bicyclists and others, too, which is what may happen at Go-Girl Cycling and Paradise Bicycles.

“The idea for Go-Girl came from five years in the Paradise store and watching the number of ladies come in, some looking a little bewildered, number one, and some looking intimidated,” recalls Mrs. Sharp.

“I was fascinated with that side of it, and I did a lot of research in the way ladies shop. There are so many awesome ladie’s products that a lot of ladies don’t know about it.”

Now they are going to, if she has anything to say about it. And now the comfort level for women has just jumped higher than a mountain biker at Moab.

Part of the reason is Mrs. Sharp’s research, which suggested that women shop differently than men
“So we’ve tried to design Go-Girl around that — it has a softer look than a regular bike store,” she explains. And the industry has started to understand that ladies want to cycle and we have some successful ladies in the sport. So now even just in cycling clothing, there are some great brands out there — take Terry Clothing, which is based around ladies. And then Liv Cycling, the company that produces lady’s bikes and clothing and accessories. Their products are designed by ladies who understand what other ladies are looking for.

“Same with bikes — the geometries are different on ladie’s bikes. So ladies do not any longer have to ride guys’ bikes. And the colors are appealing. We ladies like to have matching outfits that look good with our bicycles.”

All this creates stiff competition, which Mrs. Sharp, and others, say they embrace.
“I would never at any point say that competition isn’t good for business,” she explains. “It will always be there, and I think it’s healthy. It always makes you keep looking at your business, and making improvements.”

As Peter Marsh puts it at Naples Cyclery, “Competition really drives the avoidance of complacency. We like to think we would still be continuing to get after it without competition, but it helps.”

The one thing none of these entrepreneurs want to compete with, however, is the motorized vehicle. And in some ways that’s the greatest detriment to their businesses.

Florida is still ranked number one in the United States in bicycle fatalities because of cars,” Mr. Du Bois says.

That inhibits business, while groups such as the Naples Pathways Coalition, BikeWalkLee and Charlotte County Cyclists or Coastal Cruisers aggressively campaign for greater awareness on the part of local officials and drivers, and a greater investment from local governments in bicycle lanes, safety and warning signs, and education of drivers and cyclists, both.

“Unfortunately, though, it’s still a big red X in this business,” says Peter Marsh.

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