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
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 bikesportmichigan.com.
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
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.