One of the important metrics for bike shop success is store traffic. Living and breathing visitors are a necessary part of the retail business model for brick-and-mortar stores. Without them, retailers would be left trying to sell bikes to air, and that is very hard to do.
Getting people into stores is becoming a greater challenge though. New research shows that consumer traffic at bike shops is declining across the board. While this is distressing news at first glance, there are also clear opportunities to reverse the trend.
The 2014 American Bicyclist Study, conducted by the Gluskin Townley Group, examined the demographics of adults who are current owners of bicycles. The fieldwork was done in February 2014 representing the 2013 calendar year. Results were then balanced to the U.S. population based on the latest U.S. Census data.
The data show that 26 million adults (age 18 and older) owned a bicycle in 2013, up 2.5 percent from 2011. That’s the good news. The bad news is that in 2011 most bike owners visited a bike shop at least once (51%), and in 2013 the number fell to just 41%. The average number of visits also fell from 3.98 in 2011 to 2.86 in 2013.
More disturbing for the specialty industry is that the decline is not limited to one consumer segment of cyclists. It is affecting all groups, defined here in four clusters: Infrequents, Casuals, Moving Ups and Enthusiasts.
Infrequents are the least involved, representing 12.6 million people out of the 26 million adult bike owners in 2013 (ages 18 and above). In 2013, they rode an average of 7.9 miles in a warm-weather month, and spent an average of $134.60 on their most recent bicycle. They visited bike shops one time in 2011 (the mean) and about the same in 2013. For the specialty industry they may be described as Wal Mart customers. 84 percent didn’t visit a bike shop at all in 2013.
Casuals, 5 million of them, rode an average of 19.6 miles in a warm-weather month, and spent $275.07 on their last bicycle. They visited a bike shop an average of 2.16 times in 2011, but fewer than 2 times in 2013 (1.99).
Moving Ups, 4.3 million people, rode an average of 32.3 miles in a warm-weather month that year, and their last bike cost $457.44. They visited bike shops 4 times in 2011 and 2.66 times in 2013.
Enthusiasts numbered 3.8 million who rode an average 141.9 miles in a warm-weather month and spent $1,231.37 on their last bicycle. They visited a shop 7.36 times in 2011, and just 5.34 times in 2013.
Store visits also declined across generations.
The Silent Generation, approximate current ages 70 to 89, represented 5.1 million bike owners. 42% visited a bike shop at least once in 2011. In 2011, they visited a shop an average of 5.2 times. In 2013 it was just 2 times.
Baby Boomers, ages 50 to 69, totaled 9.4 million bike owners, of which 47% visited a bike shop in 2011, and 33% in 2013. The average number of visits was 4.3 in 2011 and 2.4 in 2013. The number of those who did not visit a shop rose.
Generation X, ages 30 to 49, was represented by 11.5 million bike owners in 2011 and 8.8 million in 2013. 60 percent of Gen Xers visited a bike shop in 2011, an average of 4.3 times, compared to 46% visiting a shop in 2013, an average of 3.2 times.
Gen Y, ages 10 to 29, had 5.1 million people in 2011 and 5.3 million in 2013 (again, those 18 and older are included). 42% visited a bike shop an average of 5.2 times in 2011, compared to 52% visiting 2.96 times in 2013.
Intent to buy a bike is also different by generation. 27% of Generation X planned to buy a new bike in 2014 (2,393,820 people), and 29% Generation Y (1,537,000 people). Only 10% of Baby Boomers planned to buy a new bike this year (948,700 people), and 5% of the Silent Generation (117,400 people).
They’re also planning to buy used. 31% of Gen Xers planned to buy used, and 37% of Gen Y. The numbers for Boomers and Silents were 20% and 14%.
Gender is another area in flux. In 2011, 48% of bike owners were females. Females became the majority in 2013, representing 51%, a growth of 871,000.
The decline in female visits was greater than for males though. In 2011, 57% of females did not visit a bike shop even once. In 2013, the number was 62%. Females averaged 3.74 bike shops visits in 2011. That number fell by a full visit to 2.7 in 2013. Male shop visits fell by about half a visit, from 3.49 to 3.01.
There is also a trend favoring females by generation. The younger the generational group of bike owners, the more female it becomes. The Silent generation of bike owners was 29% female, and Baby Boomers 41.6%. For Generations X and Y, females are 61% and 60% of the bike-owning population respectively.
Race is another changing demographic. Younger groups of bike owners are much more diverse than their elders. Whites represented 93% of bike owners of the Silent Generation, 91% of Baby Boomers, 83% Generation X and 72% Generation Y. The largest growth areas are among African-American and Hispanic people.
Years ago demographer Brad Edmonson encouraged the bicycle industry to diversify. He said there’s no reason to ignore white boomer males as long as they were active, but pointed out that they are on a timer. He said that the alarm will one day go off and that new types of customers will have to be cultivated and served.
That alarm is now ringing. There is no snooze button. It’s time to throw off the blankets, get up, and greet the future.
Information on The American Bicyclist Study, including the Metro Urban Report, Used Bike Report and Path to Purchase report is available from the Gluskin Townley Group, www.gluskintownleygroup.com