The National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA) promotes the potential as well as the dangers of opening a bike shop in the United States. The number of bike shops has shrunk from about 8,000 stores in 1982 to 4,000 in 2013, reflecting the costs and challenges in this competitive industry. For those bike shops that are able to stay alive beyond the first year, the 16.2 million bicycles sold in 2013 and $5.8 billion in industry revenues are promising. Your bike shop may be able to survive if you keep popular bikes in stock and offer services unavailable at other shops.
Create a business plan for your bike shop that addresses local competition as well as the infrastructure for biking in your city. Assess the number of big-box retailers, sports suppliers and bike shops within an hour's drive to determine the level of competition for your business. Research existing and proposed bike trails before conducting an informal survey of cycling culture in your business plan.
Rent retail space for your bike shop that is sufficient to hold bicycles, accessories and supplies. Your bike shop should be located in retail-heavy areas where walk-ins are common. Complete your rental or purchasing paperwork before completing the application for your business permit.
Focus on creative displays in your store window and floor space to promote high-end products in your inventory. Your store window can use colorful lettering, faux graffiti images and a fully outfitted cycling dummy to appeal visually to customers. Keep a display model of every bike in your store on the floor while storing the rest in the back room or basement.
Join the National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA) to gain access to research and business advice for bike shop owners. The annual membership fee of $125 opens up dealer contacts, marketing advice and other information to first-time shop owners. The NBDA also features member shops on its main page which can increase online and mail order sales.
Arrange for regular shipments from a bicycle wholesaler like Wilson Bicycle Sales before opening your bike shop. Your monthly shipments of bicycle jerseys, helmets, replacement seats and other accessories should be low in the early months to avoid overstocking. Inquire about special orders for customers interested in rare or discontinued models to increase services offered to your customers.
Choose hours of operation for your bike shop that will maximize the number of customers in your shop. In your first few months, your bike shop should be open from early afternoon to late night to account for the varying schedules of bike commuters and avid cyclists. Your weekend hours should be substantial to attract busy professionals who cannot get to the shop during the week.
Hire a handful of bike and outdoor enthusiasts to staff your bike shop on a part-time basis. In addition to bicycle sales people, your newspaper and online recruiting ads should focus on applicants with bike repair experience. Quiz every applicant on bicycle brand knowledge to ensure that your staff is ready to sell from day one.
Devote wall space in your bike shop to trail maps, event posters and basic maintenance tips to educate your customers. Expand your educational efforts by developing a website for your store with additional tips as well as bike photos and ordering information. If your community lacks formal trail maps or a bicycle trail system, create your own map to point out bike-friendly areas in your region.
Develop a creative advertising campaign to let local cyclists and exercise nuts know about your grand opening. Offer coupons for accessories and apparel during your opening week to bicyclists along local streets and paths. Post simple advertisements with coupons at colleges, gyms and other businesses in your community to increase exposure for your bike shop.
Sponsor local bicyclists at races, relays and triathlons to associate your bike shop with competitive cycling. Your sponsorship can range from offering a free bicycle and accessories to a cyclist to paying for training, bike repairs and apparel for an entire season. Focus on young cyclists who are willing to wear your name on their jerseys and ride bicycles carried in your store to get the most out of your investment.
Limit your months of operation to late spring, summer and early fall if your store is located in wintry environments. Bike shops in the upper Midwest and Northeast often close November 1st to April 1st due to the drop-off in bike riding due to sleet, snow and frigid temperatures. Your bike shop may want to limit hours to weekends and a handful of nights during the winter holiday season to handle gift purchases for diehard cyclists.
Nicholas Katers has been a freelance writer since 2006. He teaches American history at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wis. His past works include articles for "CCN Magazine," "The History Teacher" and "The Internationalist" magazine. Katers holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in American history from University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, respectively.