BIKE RETAIL DURING CORONA: RECORD SALES AND FUTURE FEARS BIKE RETAIL

Bicycle retailers are reopened in Germany since 27 April. Many stores had people queueing out the door. The strong demand for bikes and e-bikes came as a surprise to retailers. It would seem that Corona has not permanently damaged bricks-and-mortar traders.

At Rad & Tour in Cuxhaven, they introduced booking slots. Customers are allotted one hour for a sales talk to buy a new bike before the next customer comes in. Appointments were made online. “We didn´t  see anyone without an appointment,” explains owner Thorsten Larschow. He’s very happy with the situation, even if it means missing out on walk-in sales and accessory purchases. Anyway, he adds: “Were booked out until mid-May!” Sales are up despite Corona and apparently, customers prefer it like this. “It’s not so hectic in the shop. We plan to keep the system in future,” says Thorsten Larschow.

“Were booked out until mid-May!”

Reiner Probst from Berlin bike store Velophil was delighted about the current high demand. He was one of the lucky ones, as bike shops were allowed to remain open in Berlin during the lockdown. “Although, most people didn’t know that we were open,” he says, which dented sales in March. Nevertheless, April was much positive. “We were around 30 per cent over an average April,” says Reiner Probst. Leisure and travel bikes were in big demand, especially high-quality models.

The German bicycle retailer association (Verband des Deutschen Zweiradhandels/VDZ) points out that these examples are not isolated cases. “The bicycle retail trade is emerging from the crisis in good health with high commitment and lots of changes – things look amazingly good,” summarizes member of the board, Dietmar Knust. Many retailers were overrun and customers were waiting in some cases for up to two hours for a sales talk to buy a new bike. After a weak March, where sales fell between 30 and 60 per cent, April has made up for a proportion of the losses in many areas. The VDZ representative cites Germany’s travel restrictions as one reason for this and it might also have an influence on the rest of the season. Plans for long-distance travel are being cancelled and people are looking at regional bike tours instead. In addition, it was advantageous that bike workshops were allowed to remain open across Germany during the lockdown. Large numbers of local people brought their bikes in to be serviced. Markus Boscher from bike shop Velorado in Nuremberg was delighted by the high level of solidarity in his neighbourhood. “People were bringing in their old bikes into the workshop to support our business.” Sales have also been buzzing since he reopened. As retailers had already been open in a limited format, they were well prepared and had hygiene measures in place.

 

“People were bringing in their old bikes into the workshop to support our business.”

However, there is also a downside to developments. While many bricks-and-mortar retailers implemented creative solutions, such as telephone and on-site consultation or collection and delivery – all requiring high amounts of time for low financial return, the current, high demand was often hard to manage and took a physical toll. Many retailers with small teams were unable to run double shifts. This means that if one team member was diagnosed with Corona, then all members of staff would had to go into quarantine for two weeks. In addition, many worry that the latest demand might just be a flash in the pan.

Some retailers fear that there might be a substantial income loss later in the season, as the effects of short-time working and unemployment kick in and have a negative impact on consumption and bike sales. Moreover, the ability of many manufacturers to cope with repeat orders could rapidly become a problem for retailers. Frame production is still behind due to plant closures in China. Retailers have reported waiting times of up to six months for basic urban bikes.

And above everything hangs the Damocles sword of a potential second Corona lockdown later in the year.

Conclusion: Bricks-and-mortar retailers have come through the lockdown and initial relaxation measures remarkably well. This shows just how important bikes are to people and how resilient the bicycle industry is. However, the retail trade still faces a bumpy road ahead with enormous challenges and risks. Corona is not over yet.