Archive for Sunday, November 8, 1992

S TRACKS BROAD MARKET

November 8, 1992

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The owner of Rick's Bike Shop, 916 Mass., offers a list of reasons a specialty retailer like himself has endured.

"In 20 years in the bike business, we've never had a year that wasn't bigger than the year before," said Rick Stein, who says a love of cycling provided his vocation.

Stein, who spent five years in the bicycle business in Grinnell, Iowa, operated the store at 1033 Vt. for 11 years before moving to the current location four years ago.

He's convinced that the vibrant retail atmosphere of downtown, which accommodates boutique and niche marketing, has been a factor.

"Downtown Lawrence is a phenomenon unto itself," he says, and credits "the fact that we don't have a major enclosed suburban mall."

But it's more than location. Although Stein sells nothing but merchandise and services related to cycling and, to a lesser extent, fitness, the market is broad. If a person could peek inside all the garages in Lawrence, Stein said, "you'd find bikes in 90-plus percent of them. There's something about bicycles that crosses our culture completely."

THAT MAKES developing a profile of Stein's average customer practically impossible.

"We sell to an enormous cross-section of people with all levels of interest" in cycling, he said. "I don't think you can pigeonhole the buyer."

But Stein notes that among the groups that patronize his store are fitness devotees and people in a "demographic bubble" of baby boomers, in an age range of about 38 to 45, whose knees and elbows have become casualties of running and playing tennis.

"They still want to be active, so bicycling is a real logical solution for those people," he said.

That group is a significant enough portion of his trade that Stein also stocks an inventory of fitness equipment, such as stationary bicycles, rowing machines and stair-steppers.

AND THEN there's the transportation angle. Stein said the size of Lawrence, parking problems at Kansas University and the tight budgets most students must live on also help his business.

"This is a perfect size community to ride a bike in, when you consider that you can ride a bicycle across town in the same amount of time it takes to drive it," he said.

Being all things to all bicycle riders poses a challenge, Stein said.

"While I don't consider it hard to do, it's expensive to do. It takes a pretty strong commitment to inventory," he said, explaining that Rick's typically keeps 700 bikes in stock, all of which must be displayed in the 2,800-square-foot showroom.

But Stein believes a comprehensive inventory is part of the reason his business has such a diverse clientele.

TODAY'S bicycles are designed for a variety of purposes and pocketbooks. At the upper end of Stein's market are the die-hard enthusiasts, many of whom travel from Kansas City to shop at Rick's and are willing to pay the price of a good used car for a top-of-the-line bike.

"Our inventory caters to that end as well as everybody in between," Stein said, emphasizing that his store sells plenty of bicycles to the recreational consumer with a couple of hundred dollars to spend.

And ironically, bicycle sales are the most visible part of Stein's business but account for less than half the shop's revenues. Bicycle repair work, which Stein says increases in tough economic times, and sales of cycling clothing and accessories are the bulk of the business.

ALTHOUGH the store's performance was solid in 1992 Stein declines to release sales and profit information he says he sees room for improvement.

For three years running, Rick's Bike Shop made the Bicycle Dealers Showcase list of 100 best bike shops in America. The trade magazine compiles the list from a poll of 1,000 manufacturers, vendors and sales representatives who rate shops on retail presentation, expertise and service. In 1992, Rick's was conspicuously absent from the list, and Stein wants back on it.

His strategy is one of commitment and overall improvement.

"You can't set out a game plan and do it," Stein said. "You've just got to be better in the bike business.

"One thing that motivates me as a businessman everyday when I come in to work is knowing I can do a better job than I did the day before and that the store can be a better store than it was the day before.

"That energy is what the people who evaluate the bike industry perceive."

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