St. Louis-area bicycle shops were bustling last summer as people dusted off their old two-wheelers or looked to buy new ones to get out and enjoy some exercise during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Having been deemed an “essential service”, most of the roughly 40 shops in the Greater St. Louis bi-state region remained open with safety measures such as masks, social distancing, and curbside service in place — and they’ve seen an unprecedented surge in bike sales and repair orders.
Pedego St. Louis has watched its sales at least double over the past few months, says co-owner Bill Sauerwein. The boutique shop, which opened its doors in July 2019, specializes in the sale, service, and rental of Pedego electric bicycles and ElliptiGO stand-up bikes.
Sauerwein says his store in the Oakland neighborhood along the Gravois Greenway spent most of last year educating people on the brand and the benefits of e-bikes. This year, people are “more motivated to buy and less motivated to talk and explore.”
Pedego St. Louis saw a wave of purchases from customers who looked to hit the road for fitness or to get away from the sedentary lifestyle of the lockdown.
“For one reason or another, maybe because they have a health condition or are older or whatever, electric bikes allow these people to get back outdoors and live a healthy lifestyle,” said Sauerwein. “We get a lot of people, too, who want to ride together as a couple, but one may not be cycling at the same pace. If one gets an e-bike, it equalizes everything.
“We hear a lot of comments from customers about how their Pedego is ‘game-changing’ or ‘life-altering’.”
To safeguard customers and staff, Pedego St. Louis stopped renting bikes. Then, due to demand, they sold all those bikes.
“We switched to an appointment-only structure, and it turned out to be a great experience for customers,” said Sauerwein. “For 90 minutes or so, they got our full attention.”
Scott Parrent, owner of Bike Center in Des Peres, said sales at his shop have risen significantly, led by purchases of kids’ bikes, youth bikes, and hybrid bikes costing $700 and less.
“There’s also been a run on pull-behind bike trailers for children. Families are wanting to get outside together and stay active,” he said. “We’re fortunate to be one of those small businesses that has seen an upturn versus a downtown during the pandemic.”
Bike Center moved its service check-in area outside its front doors to “prevent people from piling up” and wipes down every bike before it comes inside. The shop has also been limiting the number of in-store customers and offering phone orders and home delivery, though these latter options have slowed down as people have grown more comfortable with leaving their homes again.
Bike Surgeon of O’Fallon, Illinois, also stepped up its customer interaction practices and store sanitation. Though a rather big space, the shop decided to limit the number of people inside by having customers check in at the front door and assigning a staff member for a one-on-one shopping experience. Once finished, customers exit out the rear door, at which point another customer can enter.
Like other shops, Bike Surgeon has seen a huge jump in the sales of entry-level bikes and gear, says owner Jon Greenstreet.
“We have not had a normal summer week so far, sales are way up,” he said during our interview in July. “Less uber high-end bikes but a lot more transactions and a ton of repairs.”
The shop is pre-scheduling repairs and doing its best to address pick-up service needs to keep customers rolling, but at the time of our interview, the shop was several weeks behind.
“We’re seeing a large increase in new customers. We’re hoping we do our job well enough that we make lifelong cyclists,” said Greenstreet. “We’d much rather have a long-term customer than someone you see once who never comes back.”
Amid the sales surge, bike shops are having trouble getting adequate supplies of bikes and equipment. Factories in China, which produce more than half of the world’s bicycles, are ramping up production again, but full inventories will still be scare this fall.
“If we didn’t order bikes weeks ago, months ago, we’re not getting them,” Bike Center’s Parrent said. “We’ve already done our Christmas and spring orders, which I wouldn’t normally do until February, just so we can have some bikes by then.
“Inventory that does come in doesn’t last for more than a day or two,” he continued. “My advice is, if you find a bike you like, don’t wait to buy it, or that bike will be gone.”
Author: Brad Kovach is the editor/publisher of Terrain Magazine.