"When the virus happened, our sales absolutely stopped. My partner and I had some really difficult conversations about what we were going to do to sustain the business... Weirdly enough in about a three-week period...our February went from about half of our normal February sales to March going to about double our typical March sales."
Bruce McGrew is the owner of ProCycling bike shop in Colorado Springs. With East and West locations, Bruce and his team of cycling experts serve and supply individuals of all biking ability — from entry-level to enthusiast.
In this first episode of our COS in COVID miniseries, Bruce shares the somewhat surprising impact that the pandemic had on the bike business, when — as outdoor activities increased in popularity — ProCycling saw more new faces and higher sales than ever before.
Ride along with us to hear Bruce’s predictions for how the biking world and outdoor activities will evolve post-virus. And as always, best sure to check out all of our Metaphorically Speaking episodes.
Joe: Hi there. I’m Joe, president and founder of Keyhole Marketing.
Shannon: And I’m Shannon Jirik. I work for Keyhole as the assistant brand manager.
Joe: And this is Metaphorically Speaking, a podcast that explores the mysterious side of marketing.
Shannon: Hello, and welcome to Metaphorically Speaking. This is episode 18 for us. And we are just super excited to dive into another fantastic interview with a local business owner in Colorado Springs.
We are actually doing something a little bit different. We’re staying tried and true to our interview style, but really just wanted to pivot a little bit and focus kind of on this season of the COVID-19 or coronavirus. And we wanted to just talk with these business owners or entrepreneur just to find out how the COVID-19 has impacted or affected their business, their sales, their staff. What are some long-term changes or things that they’re going to have to implement moving forward? And we’re going to call this little miniseries COS and COVID.
Joe: If you’re not from Colorado Springs too, COS is C-O-S. It’s short for Colorado Springs, so just so you know. That’s such a weird name. Why are you saying that stuff? So that’s our little play on words there, COS and COVID.
Shannon: I did think it was funny the first time you used it after moving. I was like, “What? Okay. You’re a local now. I get it.”
Joe: I know. I feel like I’m part of the community now, for sure.
Shannon: That’s right. Yeah. So we’re getting started. This first interview is with Bruce McGrew, who is the owner of ProCycling in Colorado Springs. So they’ve got two locations, an east and west store. And they originally started out by serving kind of the high end racer or enthusiast biker, and ultimately pivoted, still serving that audience, but also now serving kind of the entry level and beginner biker, as well as just kind of the family members and children as well.
Joe: So it’s good for people like me and people like you, who are trying to get on bikes. Yeah.
Shannon: I do love, he’s talking about people struggling up the hill. And you’re just like, “Yep. That’s me.”
Joe: That was definitely me. That’s me outside my front door, I can go great when I turn to the right. If I turn to the left, forget about it. It’s uphill the whole way.
This is why we just love doing this interviews with entrepreneurs. I mean, we love doing this with work. We love working alongside them, changing their business, telling their stories. And honestly, going into these episodes, I didn’t know what to expect. I’m kind of a glass half full kind of person, so I was hoping I’d hear some good stories. But I also was expecting that everything would just be disastrous.
And Bruce’s story’s so encouraging, not only how he shifted and how things have happened for his business, but also how the kind of local economy and local governments helped support him and get the word out there, and his desire to put a bike in each person’s garage basically, and give them a chance to get out in nature. That was more of our local government’s response to COVID, is to get out in nature. And of course, we’re blessed with being able to spread out and not be on top of each other, and still be at parks and that kind of thing. So yeah, super encouraging story.
Shannon: For sure. Yeah, thank you to Bruce for sharing it with us. And we hope you all enjoy it as well.
Joe: So maybe you can just start off by just giving a quick synopsis about ProCycling. How long have you been in business? What exactly do you offer? Kind of what’s your differentiator, or why do you exist in the marketplace?
