The Bicycle Boom & COVID Pandemic From Inside A Local Bike Shop
Written by: Allison (Souza) Palmer | January 24th, 2020
What a year 2020 was! It, without hesitation, was not the year that any of us anticipated and while it spills itself into 2021, we are hopeful for a brighter, more joyful year ahead.
As a bicycle shop, and passionate cyclists aside, we never could have imagined the caliber of interest in cycling that would spike as a result of the pandemic. This year alone, we have met so many new people who had never stepped foot in our bike shop in the 30 years we have been established. We also reacquainted ourselves with old connections whom we had not seen in some time. Lucky as always, we also continued to see the faces of those whose support & passion for the sport is unwavering.
As the pandemic and increased demand progressed, the challenges that we would be facing came into focus. While the public was seeing one thing, we were feeling something entirely different. There was an evident need for us, as bike shops, to educate our customers with a marriage of transparency and inside information not seen on the surface. We truly felt a responsibility to do our part in providing the below-the-surface look at things. Our conversations with customers shifted from those we would have in a normal industry. Our processes pivoted to adapt to the new world. We had to be creative in a way that would prove that we truly cared, that we were eager to help, and that we would follow-through with our promises as soon as the opportunity allowed.
With that said, we still realize that there are misunderstandings surrounding the pandemic-ridden-bike-boom. In good faith, we find it our responsibility to continue educating the public and provide an inside look at things.
You see shorter hours of operation …
While our hours of operation have been cut from our former schedule, our team is still working the same amount, if not more. Abbreviated hours allow us necessary time before opening to come together as a team. This time is used for weekly training, regular team huddles & housekeeping, responding to customer voicemails and emails, building customer-promised bikes that have arrived, placing special orders for customers, and general catch-up, as necessary.
We feel the pain in getting readjusted to what is a new normal. We realize that spills over into our hours shifting from what they once were. Please know that we need this time before opening our doors to sharpen our skills. This also allows us to be an even better team - our complete focus can be dedicated to serving our customers once our doors open.
The empty store you see must indicate that the pandemic has been good for the bike business …
While there is a healthy demand for bicycles, we wish that our empty store truly defined what is implied by most. We have crossed the threshold of having over one-thousand bikes on backorder. YIKES! This translates to many customers visiting us and our store not having the bicycle they desire available. Many of the bikes on the floor are intermediate to high-end, which comes with a bigger price tag. Daily, we see the disappointment and frustration, and while we know it is not our fault, we feel that sense of let-down. Truly, we feel like dream-crushers, which is not fun for us. Most customers are understanding; we are incredibly grateful to those people. Others are sick of COVID and do not find it a viable excuse any longer. And while it is hard for us to even wrap our heads around, our global supply chain is extremely broken. We feel the impact of it daily, which our customers also feel.
Unfortunately, while most customers are understanding and kind, there are the handful who are not. We have been sworn at, talked down to, and stuck with high-end, etremely niche product because of something that is entirely out of our entire world’s control. We have a level of tolerance and understanding for customer frustration, but we will not allow poor treatment of our team. We provide dedication and tireless efforts to sourcing new bikes and parts for you. We simply ask for your kindness and humanity in return; even when things are not going they way either of us had hoped. We wish we had more control, but the only control that we have right now is to adapt the best way we can. This requires flexibility and understanding from multiple levels.
An ETA was communicated to you for your new bike or parts, but it still has not arrived …
While our manufacturers are trying their hardest to estimate timelines that align with demand on their end, they sometimes miscalculate. We think the most important thing for all of us to remember is this: we have never been in this exact situation before. Our situation is unique, but it is not isolated. Therefore, none of us know definitively what we are doing, but some of us are trying our best and working our hardest at this.
In our current situation, most parts and bikes are not immediately available. Sourcing something as simple as bicycle tubes has become challenging. Most tubes are on backorder from our vendors as we speak. Items that we are receiving right now - bikes in particular - were from orders placed in May & June of 2020. It sounds crazy, but this is our reality. Our team has even gone as far as pulling good parts off of parts-bikes and turning to eBay & Amazon to turn work orders around faster.
When we communicate an estimated shipping date to you, we also communicate that this might change. It could get pushed up, which would be favorable, but it also could get pushed back. We know that the latter half of that statement is disappointing. It is not fun for us to have to bear that news to you. We have witnessed dates move up and then get pushed out. Sometimes dates change a few times, making it almost impossible to have a pulse on things. While we could call our partners and kick and scream, we realize that will not change the reality of the situation. We, too, hope that our customers hold that same awareness. While we understand your disappointment, please also know that we are advocating for you daily. Our Brand Representatives are also advocating for our family of cyclists by keeping their eyes out for cancelled bikes and parts from other dealer orders, then sending them our way when possible. We all are in this together and there is no lack of effort being put forth.
