SUPPLY SITUATION 2021: THERE MAY BE BOTTLENECKS AHEAD

2020 is drawing to an end. The year has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride. After the lockdown with closed stores in March and April, many bike retailers experienced record sales in the months that followed – some of them were already out of stock by the summer. Manufacturer warehouses also had large amounts of empty shelves. As such, there is a certain amount of anxiety as the industry looks ahead to 2021. What will the new bike season be like?

Delivery delays are nothing new to the bike industry. However, 2021 is going to be a challenging year. “Demand for bikes continues to increase around the world,” says Jörg Müsse, managing director of trade association Bike & Co. Bicycles are even referred to as the “new toilet paper” by the media, referring to the shortage earlier this year. The effect is certainly similar: the exceptionally high demand is leaving warehouses empty, creating a bottleneck. There is a difference to the situation with toilet paper though: “The supply chain is not geared up to respond to such sharp increases, which could probably otherwise be accommodated,” fears Heiko Truppel, marketing manager at recumbent bike specialist HP Velotechnik. This is why it’s not easy to expand existing capacities or to increase production at manufacturing partners. Delivery times of twelve to fourteen months for some components are no longer the exception, but the rule. Although many bike, component and accessory manufacturers have been working at full power for months on end, including their personnel. “As a result, we are having to plan very far in advance, in order to secure free production slots,” says Lara Santjer from brand distributor Import Sport Import. Even companies producing in Germany have longer delivery times, despite operating multiple-shifts and weekend working. Müsse is concerned that: “It’s might well to lead to shortages.”

 

“Demand for bikes continues to increase around the world.”

Hannes Neupert, president of ExtraEnergy, sees things similarly. In a guest contribution to the industry magazine Velobiz.de, he writes: Currently the only factor limiting further sales growth seems to be sluggish market supply.” The order books might be full, but there are bottlenecks – especially with important components, which are only produced by a handful of manufacturers. “The winners in this situation are companies with sufficient cash flow, long-term purchase planning and optimistic pre-orders. Their supplies are ensured and they will be able to produce next year and achieve double-digit sales growth,” forecasts Neupert. Over the next five years, he optimistically expects to see up to 40 million e-bikes sold in Europe per year – an estimate that conventional structures and production processes might make hard to deliver. In addition, there also is the current boom in the e-bike business in North America to take into account.

 

On the other side of the equation, bike retailers are already reporting shortages with pre-orders from manufacturers. Smaller retailers and dealers in particular might soon be affected by bottlenecks, if larger market players secure the reduced number of goods available. Moving away from releasing new collections every year and offering streamlined product portfolios would support more efficient production and prevent bottlenecks, suggests Neupert. Both options are often discussed, and have been implemented in places to a certain extent.

 

"The order books might be full, but there are bottlenecks – especially with important components, which are only produced by a handful of manufacturers.“

Ultimately though, the overall outlook for 2021 from industry representatives is optimistic. Bico forecasts that some retailers will see up to twenty per cent increase in sales growth and expects an average increase of ten per cent across the board. According to Müsse, the reason for this is that: “People are simply riding more bikes.” The German Bike Industry Association (ZIV) is also upbeat, despite the fact that production- and purchase planning in 2021 is more challenging than ever. “If the supply chains function then there won’t be any problems, however there are a lot of question marks,” says David Eisenberger, head of marketing and communication ZIV.

“If the supply chains function then there won’t be any problems, however there are a lot of question marks,”

Productive supply chains are also one of the most important issues for Susan Lund, analyst at McKinsey Global Institute. “We’ve spent 25 years creating these incredibly complicated, complex global supply chains. And they were designed for cost and efficiency, but without really a thought to what could go wrong along the way,” she comments in a McKinsey podcast. Industry experts say that, on average, companies expect to see a disruption to their production lines of one to two months, every three-and-a-half to four years. Important changes are required, not only to enable a more flexible supply situation, but generally to create greater real net output and serve customers. Neupert is convinced that because of this, the market situation offers newcomers big opportunities to secure market share from established manufacturers or to even turn the bike market upside down. In order for this to happen though, new structures would need to be created. Companies who introduce big changes in their own organisation can find ways to avoid the problem of being dependent on big global players. For example, new e-bike manufacturers who have developed their own drive systems are able to respond with greater agility.