Bike shops are busier than ever, but owners are concerned about inventory supply issues

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Hundreds of bikes hung from Sweet Pete’s vertical racks. More bikes were standing side by side on the ground.

Now there are a lot of empty hooks and a lot of floor space.

It might seem that business is booming in the store in the middle of COVID-19. After all, more and more Canadians are trying to master public transit during the global pandemic, and parents are buying bikes for their locked-up children.

But owner Pete Lilly, who has three Sweet Pete stores in Toronto, is concerned about the future of the business. Because while the bikes leave the store, few enter.

“It looks like we’re going to close our doors,” said Lilly. “The cupboards are naked. “

Lilly’s store in west Toronto has stocked up to 700 bikes at a time. Now it has about 300 stores. It has closed its other two stores in Toronto due to personnel problems and a lack of merchandise largely caused by the blockage in global manufacturing.

“All the factories are back online now, but the delivery times are so long that all we have right now is as much as what we will have until July,” said Lilly, who owns Sweet Pete since 1997. “a little sinister when you look up and down the row, and you say to yourself:” Wow, I’m used to seeing it stuffed with bikes and having a basement full of relief , and to be able to call a supplier and have something here tomorrow, or two or three days if it comes from Vancouver.

“Now you go to all these B2B websites and you only see zeros. They’re running out of bikes, and we’re about to be. “

As experienced cyclists take their old wheels out of the store for repair and novice cyclists are desperately looking for a new, perfectly-fitting bike, some bike shop owners say customers may need to be patient when stock issues run out sorted.

Will Arnold has owned Cycling Experience in Duncan, British Columbia, 60 kilometers north of Victoria, since 1995. He said he had never been so busy.

“When COVID struck for the first time, for two weeks, we were very silent. And then it’s just taken off, “said Arnold.

Her store costs an average of about $ 177,000 in April. Last month? Sales exceeded $ 287,000.

“This is the best I have ever seen our cash flow and I hope it continues,” said Arnold. “The bicycle industry, make no mistake, it’s profitable but the margins are shrinking every year. “

But bikes, he says, are rare. He lost about 300 bikes of the usual 800 he normally wears, and has had to turn down customers, including a long-time customer he referred to a Victoria store.

“All of the entry-level, hard bikes and children’s bikes are sold,” said Arnold. “We have children’s bikes coming next month, but our semi-rigid on which we count will not be shipped to Canada until August.”

Olympic wrestling champion Erica Wiebe joined the bike brigade a few weeks after the Calgary lockout. The Tokyo Games were postponed to 2021 shortly after Wiebe locked his Olympic post, and with no events to train for or access to training facilities, Wiebe bought a white Liv Avail SL performance bike off the coast. Kijiji.

“Biking outdoors on a road bike has always been something that scared me a little,” said Wiebe, who does a lot of indoor training on a stationary bike. “But I thought, you know what? I’m not fighting right now.

“And there are a lot of fun aspects of road cycling, like the adrenaline of hitting a bump and thinking you’re going to die,” she laughed. “I bet everything. . . this summer is dedicated to simply building my aerobic base and having fun on the bike. “

Wiebe, 30, who travels about 100 kilometers per week, stood in a long line outside a Calgary bicycle store recently. The mother before her told sales staff that she was interested in bikes for her two children. The seller took out two bikes. Sold.

Store owners say children’s bikes and entry-level commuter and mountain bikes are among the most popular sellers.

And with much of the manufacturing done in Asia, where COVID-19 brought the company to its knees, the distribution channel is idling. Delivery, whether by land, sea or air, has slowed down virtually.

How long would it take for a bike that leaves the assembly line today to reach a store in Canada?

“It could last up to six months,” said Lilly.

Ben Cowie, owner of the London Bicycle Cafe, said that even getting bikes from companies outside of Asia was difficult.

But he has a corporate mantra for this unique coronavirus selling season: “Bikes aren’t canceled. “

Although he had to close the coffee side of his store, he is optimistic about his cycling activity, despite the lack of stock.

“We are a little smaller, and thanks to a stroke of luck and a happy accident, we placed a lot of orders at the start of the season. So we’re in very good shape in terms of inventory, “he said. “I know I can’t rearrange stuff, so basically, what I have is what I have. If I can’t get your size, it’s not here. “

The three stores are also swamped with bicycle repairs. Arnold said he saw customers bringing bikes they had long neglected, including a man last week who had not ridden his bike for 10 years.

Cowie’s London, Ont., Rotated by developing a mobile bike station that allows staff to repair bikes in customers’ own aisles, “so we don’t share tools, we don’t work in the same space, people are not coming in and out of the store … really trying to use it as an opportunity to do better. “

With demand at an all time high and almost non-existent inbound inventory, the owners also say that the anger of some customers explodes, which makes their work even more difficult, even if they work harder than ever.

Arnold said a man in his store “snatched” him last week. “I said‘ Sir, I’m sorry, but I’m human and we’re trying. “We’re so late and the phone rings. You say, “Look, we’re trying to get to your bike, but it’s just a no.” So it’s difficult when they hear that. “

His staff, said Arnold, work late and skip lunch breaks.

Lilly said he hadn’t taken time off from the start.

“We implore people,” said Lilly, “to be patient with us during a pandemic because we do our best. “

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 23, 2020.

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