PHILADELPHIA, PA (BRAIN)—Across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, stores in New Jersey have achieved longtime success with strong customer relationships that cross generations. Numerous store owners visited yesterday on the BRAIN Dealer Tour spoke of parents coming in to buy a bike for their son or daughter at the same store where they purchased their first bike.
Action Wheels has come a long way from its early days in a dingy little basement. Patty Woodworth and her brother Jim started selling BMX parts out of their parents’ basement in 1977, when they were just 13 and 14. Tapped into the local BMX race scene, they were having a hard time finding the parts they wanted. “Shops wouldn’t touch BMX,” said Woodworth.
Two years later Jim convinced his parents to sign a lease on a storefront in downtown Woodbury. “We had a cult following for BMX. We did business after school and weekends were huge,” said Woodworth.
In 1986, Action Wheels moved to its current standalone building in Wenonah, New Jersey and bought out the property over seven years. Woodworth said owning the space has been a huge asset. “To hold your own paper is immense when the economy goes south. Rent and mortgage payments have affected a lot of shops,” said Woodworth.
Three years ago, they gutted the space and in eight weeks completely remodeled the shop as a Specialized concept store. For Woodworth, the most important addition was automatic doors—a huge plus for customers wheeling in bikes. Sales jumped 20 percent that first year.
Woodworth said concentrating on one brand allowed it to narrow selection, going from, say four models priced at $450 to two models at the same price point. That allowed it to offer more selection to fill in gaps. “As we focused more, we saw sales go up,” said Woodworth.
For Chris Foster, owner of Peddler’s Shop, being located close to the Deptford Mall has been a boon. “This is a shopping hub in this area,” Foster said, adding that the shop, which has been in business since 1968, attracts customers 25 to 30 miles away.
Foster, who’s worked there since ’83 but became its owner in ’94, said Peddler’s long history in the market also works to its advantage. “This area is different from other parts of the country. It’s small-shop oriented and people are faithful. That’s probably why concept stores aren’t so prolific here,” he said.
Its main lines include Trek, Fuji and Felt, and middle-of-the-road hybrids and road bikes are its strongest categories. Foster said the shop also sells a lot of car racks, something he attributes to being close to the Jersey shore, a popular riding area for families in the summer.
Despite an unusually wet spring, Foster said Peddler’s is within $100 from last year’s sales at this time of year and on target to reach its 9 percent sales growth goal in 2011. “We’ve made up a lot of ground over the past two weekends,” he said, adding that its average sale is also up slightly this year.
Joe Vitale has sold—at one time or another—golf clubs, tennis racquets and Rollerblades. But after more than 30 years in retailing and dozens of awards, Vitale is betting on the bicycle industry’s future.
Still, he continues to hedge his bets by selling skis and snowboards in the winter. But he views the bicycle industry as “stable” and an industry that has room to grow.
Vitale’s Danzeisen & Quigley, or D & Q as it’s known, is a legendary sports retail outlet on the East Coast attracting customers from Delaware to New York City. And at the age of 58, Vitale is as excited today about retailing as he was in 1968 when he was cutting grass at the original D & Q.
Like other retailers we’ve met on the Philadelphia Dealer Tour, Vitale said his sales were off through May—about 15 percent. When asked why, Vitale shrugged. “I don’t know for sure—the weather, the economy,” he said.
Still, after more than 30 days of rain in April and May—and some weekends a complete bust weather-wise—sales are starting to show signs of life. His winter business was generally OK thanks to good snow in the East. But trends in snow sports, especially skiing, are changing. Snowboard sales are driving his winter business thanks to younger customers, while ski sales are slumping.
Vitale estimates that 50 percent of his annual revenue comes from snow sports, 37 percent from bicycle sales and the rest from cycling accessories.
His showroom floor covers some 13,000 square feet and in the spring, summer and early fall he stocks Trek, Fuji, Scott and a smattering of Colnago and Look bikes. But Trek is his primary brand.
Over in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Keswick Cycle also benefits from a longstanding reputation in the community. Its Glenside, Pennsylvania store has been around since 1933. At one time a Schwinn concept store, the business has evolved over the years, selling lawn mowers and doubling as a hobby shop in its early days and expanding with a second store in Jersey in 2006.
A third store has been in the works for the past seven years and should open this summer, said Brian Hackford, a former investment manager who shares an equal ownership stake with David Kaplan, who purchased the business from the original family owners in 1998.
Hackford said his ultimate goal is to surround the Philadelphia area with stores east, north and west of the city, and eventually expand into neighboring Delaware. “There’s no big player in this market—not as far as IBD,” he said. “It’s a scary time to be in the bike industry but also a great time. There’s opportunity.”
BRAIN editors and Dealer Tour sponsors Advanced Sports Inc., Campagnolo, Interbike and Gore will visit stores in downtown Philly tomorrow. You can follow along with the Tour on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bicycleretailer and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bicycleretailer (click on above link).
Photo: A Penny Farthing at Danzeisen & Quigley (credit Jake Orness).