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Heather Mason: A letter to the IBD

Published December 2, 2020

As the pandemic continues to surge in the U.S., we face another moment to rethink our daily personal life course and retail operations. How are we functioning? Are we keeping ourselves, family, customers, and employees safe? Are we watching the bottom line, keeping inventory levels stable, and planning for another wave on this rollercoaster?

It's been nearly nine months since COVID has taken a grip on the U.S. If you rewind the footage back to newscasts from the spring, it's crippling to watch the media try to cover what would become a full-blown pandemic.

Americans and businesses have been taking many precautions, and as we watch the virus ramp up once again, it's a good time to think about how to navigate forward once more. I think of this as a time not to think that there is one solution, but rather to adapt a mindset that this is an ever-changing, daily response to what is needed to not just have your business survive – but to thrive.

"If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."- Dr. Wayne Dyer

When the world seems to want to crash down on us, it is important to remember that there is always a silver lining. They say the power of the mind is one of our strongest assets. That when we are able to visualize what we want and clearly see this as our direction; then we can head there. The first part is knowing what you want. That's the secret. In entrepreneurship, this is easy. We want our shop to survive, thrive, and grow. The silver lining right now? The holiday season.

You have a captive audience right now, looking for items to buy, looking for ideas, for a gift guide, for something special, memorable, and unique.

This year is a year that we will always remember. Our thankfulness level is at an all-time high. We are all looking for ways to capture this feeling of unity and togetherness while being apart. Try to find a silver lining in looking for ways to be original. Think about using your social media feeds and creating a gift guide with items you have in stock that could be purchased online and shipped to consumers. What about a pre-sold bicycle service certificate that guarantees turn-around in x days? How about a virtual shop holiday party? Invite some of your reps, make a reason for customers to join you in celebration, and get on video to chat and ask product questions. Create great ideas and continue to be the spark.

"You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice."- Bob Marley

Now is not the time to drift off into your own holiday vacation or think your employees can cover the shop while you go for a ride. Rather, this is the time to double down, hunker down, and get to work. By all means, please take time for yourself, but I am referring to that list of things that you know you should be doing, that keep being put off until next week. The focus on the website, or making sure your inventory is counted. Do it now. Force yourself to take a pause, sit down, and tie up all the loose ends. Usually the ones you keep putting off are the ones that will have the most profound effect on the future. We walk towards those things that are easiest to do but gain the most from the things that require more of us.

"Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck."- Dalai Lama

I continue to hear horror stories of inventory shortages. I know this is scary, but please do not let this become a time that you let your customers walk away. You are not going to have every item that someone comes in asking for. That is OK. What is not OK is to apologize, tell the client you do not have the item and open the door for them to go elsewhere. Take the time to think about alternatives, to know what you can get, and to stay on top of when items are available. Train your staff to do the same. If the customer is dead-set on the item they are looking for, ask them to give you some time. I am sure you can find it. You may not make as much margin in the end, but you will gain a customer for life. Now is the time to go the extra mile.

"Action and adaptability create opportunity."- Garrison Wynn

One of the biggest things we have learned through COVID is the need for delivery, curbside pick-up, and drop off. People are stuck at home; some cannot leave their homes due to mandatory quarantine orders. Offering delivery or other options is a way to make sure you are able to meet the needs of consumers in varying conditions. We have shied away from the internet for years. We have bashed brands for starting e-commerce sites, we have alienated those who started early to adapt. We have had webinars, podcasts, group chats, and more about the negative side, how to compete, and how to take part. As necessary as turning the open sign on, the message is loud and clear. The world has been taken by storm as the game for home delivery has taken a huge step forward. Dedicated delivery services for wine, pet items, flowers, cooked meals, and other products have become a nationwide trend. Is there a dedicated home delivery bike service? Is there a local one? Get your mind spinning on how you can become the next in offering a bicycle solution to those in need.

"Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much."- Helen Keller

My biggest take-away from the past nine months, but more so the past few weeks, is to remember that communication, friendship, and the people in our lives are most important. While we may not be able to see everyone each day, we can stay connected via phone, email, video, and letters. In the bicycle industry I have seen Facebook groups such as the Cycling Industry Recovery group boom. Within this group I have read stories of retailers supporting each other, with commentary by industry suppliers and journalists. It is heartwarming to see our industry strengthen and connect in such a way. As a shop owner, this is a time to learn from your staff, your vendors, and your customers on what is needed. This is the time to share openly and honestly about what you need. What we give is what we get in return. Ask for help when you need it, and open yourself to the opportunity to learn from others. Do not be afraid.

Most of the industry knows me as a go-getter. As a person who loves life. Always on the move, ready to give hugs, to motivate, inspire, and team up to make anything happen. Smiling, ready, and willing. I am all those things, but I am also quiet and tend to keep personal things close. Not always willing to let others know when I am not feeling so great. These past few weeks have been tough for me – I tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-November. I have been unable to get out of bed, struggling with every symptom they list. This morning, I felt a little better, and decided that I would seize the moment and do what comes most natural to me: write to share some hope, some strength, some insight to my community. To continue to share me, in hopes to help you.

We cannot be strong retailers if we do not keep ourselves strong. Tighten the masks, re-police the policies, and hunker down. Be the force of good.

Heather Mason has a broad range of experiences in the bicycle industry.  The former pro 24-hour racer has been a retailer and a national sales manager for an international bike brand. She is currently a bicycle industry advocate, business developer, part-time columnist, author, and speaker who shares her knowledge, insight, and passion with everyone she meets.  Heather is the Eastern Regional Sales Manager and the New England territory manager for Bianchi Bicycles.

Heather Mason

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