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Opinion: The Humble Tube

Published February 1, 2013

One of the many lessons I learned in 1975 from my retail mentor Peter Davis from Champaign Cycle: “Never run out of inner tubes!” Of course, he could just buy more tubes, and I had to beg Tom French for mine. But that’s another story.

And Peter’s Principle is still true today. Inner tubes are the single best-selling item in US bike shops. Anyone care to guess how many were sold in 2012? That would be 9.45 million! An average of 2500 tubes per shop.

What does your shop charge for a tube? Weigh in on our reader poll.

I know this because I got to pick Jason Gee’s brain today at Leisure Trends Group. LTG tracks the flow of product into and out of America’s specialty bike retailers. BPSA reports that data to its member suppliers.

I’m not here to talk quantity, but price. The average tube retail has climbed from $6.06 in 2009 to $6.63 in 2012. Too bad that increase doesn’t go to anyone in our industry ­– it’s surely been gobbled up by freight costs?

At any rate, if you’re charging less than $6.63, or $6.99 or whatever… Why? Well, market conditions may dictate your price. Or like Community Cycles here in Boulder (tubes are $5), you’re providing a service and making ends meet in other ways.

University Bikes (the best shop in Colorado (Editor's note: Ray's opinion does not necessarily reflect that of the other BRAIN editors) ) asks $6 for a tube. And they’re a high-touch, high-value operation. I bet a lot of shops charge their current price out of habit more than anything.

Words of wisdom from mentor Davis: “Walmart sells inner tubes for $6.99.  We noted that and raised our tube price $1 in 2012," Davis told me. "In 2011 we sold just over 3,000 tubes, and in 2012 we sold over 3,300 tubes. $3,300 added to the bottom line and we sold more tubes.  What's right with this picture?  Everything.”

So why wouldn’t you match Walmart’s price? Put a smiley face over the tube rack!  And three for $20! Volume discount! C’mon, shop owners, you’re worth it. Do it now before the season starts!


Photo-graphic by Peggy Price

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