Bruce: Okay. Well, we’re now officially 17 years old. We just had our most recent anniversary was 17. I originally started the business basically because I felt like Colorado Springs didn’t have a shop, a bike shop that catered to the high end race or enthusiast crowd. So our initial store, which was up on the north end of town, pretty much did that. We carried mostly high end road and mountain bikes, and found out that there was a pretty good demand for bikes, believe it or not, up north of $10,000 in retail pricing. And we kind of differentiated ourselves by being the only store in town that actually carried those bikes in stock. Any bike shop can order any bike from any manufacturer that they happen to represent, but you have to wait. And a lot of people don’t want to wait.
So the thing that made us different I think from the rest of the shops in our town was the fact that we actually stocked high end bicycles, both road and mountain at the time, and high end components. Since then, we’ve kind of morphed into a little bit different business model in that we’ve found that high end bikes are certainly in demand and always have been, and probably always will be. But in the last probably five years or so, we’ve started coming down in price points. And in fact, two years ago, I opened our second location out on Powers Boulevard, and that store pretty much specifically caters to more like entry level, beginner riders, as well as kids. We have a department in that store that’s nothing but kids’ bikes and gear that goes along with it.
So the two stores kind of complement each other. We carry some more entry level bikes at the west store, which is the original location. And if people want something that we don’t happen to have in stock, we can either transfer it the next day, or they can run out to the east store and look at that. And by the same token, we’ll carry high end representation of bikes at the east store. And if somebody wants something that they don’t have there, chances are we’ve got it at the west store. So I guess nowadays, what the point of having two stores is to try and capture all of the bike potential buyers and market versus just more like the high end enthusiast guys. And so far, it’s worked pretty good. Our east store, it took a while to kind of ramp up sales. And we had to spend a good little bit of money on advertising just to get for people to understand that we’re out there.
But that seems to happen, and we’re seeing sales increase each month as more people come into the store and tell their friends that we’re out there. So far, I chalk it up to a good decision. There was a lot of questioning between myself, and I do have a partner in the business, Brian Stratton is our general manager. There was a lot of going back and forth about the idea of opening a second shop. But so far, it seems like it’s worked out good, so that’s kind of the synopsis of ProCycling.
Joe: Yeah. And you answered kind of the next question, which was: Who exactly do you serve? So it sounds like it was initially that high end market, and then you added in that family kind of casual bike rider to the mix as well. Your business, how was it immediately impacted by COVID? Obviously, some businesses were marked as essential. Some were not. Were you closed for a long while? Were you closed just for a short while and then able to reopen? How did that play out for you?
Bruce: Well, as you may know, bicycle shops were classified as essential, and we never completely closed. Back in February, when the whole thing kind of happened, we went from kind of a … February’s never been a particularly good month in the bike business. But it’s kind of the beginning of the season. And when the virus and all the news and information and misinformation and all that stuff rolled out in that month, our sales absolutely stopped. And Brian, my partner and I, had some really, really difficult conversations about what we were going to do to sustain the business. The idea came up of temporarily shuttering the east store and bringing some key employees over to the west store, et cetera.
Weirdly enough, in about a three week period between the end of February and the beginning of March, our February went from about half of our normal February sales, to March went to about double our typical March sales. So we had this pretty significant swing in sales, and we were caught a little bit off guard because of course, we were trying to follow CDC regulations as far as what you do in a retail establishment. So for a while, we actually closed the door of the store and made our clients kind of wait until somebody came and opened the door and said, “What do you want? And how can I help you?” And if it was a bike that had to be serviced, they would actually write up the order out in the parking lot and then bring the bike in. And if they wanted to buy a specific tire, or part, or something, we would bring it back to the front.
But after we got some more clarity as far as how we could run it, basically what we did is open the store, but allowing no more than five customers in at a time, so that we could maintain social distancing. It was difficult. It’s hard to run a business like that when you’ve got 10 people standing around outside. We couldn’t really monitor their social distancing from inside the store, so I don’t exactly know how effective it was. But after a while, we just simply adopted the strategy of, hey, before the most recent decision about mask wearing, we basically told people it’s option, but we suggest it. Our employees would wear masks if any of the customers came in with masks. If they didn’t, some of them would pull their mask down or whatever.