We put your name on a waiting list back when the pandemic hit and you have not gotten a call yet.
We started a waitlist for bikes back in March when inventory from the warehouses started thinning and becoming unavailable. This list grew exponentially. Since the list’s inception, we have hundreds, if not one thousand, names and contact information for desired bicycles that we could not get our hands on.
We promise that we are calling people on our waitlist. With that said, we have a great deal of customers who have put good faith in our shop and placed a deposit for the bike they want. Bikes with deposits are then allocated and unavailable to waitlist prospects. For this reason, while we are seeing bikes coming in on backorder, very few are making it to the floor. For the handful that make it to our storefront, we call people on our waitlists and provide a first-come-first-serve priority to these people. This is our gesture of gratitude to those who have been so patient and understanding towards us. Some have already found bikes, which always makes us excited to hear (we just want to know you’re out on a bike and having fun; even if you sourced the bike elsewhere. This does not mean that we will shun you from the shop or do not want to see/service your new bike in the future. Like kids in a candy shop, we cannot wait to see your new bike). In those cases, we move onto the next customer on the waitlist and so the process goes on …
Ultimately, the best way to secure a bicycle for 2021 is to place a deposit on the bike you desire. Yes, in most cases this will require the patience of waiting for that bike to become available, but you will have a bike coming your way vs. holding onto luck of the draw. This allocates the bike to you specifically and becomes unavailable for other interested customers.
You took a drive to the shop and we are closed to observe a holiday …
We look forward to a much needed, well-deserved break for our team. Our business never shutdown because of the pandemic. While we offered curbside & outdoor-only service for a while, we remained open as an essential business. We showed up even on days off to keep the train moving forward. We put in long tireless days - sometimes 12+ hours long - sacrificing meals and breaks just to keep up. Things have normalized enough to allow us the chance to catch our breath, but we are still recovering from the exhaustion that 2020 brought.
Just like the rest of the world, rest is necessary for our team. Working with the public and taking a risk of exposing ourselves multiple times throughout the day, we also need to ensure that we are getting rest to sustain good health – both mental and physical. Our team needs that and they very well deserve it.
We understand that our business being closed can be frustrating from a customer standpoint. With that said, we encourage all shoppers to conduct a quick Google search prior to visiting us. We always update our hours on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Google, Yelp, and our website. We regularly post in-store reminders & also update the message on our machine. Facebook and Instagram are also the best way to receive weekly updates about new products and news within the shop, so be sure to follow us if you do not already.
Along with that, we also launched a brand new website at the end of December, which allows cyclists to shop for products – both in-stock and other vendors items – and make purchases. Shoppers will have the option to pick up their order in-store or have their items shipped directly too them. We are really excited to finally offer this service to our group of riders. No matter what time of day, or day of the week, you can find the cycling gear & supplies you need. We realize this was well over-due and hope you will enjoy the ease and convenience of this brand new offering!
You miss the MCC group rides and hope they will return sooner than later. We feel you! But …
While many people ask us when we are going to bring back our group rides, and we would love to shout “come out this Sunday”, we have a level of responsibility to meet ; for you and our team. We cannot consciously, ethically, or morally hold in-person group rides at this time. Quite frankly, it would present a huge liability at our doorstep, even with social distancing and masks.
For that reason, we encourage you to consider joining us on Zwift this winter. Our goal is to set at least one weekly group ride where we all can connect and sweat together, without putting each other at risk. If you are unfamiliar with smart trainers and riding inside, come see us! We would be happy to walk you through some options. If you decide to pull the trigger on one, we will provide an included hands-on orientation & initial setup, getting you rolling and connected to the app prior to going home.
All in all, 2020 did not pan out the way we expected it to, but we still have a lot to be grateful for. We have a wonderful support system of cyclists who genuinely want to see us succeed. We are also fortunate in our community that rallies together in trying times. We met so many new faces and can only hope that our journey and growth together continues for years to come. We have a team that powers this dream with both courage and might day-in-and-day-out. They are the oxygen to Mystic Cycle’s lungs and the heartbeat within.
As we lube the chain for 2021, our wish is that this year will be filled with more joy, less worry, and endless kindness. We hope for things to normalize a bit, and while we are holding our breath with the rest of the world, we look forward to the things within our control: more adventures, defining goals and setting new PRs, discovering new places, making new friends through the platform of cycling, and empowering this group of people to stick together and have fun. We thank you for the life you gave us in 2020 and look forward to defining a new year together.