By James Moore, Moore’s Bicycle Shop, Inc., Hattiesburg, Mississippi
The most frustrating thing about watching the genocide taking place in Ukraine is the feeling of total helplessness knowing that our country has effective military resources but the risk of a nuclear war between superpowers prevents us from using them to stop the genocide.
Now that President Joe Biden has announced that the U.S. will no longer allow Russian oil into our country it’s a given that we are on the verge of record gas prices at the pump. Here’s where we, the independent bicycle retailers of America, can play a vital role.
During COVID we saw Americans come out in record numbers to buy bicycles as a safe means of coping with shutdowns. We also put bicycles back into working order that had been dormant for decades, to facilitate the need to get outdoors.
I predict that we’re about to experience a second bike boom but this time with a different demographic. Those who cleared our showrooms of inventory during COVID were affluent Americans mostly looking for a recreational outlet. As gas prices quickly increase to unprecedented levels, we’re about to see those of more modest means seek an affordable way to get to work.
Right now, most Americans will support the sanctions against Russia as the images of civilian deaths come into our homes and on our devices but when gas hits $6 or $8 per gallon how long can we maintain that resolve, especially when it cost more to fill a tank than one makes in a week?
If we step up to the plate and are prepared to facilitate the switch from cars to bikes for those low-wage workers unable to fill their tanks, we will be playing a vital role in the liberation of Ukraine as we help maintain American support for critical Russian sanctions.
Specifically, here are some steps we can take; First, we need to give priority to those coming to us for transportation needs, putting the enthusiasts and recreational cyclists to the back of the line. How we convey this message to our customers will determine how it is received – reasonable folks will understand the need to give preference to those most impacted by gas prices.
Many of us were not prepared for the demand of COVID and rather than adjusting our business models to meet the increasing demands of our customers we insisted our customers adjust to meet our needs by requiring appointments and taking weeks or months to service bicycles. Those trying to keep their minimum wage jobs will need their bikes back in days not weeks or months. We need to do what it takes to make that happen.
We can anticipate the surge in cycle commuting and should respond by stocking racks, baskets, lights, locks, helmets, and other predictable items the new commuter will need. We need to offer expert advice with every sale to prepare these new cyclists for this lifestyle change.
With supplier bicycle inventories still strained from COVID we need to be open to sourcing bicycles from new sources including getting used bicycles from our community. During COVID we appealed to our community to sell us unneeded bicycles. Many responded to that appeal including some who freely donated their idle bicycles just because they wanted to see others get some use from them.
One option to consider is to ask the community to donate used bicycles, then perform a repair estimate on those donated bikes as most will need some work. Rather than selling the donated bikes, allow those needing bikes to simply pay the repair bill and be given the bike. The dealer gets the repair business and the customer gets a roadworthy bike just for the cost of the repair.
Lastly, as your employees step up to the plate to meet this national demand surge, remember their own limited financial resources and periodically share some profits with them in the form of a gas subsidy or “thank you” bonus for the challenging work times that are just around the corner.
With the announcement of the oil sanctions against Russia, I’ve gone from feeling helpless to being ready to knock out some fast repairs, refurbish some used bikes and in doing so hopefully kick some Putin ass. I hope you’re ready to join me. This is our time to serve.