Bikes and fitness aren’t strange bedfellows to the owners at Two Wheeler Dealer Cycle & Fitness. In fact, they are pretty intimate categories.
Fitness is so important in the Sioux Falls, S.D., long-time bike and fitness retailer that it now has an expansive, newly added, bright and open area that is being used to test out the concept of a “brand store” for Star Trac’s new ST Fitness retail line that will officially launch at the Health & Fitness Business show in July.
That means store co-owner Craig Kirsch indeed has stuck his neck out a bit since he will now only carry the ST Fitness brand, as well as its Star Trac product family and some of the Lamar and Ignite product. But the reasons are all good.
“I’d rather be very important to one vendor than be just another guy to a lot,” Kirsch told SNEWS®.
At one point, he said he carried about seven bike brands and six fitness brands, and then something happened: “Every time I cut a vendor I’d notice my bottom line went up,” he said to partly explain why he is now an exclusively ST Fitness dealer. “Sure, there’s a risk involved if your vendor has problems…. But it’s easier for your staff because they have to only know one product line, not six.”
That means the risk for Kirsch is offset by not only the economic gains but also the bookkeeping and staff training gains.
“It works well for us to focus,” added Kirsch, noting that his bike side is exclusively Specialized.
Planning in gear for a year
Originally, Two Wheeler (www.twowheelerdealer.com) was going to pilot a concept store for Lamar products, but then that company had problems and was forced to shut down. Kirsch, who goes back many years with President Kevin Lamar to bike business and Schwinn days, said he trusted it would work out. Kevin Lamar landed at Star Trac to head up that company’s new retail line and the Two Wheeler deal was off and running again. Meanwhile, Kirsch and crew had continued in the fall and winter to build out the Sioux Falls store, adding about 2,000 square feet for the fitness area for a total of 9,000 square feet.
Its grand opening was late April, which unfortunately missed the last fitness busy season but will allow it to get out the kinks over the slower summer season for fitness, a time when the bike business keeps them busy. Nevertheless, he’s stocked up with Star Trac product and awaits the ST product, which Kevin Lamar said should ship in September or October after its launch in July.
Lamar said based on how this arrangement works out they will be looking for other dealers interested in exclusive brand store arrangements that could open over the winter.
“For a dealer to be important to one manufacturer gives them strength and service,” Lamar told SNEWS®. “It simplifies the business. It allows us to invest in his store too.”
Kirsch admitted he is sometimes tempted by some cool new piece of equipment from another company but in the long run this works out best. Lamar noted that if a concept store wanted to carry something unlike anything Star Trac offered, they could discuss it.
Designing, differentiating a space
Indeed, Kirsch said the Star Trac team has helped him design and decorate the area, where he has large graphics on warm gray walls and a 50-inch flat screen TV showing Spinning DVDs. Still to come are additional splashes of red to brighten up the area and to better coordinate with the bright red splashes in the bike area and to pick up red flecks in the gray flooring.
There is even a customer lounge area with a coffee bar and an Internet kiosk, he said.
Long story short, the fitness area to Two Wheeler is not and has never been a step-child to the bike business since the stores opened in 1986 (Kirsch was the founder of the business but sold it in 2007 and is now a partner in only the Sioux Falls store.)
“So many bike shops in the day would have a (Schwinn) AirDyne bike in the corner and hope for sales,” he said. “We aren’t like that. Fitness is as important to us as the bike side. There are so many advantages for the two of them to work together.”
In addition, he said it allows him to hire good people, train them and keep them all year. Many bike shops put on staff during the spring and summer then let them go over the winter.
Bottom line is that a bike store has to be committed to fitness. For Kirsch, their sales are nearly 50/50.
“It can’t just be a seasonal sideline,” he explained. “You have to make a commitment to it and have your people trained.”
He expressed surprise that not more dealers pay more attention to fitness: “The combination … allows us to generate cash flow year-round, rather than hibernating through the winter, like most northern-tier bike shops do, or suffering through slow summer sales, as many fitness dealers do,” he said. “The formula for success is pretty much the same for both bikes and fitness -- maintain an attractive retail environment, build strong relationships with a few key vendors, recruit and train a qualified staff, pay attention to details, and try to work harder than the guy down the street.”
You also have to respect your customers, he said. For example don’t roll up a little girls cute bike trike with frilly bike décor next to a serious treadmill and don’t but a $4,000 road bike next to a home gym. The serious customers for those types of pieces, he said, may not respond favorably or believe you are serious.
Two Wheeler has high hopes for the business, despite the current economy, partly because he also has confidence in his supplier-partner.
“We have a nice product line, Kirsch said, “and we’re confident we’ll succeed.”
SNEWS® View: We have seen and heard from a good number of bike stores who indeed do a pretty substantial fitness business. Nevertheless, especially in smaller towns or rural areas, we too have been surprised that more local bike shops don’t also look to fitness since it’s the perfect off-season sales opportunity. Fitness service may be a bit daunting at first but a good supplier should be able to help them over that hurdle. With today’s economy, any retailer can’t afford to have a down season. We’ll look forward to seeing how this works out for Two Wheeler and Star Trac, and we’d love to hear from other bike dealers about their fitness side of the business.