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Fighting Gravity.
By Tom Demerly.

Cyclist reads paper

On Monday, March 19 we updated our popular website to a new, improved and expanded format that includes a growing capability to shop online.

The bicycle industry is changing faster now than at any time in history and our inclusion of an online shopping portal reflects that. Internet retail, e-commerce, is the fastest growing segment of retail. Statistics suggest it is the new frontier for retailers. The U.S Department of Commerce reported that in February 2005 alone online retail sales grew 24.6% to a high water mark of $86.3 billion. That is up from $69.3 billion in online sales in the U.S the year before.

To put this in perspective overall retail sales- including e-commerce and in-store, brick and mortar sales were only up 6% during the same time. Remember, that 6% growth actually incorporates the 24.6% increase in online sales as part of its increase. When you think about it, most of the overall 6% increase in all of retail actually is the 24.6% increase seen just in the online segment. The statistic still doesn’t tell all of the story since the overall retail sales figures are somewhat inflated by the inclusion of commodities like gasoline and groceries, items not sold on the internet but heavily purchased by Americans.

The bottom line is, if you want to grow and succeed in retail, any retail, you have to have an on line component. We’ve had ours for years, and now you can shop on it.

We’ve been building and working on our website for a decade. Kim Ross and Marc Liljgren are the people responsible for our website and their dedication and incredibly hard work is matched only by their knowledge of the internet medium. This is particularly impressive when you consider that Kim was 18 years old when she started She now administers websites for major municipalities. There are hundreds of pages and thousands of photos on our website. All of them original, all of them put up by Kim and Marc. As I type this it is 3:23 AM and we are, all three of us, working hard to make a self imposed deadline of sunrise for this new site to go up. Then we go to work in the bike shop having pulled another all-nighter.

The bicycle industry’s relationship with the internet runs the gamut from acceptance and adaptation to disdain and outright sanction. The most popular sporting goods category on E-Bay! is cycling. Many bicycle companies make dealers like us sign agreements that we won’t advertise or sell their products on the internet. Those two extremes represent opposite ends of the spectrum. Like most things, the best position lies somewhere in the middle. Like everything it will have to change.

One thing for sure, those in this industry who try to ignore or limit their exposure on the internet are trying to fight gravity. Eventually gravity will win. They can chose to work with gravity like a judo expert throwing a larger opponent, or take their hits right on the jaw like a washed up boxer too punch drunk to dodge a hit they didn’t see coming. The bike industry may be able to absorb the hits they see coming from e-commerce now, but it is the one they don’t see that will get them.

Change happens so fast in the new age of the internet that we cannot predict what will happen in five years except to say that it will be different. New technologies for online retailing are being developed at faster rates than we can employ them. Bicycle companies who restrict dealers from selling their bikes on line usually do so because of concerns over liability associated with assembly of a bike that was dismantled for shipping. They may have concerns over pricing, discounting and protecting territories. There is no minimizing these valid concerns, but trying to control something as big as the internet is not an effective doctrine. It isn’t sustainable. The internet isn’t going away. It is only a matter of time- a short time- before the concerns some bike companies have surrounding internet sales are addressed by a forward thinking software company, a talented code writer or an innovative packaging engineer and shipping company. For the bike companies who are waiting until then to revise their internet sales policies, it will be too late.

Sometime after companies did start selling a few bicycles and equipment on the internet the brick and mortar retailers began to complain to their vendors that it was “unfair”. They couldn’t compete. I see it completely differently. Everybody is the same size on the internet- the size of your screen and whatever your browser is set to. The internet is the great equalizer for small retailers. Its makes giants out of little guys. If you know how to harness the gravity, it is an undeniable force.

We are learning about gravity, gently testing the force and riding with it. Like a surfer dropping in on a wave for the first time it is exhilarating and we work toward larger and larger waves. We’ve stood on the beach watching for a long time. Now we’ve paddled out and we’re dropping in.

Our internet shopping experience is the real thing. It isn’t a plug-n-play prefabricated back end linked into our website. Kim and Marc shot the photos, we wrote the descriptions, and we installed the software and code. For better and for worse it is all us. The strength in the internet lies in the guys who are building their own identity. Not the generic back-end, plug-n-play e-commerce in a box that many shops have turned to as a solution to say they have arrived on the internet.

All that said I know we have a long, long way to go. We are working literally around the clock to add products to our online store. Order fulfillment is a learning process that has been a slippery slope at times. We went from the corner store to an international retailer with the click of a mouse and it is sometimes tough for us to keep pace and continue moving ahead. We know it isn’t the other bike guys we have to worry about. It is the greater forces of rising and falling economies, evaporating discretionary income and literally millions of unique and compelling products available to consumers on the internet one click away from our store that didn’t even exist ten years ago. We have to be there, in the mix, and that is what we are doing now.

An axiom from a smart man that I adhere to firmly is this one by Stephen Covey, “Between stimulus and response is out greatest freedom: Choice.” The bike industry is at a point where it can still choose its response to the growth in internet retail. We choose to go with this force. Those who choose not to embrace this magnificent force of gravity waste precious time and energy doing so. We are so small we do not have the energy to fight gravity. So now we choose to let the force of gravity take us to new places and we hope you will join us.


© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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