In cycling and in business, forward momentum is essential. That’s why we created The Bike Cooperative. Because cooperation brings us further, faster. While plenty has changed in the last 15 years, what hasn’t changed is our mission to empower independent local bike shops with the scale and support to thrive.
But a cooperative is only as strong as its members, which is why we’re excited to celebrate the first recipient of The Bike Cooperative’s Retailer of the Year award: Spokes, Etc. of Northern Virginia.
The Bike Cooperative’s Retailer of the Year award doesn’t celebrate the largest or highest-volume retailer. It recognizes those who exemplify the momentum we seek to create for the industry. By embracing new ideas for their shops, moving forward with positivity, and actively contributing their knowledge as a co-op member; we all benefit.
Nothing against our newest members, but the true impact of some co-op tools takes a little time!
One of our co-op’s strengths is the scale to unlock powerful programs. The Retailer of the Year takes full advantage of that scale.
Hardly old fashioned or stuck in the past, this member actively works to bring their business and the co-op one step further through active discussion and an open mind.
A tool is only as good as the team using it, and the Retailer of the Year takes a proactive approach to using theirs to the fullest.
Our co-op’s shared knowledge gives every member an edge, and the Retailer of the Year is never too shy to share.
For 2020, The Bike Cooperative staff deliberated and came to the unanimous decision that our inaugural Retailer of the Year award should go to Spokes, Etc.
For over 35 years, “Spokes” has been serving cyclists in Northern Virginia and the D.C. area. with six locations, a positive attitude, and an eye for finding solutions. Since joining the cooperative in 2014, they have been an exemplary member. Not just for demonstrating great success with various programs, but because of their general positivity and willingness to contribute to the co-op.
Owners Jim Strang and Bob Fadel, store managers, and staff have offered input, knowledge, and support that have consistently driven the co-op and its members further. As a whole, they have been instrumental in creating some of the co-op’s most powerful best practices.
Hear more from Steve Beheler (Operations Manager) to learn how our Retailer of the Year approached 2020, thoughts on running a modern, independent bike shop, and their goals for the future.
No strangers to recognition, Spokes etc. also won the honor of ‘Best Bike Shop in Arlington’ by Arlington Magazine in Best of Arlington 2021
Spokes Etc. incorporated in 1985, and we opened our first store in 1986 (the Quaker Lane location). I started as a part timer around 1993.
“I remember being told by Jim (President), ‘We’ll never be the least expensive shop, we’ll never be the most convenient for everyone, we’ll never have every single item that every customer wants, but we can always be the nicest people to deal with.'” – Steve Beheler, Operations Manager
That still resonates today, and it’s still the basic backbone of any successful, long term business. I’d say one of the greatest changes is in the bike buying process. In the “old days”, customers would come in looking for a bike, generally not knowing what style of bike would be best for them. From there you’d talk about road, mountain, hybrid, etc. Then you’d start the test ride process, comparing, and so forth. Now, customers come in more educated than ever and generally know exactly what they’re looking for, sometimes right down to the model and size. The process is just more efficient for everyone.
I’d say another huge change is with the introduction of Point of Sale systems and data in general. Being able to pull all of that data from your POS, Google, your website, traffic counters, etc, provides so much more intel on what’s happening inside and outside your store.
Well, 2020 was nuts! It was also a record year for us, as it was for many in the industry. Business was way up in sales, in bike units, service, and just about every single category. We feel very fortunate to be in the industry that we are in.
None of us saw it coming. With that said, it all came with major challenges. From the inventory supply strains, to staffing, and dealing with a totally new way of doing business, it wasn’t easy.
This was, by far, the most challenging time ever in retail and our team members were the glue that kept it all together. They made the year a huge success business-wise. We would have never had the success we had this year without our incredible staff, and I can’t emphasize that enough. They put in some very long hours, under stressful circumstances, and really got us through every exhausting day.
I cannot thank them enough for their efforts! We were also pleasantly surprised at how healthy our staff stayed. With six stores and thousands of interactions a day, we were very fortunate.
In the beginning, COVID really made things a challenge. From the lines outside the store, monitoring the amount of people, keeping everyone comfortable from a risk perspective, constant cleaning, trying to find sanitizer, and so on. Oh, and let’s not forget overselling bikes between in-store sales and the amount of online orders coming through. We couldn’t process online orders fast enough!
So 2020 was obviously full of surprises, but the unprecedented demand really surprised us the most. There’s just never been anything like this in our industry, ever. Even the “Lance effect” in the 2000’s was nowhere near this. None of us knew what to expect in those first few weeks of COVID, and it started to become clear.
