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Fred Clements: IBDs don't need drones

Published December 6, 2013
A blog by NBDA executive director Fred Clements

Editor's note: This blog post was written by Fred Clements, executive director of the National Bicycle Dealers Association. Clements' previous blog posts can be read on bikedealerblog.wordpress.com.

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, thinks the future of retailing might include drones flying to your home and delivering a package within 30 minutes of an order being placed.

Amazon already has the drones. Bezos demonstrated them in a 60 Minutes interview on CBS last Sunday. The so-called "octocopters" can carry up to a five pound package, fly to someone's home using GPS, land the package, and return to the warehouse. The early models have a 10-mile range. Amazon is trying for FAA approval in a few years.

Amazon is also on a building binge with warehouses (96 and growing), is making huge investments in technology, and is offering same-day delivery in test markets with more planned. They're also hosting data for the CIA.

The company claims to have 255 million customers at present, a number that certainly gets the attention of traditional retailers. The share of sales being made on-line also continues to grow worldwide, and that also gets the attention of retailers.

When asked about the disruption to traditional retailers from Amazon, Bezos was straightforward, "You gotta earn your keep in this world. When you invent something new, if customers come to the party, it's disruptive to the old way."

He also noted "The Internet is disrupting every media industry ... people can complain about that, but complaining is not a strategy. And Amazon is not happening to book selling, the future is happening to book selling."

The future is also happening to the bike industry but a little differently. If we agree with Bezos that complaining is not a strategy, what are some strategies that will lead to success for bike shops with physical locations? Are there some best practices being employed today that will help physical stores survive and prosper? Such as ...

  • Great physical stores. The best bike shops today are clean, well-organized and well-lit, and the physical stores of the future will likely be similar. Successful operations also seem to find a way to inject personality into the store so it doesn't look or feel like all the rest.
  • Great people. You can feel the energy in a store with passionate and motivated people who love bikes and ride them. They are customer-focused. They are excited. They are real. Future bike shops will have lots of them.
  • Get them riding. Getting people on bikes is something the better stores seem to do well. They support events, make test rides easy, promote group rides, etc., and this helps separate a local store from an Internet box-seller.
  • Internet presence. The best retailers seem to have a good web presence and a compelling and creative social media strategy that makes a statement. Rather than being cool to the Internet, they embrace it because customers are there.
  • Advocacy. The best stores in any one region seem to lead the charge for bicycle-friendly policies and infrastructure locally. This is an opportunity to combine doing the right thing with marketing. It establishes the store as a community resource, and this will be as important in 2113 as it is today.
  • Vendor selection. The more successful stores seem to be choosing to sell specialty brands that control their distribution as opposed to commodity brands that do not.
  • The service department. The service department remains the cornerstone function of any bike shop, and the best are maximizing this. Amazon's drones don't seem capable of building a wheel or completing an overhaul, at least not yet.

Even with these in mind, the bike retail industry will evolve in unknown directions. Predicting the future is not a science. We are already seeing smaller stores with an urban focus, stores that are also coffee shops, a new push for selling used bikes, more fit studios. Are some of the visions for retailing today a model for the future?

Not visionary enough for you? Maybe 100 years from now Amazon will have failed. Maybe manufacturing in the bicycle industry will be done at the local level by 3-D printers, located in local bike shops that serve as community hubs for 300 million adult cyclists. This new retail model could even include delivery drones to fly the newly-printed products to the customer's doorstep. Retailers could buy them on eBay and put them to use the same day.

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