But of course nowadays, the mandate is that any time you’re in a closed retail establishment, everyone wears masks, so that’s how it is. Normally, I mean, nowadays, we don’t restrict the number of customers in the store. We just require everybody to wear masks, and that’s kind of how we’ve reacted to the virus functionally speaking. As far as sales go, I don’t know how much you want to get into that. But it’s definitely been a significant increase, and I think that there’s a number of industries, anybody that has anything to do with outdoor activities, whether it’s RV sales, or bicycles, or you name it, I think they’re seeing a significant increase in sales.
The flip side of that is that we’re all seeing very, very difficult inventory availability from our suppliers due to both the interruption in the supply chain back when all the stores … I mean, basically in the cycling industry is made in the Far East, and there were a lot of the factories that were closed down for months at a time back then. So there was a disruption in the supply of parts and bike frames and the whole thing. I don’t think any of the manufacturers anticipated that they would have the kind of demand that they’ve had. So what it’s led to is a lot of retailers like myself that look like they’re kind of going out of business because we just simply haven’t been able to reload our inventory like we normally would.
Joe: Yeah. Did you see or hear of any sort of shift in pain points that your customers had pre COVID and post COVID? Was there some sort of, I don’t know, the reason they were choosing you prior to COVID, and then maybe a shift in that when people were able to come back outside of their house? And were they expressing some of that to you? Or did things just … Was the need the same, just maybe heightened a little bit?
Bruce: Well, I’ll tell you. One thing we did notice immediately is new customers, new faces, people that we weren’t familiar with. The west store especially, we have customers that have literally been coming in for 15 years now. And we started seeing a lot of new faces. And I think that part of it, I can’t really take responsibility for because some of the other stores handled the virus differently than us. A couple of them actually closed for a period, and several others adopted more restrictive access protocols that I think maybe we were the benefit of. I’m reluctant to say that, but I mean, I do think we were the beneficiary of some of that.
The flip side is I do like to think that we’ve always had a pretty good reputation in town. We’ve got a high Google rating. And I think that when people realize that maybe the store closest to their house was out of inventory or closed, that we became kind of the default go to place. And as far as pain points, I think that people realized after the lockdown orders came down that one of the few things that they could do and enjoy was getting out, whether it was walking the dog, or riding their bike, or going for a jog, or whatever. And I think a lot of people realized that dusty 12 year old bike that was sitting out in the garage needed a tuneup. And we were absolutely inundated with service requests and orders during that initial March time. It’s tapered off a little bit since then, and as well as people that just realized that, hey, that mountain bike that’s 15 years old is just simply not … I mean, they don’t even make 26 inch tires anymore, so maybe I need to upgrade. And that resulted in a lot of people coming in.
And granted, we had a lot of people coming into the west store looking for $500 bikes. And frankly, we don’t even stock them. So we would suggest they go out to the east store, and that lasted for about a month or two, until more like about six weeks, until the east store pretty much ran out of all their inexpensive inventory. So we’ve seen a little bit of people coming in getting a little bit of sticker shock, but they also know that we’re not unique in that we’ve got limited inventory. And some of them probably bought bikes that were a little bit out of their budget when they first started shopping.
But again, pain point wise, I think that people realized that the one thing that they could do during this time that was technically legal was to get out and exercise. And bikes are a natural extension of that, so I think that we were the beneficiary, as well as the other retail bike shops in town.
Joe: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Obviously, things change by the minute. So is there projections for long-term recovery, long-term effects? When you look at your business, do you see any sort of long-term shifts that you’ll make that this whole pandemic brought to life, that you might not have seen prior to this? If everything would’ve stayed as is, you might’ve just continued on with your current mode of operation, but then with this pandemic, you made some shifts in your business, or responded to immediate needs. But do you see some of those needs, or some of those shifts playing out over the long run going forward now?