“After about 3-4 weeks of data you could see what was going on. We were witnessing the biggest bike boom ever”
Another surprise was the consumer behavior in how they purchased. Customers just wanted a bike. For most people it really didn’t matter what the brand was, and eventually, price point became less and less relevant as well. As long as they could go home with a bike, they were happy!
Getting product and staffing. There just wasn’t enough staff to deal with the demand from customers and the demand it took to keep up with bike builds and labor. It was a constant day-to-day struggle. On top of that, we were also trying to manage the massive increase in business and demand in a more condensed time frame hours-wise.
That said, the upsides to 2020 are more than we ever could have thought, especially for our industry. Our business experienced huge growth, in terms of our customer base, in sales, and in profitability. We also managed to hire a lot of quality people due to them leaving other industries.
“Seeing all of these people come in, looking to buy a bike to spend time together as a family, get healthy, or just simply have something else to do exercise wise was just so awesome to see!”
We sold so many more bikes compared to the years past, and now we just need to make sure we turn those customers into life-long cyclists!
2020 was a year of growth and action for Spokes Etc. Using data from co-op market research, some stores offered special products and services such as fittings and indoor trainer accessories.
Focus on your purchasing. Buy smart. Analyze data. Get product on backorder. Not just bikes, but P&A as well. If not, you’re probably not going to see a lot of items ever in open stock for quite awhile. Also, don’t leave money on the table. Look for easy ways to increase ATV, and to raise the average price of bikes sold. For that, we’re using the co-op’s Keep it Rolling Protection Plans and Freedom to Ride financing. It’s simple and it works. It’s also great for the consumer’s buying confidence, and your bottom line. That may be two pieces of advice, but they’re both equally important!
Initially we joined for the co-op’s much lower AMEX processing, which saved us thousands on an annualized basis. Now, we run all of our payment processing through TBC.
We’ve also participated in the Freedom to Ride program and Keep it Rolling Protection Plans for years and have fantastic success with them, taking profitability one step further. So far they’ve been the easiest ways for us to add to our bottom line.
Then, there’s the network component of the co-op. Interacting with other retailers has been very productive, especially in the last year. We all learned a few things from listening in on monthly calls and communicating outside of that. From a data perspective, the metrics from the Co-optics tool that we’re able to access to compare our performance to other members across the country has been really nice.
Learn more about Co-Optics: The Bike Cooperative’s exclusive retail data, benchmarking, and profit optimization tool
It took some adjustment to get everyone to remember to offer financing and warranty plans, but that’s to be expected. We are well beyond those days now. Today, everyone embraces it. Financing and warranty programs have become part of every transaction, especially with bike sales.
If you want to grow your business this year, the single easiest thing you can do is finance more bike sales. Our average bike sold is basically double in price when it’s financed. That put’s a lot more money in the register at the end of each day.
Not only that, those 12 month transactions are also cheaper to process than almost all credit cards! So we also incentivize our staff to sell with these programs, so it puts money right back in their pockets as well. It’s a winning situation for the consumer, the employee, and us as a business.
This year I’d like to really tap into the open line of credit potential as well, and come up with some strong campaigns to remind those customers that they have that buying power with FTR.
– Steve Beheler, Operations Manager
I think it’s a great idea, and it’s incredibly valuable. I can see where some may be reluctant to provide certain info, but generally it’s being shared with members outside your market. If another shop shares how successful they’ve been promoting bike warranties a certain way, I’d love to hear about it
Likewise, when I see a pattern in something I think may be worth letting others know about – I’ll share that as well. Some of us have been doing this for a long time, and we’ve learned a lot from the mistakes we’ve made over the years. It’s nice to educate others to not make those same mistakes, and more importantly, to share the success stories we’ve picked up along the way.
In terms of organizing all of that insight and information into something useful, everyone at TBC has been fantastic to work with. The information they share is incredibly useful – financing stats, data, support for protection plans, and so on. They’re always willing to listen, and you absolutely get the feeling that they really do have our best interest in mind as a cooperative and as individual members. We’re not just an account number, we’re a relationship, and it’s much appreciated!
Honestly, we’ll probably use that money to focus on setting up time to practice more role playing, helping ourselves learn how to better overcome objections with financing, and extended warranties. I know we have room for improvement here, and we have some lofty goals with those two programs for 2021. But, I feel it’s easily obtainable with consistent training, and sharing best practices between all of our staff. We’re excited for this year!
Helping retailers maintain their independence and improve their businesses