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James Stanfill: The singular vision

Published March 21, 2019

By James Stanfill

I began working in the cycling industry in 1991. I did this because I was racing bicycles and cycling for a kid is an expensive venture. Learning to work on my own bicycle and having access to better pricing on parts were a powerful motivation, and I have not really looked back since then.

That bicycle shop was exactly what it sounds like: We fixed bicycles, sold bicycles and had tubes, accessories, helmets, shoes and tires. We did bicycle fit and all the things that, until recently, were the very definition of a bicycle shop.

Today, I would argue strongly that a bicycle shop could be many things — even one or two things of many things. A bicycle shop should be the community hub for cycling. A place where experts can be found, opinions can be given and knowledge shared.

The internet changed the way we do business because it changed the way consumers shop. This change did not happen overnight. I would argue that it began when the very first online retail began. Since then, giants like Amazon have dictated what online retail looks like. Walmart and others caught wind and are catching up.

In our world, cycling, we neglected the rise of the internet for a long time. I believe one organization even pushed the idea of keeping technical documents off of the web so that nobody had access to our “secrets.” We’ve seen retail giants fail, even when trying to solve their problems with the internet (Toys R Us, Sears, RadioShack, to name a few).

I’ve gotten around a lot in the last few years, visiting many industry events. I talk to a lot of brands, managers, CEOs and otherwise generally important people. What I hear and see, almost daily, is that everyone is focused on the loss of retailers — “bicycle shops,” as it were.

Rarely do I hear talk about the rise of mobile bicycle shops. And yes, these are bicycle shops. Maybe they are not stocking hundreds of bicycles. Maybe not even one. Maybe they don’t have the gadget in stock, but thanks to some distributors they can get it the next day. They are smart, they are unburdened by inventory debt, they are for the most part working for themselves, and they are typically great mechanics. I could name a large number of well-appointed mobile businesses that can offer way more than the local shop in their area.

Rarely do I hear about service-only businesses, despite there being MANY out there being BICYCLE SHOPS without selling bicycles and focused on service only. They are successfully employing people and supporting families. These are typically great mechanics — experts.

It is so rare to hear about the local bike co-op. They are serving the community in force. Maybe they aren’t making money hand over fist, but they aren’t designed to; they are designed to support cycling and support their community. I often find amazing mechanics working in these bicycle shops.

What I do hear is, “We don’t do business with them because … .” Pick a reason that makes you feel good, but the underlying fact is that some companies aren’t doing business with them because they are different. For myself, personally, I think being different has its advantages and sets you apart from the norm. Unfortunately for these bicycle shops (in the nontraditional sense) they are being cut off from access to training, parts and accessories, and brands.

Don’t get me wrong; this is slowly changing … but can we change that faster? After all, I am sure that all those retail giants said, “Sure, we have time to adapt. Let’s just toss a few things on the internet, then let’s build an e-commerce site. Then, then, then … .”  At the end of the day, they went out of business, and that list of extinct businesses is really long. You can look it up on Google for yourself if you don’t believe me.

We as an industry need to adapt to the future, and that adaptation needs to happen top to bottom, bottom to top, and all directions sideways — now, not later. We need to accept and acknowledge wholeheartedly that a larger portion of what bicycle shops are today are not what they were yesterday, and accept that these are not “bro” deal operations. They are legitimate businesses serving their communities as bicycle shops.

James Stanfill is the president of the Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association and the founder of A Better Bike Biz.


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