Northern Nevada bike shops see positive pandemic impacts – but for how long?
RENO, Nev. — “I feel like a guy selling ice cream cones in hell,” says Leon Zasadny without a lick of embellishment.
It’s a Wednesday morning in late May, and Zasadny, owner of Sierra Cyclesmith in South Reno, is making a bike delivery to a customer at Lake Tahoe before he opens his shop for the day.
Once his doors open, for those next 6 hours, Zasadny will talk — on the phone and in person (from 6 feet away, of course) — to a steady stream of people who either want to buy a bike or need a bike repaired.
“Sales have gone through the roof — stuff is just flying off the shelves,” Zasadny says. “And our phone rings off the hook all day.
He’s not being overdramatic.
Zasadny said his sales, year-to-date, have tripled at Sierra Cyclesmith since the coronavirus pandemic slammed the brakes on the U.S. economy in March.
While the COVID crisis has stopped many businesses in their tracks, the pandemic has been a boon for bike shops, which have seen a surge in demand in Northern Nevada and beyond.
The contributing factors are many. With gyms shuttered for months, many people have chosen socially-distanced bike rides to stay fit and keep sane. Others bought a new bike or dusted off their old Schwinn for a safe alternative to public transportation.
And then there’s the cooped-up children, home from school since mid-March, whose parents looked for new ways to get them outside and burn their pent-up energy.
‘A BIKE BOOM’
So, when’s the last time Randy Collins, owner of College Cyclery in Midtown Reno, saw this big of a sales spike at his longtime shop?
“Nixon was in office, the Vietnam War was still going on,” remarks Collins, who opened his store back in 1973.
Forty-seven years later, he’s seeing a similar surge in business. He said his sales started taking off back in February and have not slowed since.
“We doubled our quarter from last year,” he said. “All of our gross sales doubled and our profit tripled.
“There’s a bike boom going on right now, nationwide, and we’re feeling it for sure.”
In March, national sales of bicycles, equipment and repair services were up by 50% over last year, according to the NPD Group, a market research company. Broken down: sales of leisure bikes jumped 121%, commuter and fitness bikes increased 66%, children’s bikes rose 59%, and electric bikes were up 85%.
A large part of any bike shop’s operations are not just sales, but service as well. With more and more people pulling cobwebbed bikes from garages and attics, tune-ups and fixes are on the rise. In fact, independent bike shops saw repairs go up by 20% in March, according to the NDP Group.
“A lot of bikes that we are seeing brought in were bikes that haven’t been ridden in decades,” said Zasadny, adding that his shop’s service volume has doubled in recent weeks. “Which is fine, we fix anything you can push in.”
This uptick in sales and repairs comes at a time when shops have reduced their store hours and limited the number of customers allowed in the showroom to abide with social distancing guidelines.
“When everything got shut down, we started to get a lot of manic people freaking out and buying stuff,” Zasadny explained. “It’s been a big shot in the arm as far as the amount of customers. Once the gyms started shutting down and whatnot, then it started to really pick up steam.”
WEAK SUPPLY CHAIN
So much so that Sierra Cyclesmith — like many bike shops across the country — is struggling to keep its store stocked due to the disruption of the global supply chain. Prior to the pandemic, Zasadny said his 2,000-square-foot Reno shop typically had “at least” 300 bicycles in stock.
That’s no longer the case.
“I have maybe 100 built bikes on the floor, and maybe 30 or 40 in boxes,” he said. “I’m down about 50% of what I normally carry in terms of bike numbers … We’re spending a couple hours a day trying to find product, but all of our vendors are pretty much skunked on everything.
“Supply chain-wise, it’s pretty bleak out there.”
Collins echoed that sentiment. Though he said College Cyclery’s supply is in good shape for now, Collins knows that might be a different story as spring rolls into summer and the busy season gets busier.
“I would imagine it’s going to affect the next 60 days — we’re going to have some problems with supply,” Collins said.
USED BIKES EFFECT
For the nonprofit Reno Bike Project, supply has not been an issue. However, being a used bicycle and repair shop has been an added hurdle amid the public health crisis, said Kurstin Graham, manager of the RBP.
Because the shop’s bikes are used and customers need to test a lot of bikes before finding the right fit, Graham said the amount of contact was “too great” for the nonprofit business to operate safely. And so, once the pandemic shut down the state, the Reno Bike Project halted selling or renting bikes for more than two months.
“We’ve been inundated with phone calls asking if we have bikes to sell,” said Graham, noting he has about a two-month supply of bikes. “The reality is, I have hundreds of bikes to sell people, but I haven’t been able to sell them.”
Graham said the Reno Bike Project reopened its sales in the final week of May, selling bikes by one-on-one appointments only.
“We’re going to sell out of everything very quickly,” he added.
As a result, Graham expects the shop’s service and bike sales figures to double compared to this time period last year. However, he said that cancellation of this summer’s Burning Man — an annual haven for thousands of used bike riders — will be the biggest impact to the Reno Bike Project’s revenue.
“We’re one of the few shops in town that really benefits from Burning Man, immensely,” said Graham, who was projecting to sell roughly 1,500 bikes for the annual counterculture event 100 miles north of Reno. “About 20% of our working capital comes from money we make during Burning Man.”
WHERE DOES THE PATH LEAD?
Still, Graham said the heightened interest in bike riding from Northern Nevadans is “the most he’s ever seen,” adding: “For Reno as a whole, I think it’s very exciting.”
The question is: Will it be a fad or will it last? Collins, who owns the oldest bike shop in Nevada and entered the industry during the last bike boom, leans toward the latter.
“My personal experience is that we are counter-cyclical — we go through recessions very well, with very little change,” he explained. “When things go bad, like with the coronavirus, we just kind of go the opposite.
“I see things following the last bike boom of the early ’70s, so it could go for a year or two or three,” he continued. “I feel the demand should be there for some time. But, it is cautionary, as far as inventory control, to still be able to be pliable to market demand.”
Months into the pandemic, many states and regions are in stages of recovery, some slower than others — and Reno-Sparks is in a much better position than most, says Sacramento financial analyst Sanjay Varshney.