Bruce: I certainly hope so. I hope that this isn’t a temporary bubble, and this December we’ll see 10 million bikes on eBay because people realized that cycling isn’t quite as easy as they thought, or whatever. No, I really do think that there’s going to be a shift in the way people look at transportation and mobility. And our city has certainly taken some significant strides in making riding a bike in downtown Colorado Springs easier and safer. So I do think that we’ll see a continuing trend of people looking at bicycles as a way of not only recreating, but perhaps going to work, going to the store. And I’m trying, we’re in the process right now, as all retail bike stores are, of basically ordering the 2021 product. The manufacturers have gotten earlier and earlier in the year as to when they want us to put our preseason orders in, so that they can adjust their factory orders in the Far East to accommodate that.
And we’re trying to not overstock our stores based on what’s happened in the last three months, and we’re kind of looking at that as an outlier. However, I just had this conversation yesterday with Brian. I think that if we can see a nice little increase of say 15% or 20% over not this year, but last year, looking at this year again as an unusual circumstance that may not repeat itself, and buy our inventory accordingly, that would be a nice trend. I do think that we’ll see more. One thing that we’re going to change up is that we’re going to carry more kind of transportation related bikes versus sporting related bikes, be those mountain bikes or whatever.
And the other thing that we’ve seen a significant increase in demand for is e-bikes. The e-bike category is really the only category in cycling in the United States before the pandemic issue that had significant growth. Now 100% growth of a very small number is still a very small number. But we’re seeing e-bikes becoming adopted and accepted, and access issues are being sorted out all over the country as to where they can go. There’s certain countries in Europe where 60%, 70% of all new bikes that you see going down the bike path are pedal assist e-bikes. So that category I think is going to continue on, and this whole pandemic thing will, if nothing else, supercharged the demand for e-bikes even more. So again, I see a nice growth trend in cycling. There’s some trends that are similar to Europe that I think America will start following to some degree. People realize that they don’t necessarily need to jump in their car to drive four miles to work by themselves, and that it’s actually kind of, bad weather aside, it’s actually kind of fun.
So again, I see a nice increase in growth, but certainly not, we bike shops can’t look at the last three months and say, “Oh, we’ve got to stock up. We’ve got to order 75% more bikes for next year then we did this year.” That’s just simply not going to … That’s not sustainable.
Joe: Yeah. Yeah. Awesome. Well, you’ve given me so much information about just your business and how it’s been affected. I would say from my vantage point, it seemed like you were in a good spot in the sense of the city kind of embracing, the city government in some sense, kind of embracing the need to get out in nature as a response to the pandemic, versus I know other markets, I have friends of course kind of spread across the US. And that was different over there for sure in other spots. There was much more of hunker down at home. That’s your way to stay safe. And I actually appreciated at least what I picked up on was some encouragement to get out in nature, and that’s a healthier response to the pandemic. So that certainly probably worked in your favor being in this area.
Bruce: Absolutely. I would agree. I mean, we live not just in Colorado, but Colorado Springs in general is one of the most, in my opinion, the most bike friendly cities. You can literally pedal from the west side of town and be on the trails in a matter of minutes. And we have opportunities that I think a lot of people take for granted, that even up in Denver they don’t. So no, I agree with you. The city was very receptive of letting people, encouraging people as you said, to get out and exercise. And I know that in my neighborhood, I saw a marked increase in people that I knew didn’t live there walking their dogs, hiking, riding their bikes. I live on a pretty steep hill, and I saw a lot of newish riders struggling to go up the hill. But it was nice, it was nice to see people getting out and exercising, for sure.
Joe: Yeah, for sure. And I’m one of those people I’ve had my bike for years. And then I came from Indiana a year ago, so the hills here are different than anything out there. I saw the same thing. I have a view to the street, and constantly saw more and more people just for their own sanity to get outside and walk as a family or ride bikes as a family. And it was fun to see.
Bruce McGrew: Absolutely.
Joe: Cool. Well, thanks so much, Bruce. This has been great!
Shannon: You’ve been listening to the “COS and COVID” miniseries on the Metaphorically Speaking Podcast. At Keyhole Marketing, we tell big stories for small businesses.
If you’re in the Colorado Springs area and struggling to tell your story in this season, we’d love to come alongside you and help you with your content, branding, SEO, social media, or photography needs.
Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if we can help.