Business is brisk at Curbside Cyclery, a mom-and-pop bike shop in Phoenix, Arizona–but that doesn’t mean it’s business as usual.
“We have experienced an increase in service and sales of recreational and family bikes,” says owner Mike Cox. This is a departure from what the road, mountain, and triathlon bikes he usually works on as race season ramps up. Still, he’s grateful for the ability to stay open during a time when many small businesses in Phoenix are forced to close up shop under the city’s stay-at-home order.
Under most current city- and state-wide ordinances to slow the spread of COVID-19, bike shops are listed as “essential businesses.” In addition to being a critical mode of transportation for low-income households, bikes have gained new regard for their ability to avoid potential viral exposure on public transportation. Cox also says government officials also recognize bikes as a way to stay physically and mentally healthy during quarantine, a sentiment reflected by his clientele: “We’ve had more families dropping off bikes for service, and purchasing bikes so they can enjoy being outside and exercising together as a family.”
Because of the many essential roles bikes play in our current pandemic-stricken world, Curbside Cyclery is able to continue serving customers (with extra precautionary measures for sanitation and social distancing, of course).
It’s a different story at Running Niche in St. Louis, Missouri, where sales are markedly slower. On Monday, March 24, the city issued a mandated stay-at-home order for 30 days, forcing owners Jennifer Henderson and Bob Dyer to close their storefront. The order came on the heels of mass race cancellations in the area, which slowed down sales significantly at the small shop. “This is at a time when we expected our sales to grow,” explains Dyer. “Instead they dropped by 50%.”
The one-two punch of race cancellations and closed storefronts present a potentially debilitating challenge for locally-owned running and triathlon shops, who don’t get the same “essential” designation as their bike-shop counterparts. These businesses rely on a thriving race scene for their livelihood.
“Races create excitement around running, and is the motivator to come in and buy new shoes, bras, socks, and nutrition,” says Dyer. “These cancellations no doubt negatively affect our business.”
Though Running Niche, like many specialty shops in the United States, is barred from doing in-store or curbside sales for at least the month of April, they are trying to serve their customers with phone, e-mail, and online orders. Still, it’s not the same–for the customer or the retailer. Locally-owned businesses are scrappy underdogs in the age of Amazon, earning customers by serving as community hubs for endurance athletes. Group rides and runs, shoe demos, and clinics bring foot traffic to the shop, which in turn yields sales. Social distancing brings all of these activities–and sales–to a screeching halt. Large online retailers will likely emerge from the current economic downturn mostly unscathed; locally-owned shops, not so much. Social distancing may help mitigate the coronavirus crisis, but it also threatens to devastate small businesses. In Seattle, already hard hit by the outbreak, a recent survey found that 35% of small businesses said they may have to close. More than 80% expect the situation to get worse.
“Without continued support from customers during this shutdown period, small stores will not be able to sustain paying their bills,” says Dyer. “There will be a loss of local community running, or as we call it, the ‘running home.’” Cox agrees: “It is important to support all small businesses during this unprecedented time, as we cannot financially afford extended periods of closure or shutdowns.”
25 Ways to Shop Small
1. Shop small first. Many local shops would be happy to order supplies and deliver them to you. Consider the small players instead of automatically buying from larger companies like Amazon.
2. Get a gift card. Even if you aren’t buying anything else because you’re stuck at home, you can give your local shop a vote of confidence by spending even $25 on a gift card to use later, when life returns to normal.
3. Stock up on essentials. Maybe you’re not racing for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stop riding altogether. Get the gear you’ll need, like spare tubes, at your local shop.
4. Offer your services. Think about what skills you might offer to your local shop on a volunteer basis. Are you a web designer? Finance whiz? Social media maven? Reach out and offer free services if you can.
5. Post about the business in your groups. Have you noticed an uptick in runners in the neighborhood? Log in to Nextdoor or your local Facebook groups to let people know where they can get the best gear.
6. Try a new product. Have you been thinking about trying a new drink mix or bike seat? Now is the time to experiment. Call your local shop to get their recommendations, and order away.
7. Use a card, not cash. Right now, it’s all about reducing viral exposure. Paper money and coins pass through many hands and carry many germs. Limiting the amount of cash you use can help limit the spread of those germs, which is especially important right now. Think of other ways you can keep your shop’s employees and fellow customers safe, like not touching items you don’t intend to buy, and staying home if you’re sick.
8. Wear your shop’s shirt or jersey. Be a walking (or running, or cycling) billboard for your local shop by wearing gear emblazoned with their name or logo. It’s a small action that can have a big impact.
9. Attend a virtual team meeting. In addition to rallying the troops, virtual meetings of tri teams or clubs are a great place to remind people of the many ways they can support their home shop.
10. Do your clothes shopping at the shop. Admit it – you’re basically living in the same pair of sweatpants and socks right now. If you need to expand your comfy work-from-home wardrobe, check out the athleisure options available through your local endurance shop.
11. Ask for video seminars. As brick-and-mortar stores pivot to online storefronts, they may be wondering what their customers want and need in lieu of weekly group runs and pre-race seminars. Chime in with your ideas – better yet, offer to help them set up a plan!
12. Give a shout-out on social media. Did you get a virtual gait analysis from your running shop? Did your triathlon shop start using bike messengers to deliver local orders? Tell everyone why your local shop rocks.
13. Take a shop selfie. Show your favorite shop some love with a selfie out front. (Bonus: Post it on social media so others can share in on the love, too!)
14. Get gels & bars. Ask if you can set up an auto-order for supplies you get every month, like gels, bars, sunscreen, and chamois cream. The long-term commitment will be appreciated by your local shop.
15. Reschedule, don’t cancel. Small businesses that host events, like race expos or paid training camps, rely on event income to stay in business. With event cancellations happening daily, it can be unsettling, particularly if there is no plan to reschedule for the future.
16. Strava past. Set up a Strava challenge for a route that travels directly in front of the shop. Even if the storefront is closed, it can still be a reminder for runners to order from that shop online, through e-mail, or by phone.
17. Buy a bonus pair. If you already know what running shoes you love, order a new pair so they’re ready to go when your current pair breaks down. Ditto for swim goggles – it’s always nice to have a backup pair.
18. Upgrade old gear. Are your shorts or sports bras getting worn out? Have you had your eye on a new bike? If you’re able, now is the time to buy.
19. Pre-order new releases. If you’re super excited about the launch of a new shoe, wheelset, or wetsuit, call your local shop to see if you can place a pre-order.
20. Post a positive review. Leave five stars for your favorite shops – Google, Yelp, and Facebook reviews influence which businesses show up when consumers search for products.
21. Get a tune-up. If you’re able to take your bike in for a tune-up at the shop, do it; many offer curbside drop-off and pick-up, along with sanitizing practices, to minimize viral exposure. if your shop is currently closed, however, reach out to the bike mechanics who work there. They may appreciate the opportunity to work from home (or your driveway).
22. Tip in advance. If your shop or club partners with special services, like sports massage therapists or race-day bike mechanics, use Venmo to support these professionals with an advance tip – they’ll be grateful for the cash during a time when they may not be able to make much.
23. Tell your friends. Remind your training buddies, neighbors, and colleagues of your local shop’s offerings – chances are, they’ve defaulted to the bigger online vendors without even realizing it.
24. Say thank you. In many cases, businesses are working at a dramatically reduced capacity. A simple “thank you” can go a long way to spreading a little gratitude and goodwill. Which, as opposed to spreading germs, is something we could all use a little more of right now. Speaking of which:
25. Wash your hands. Seriously. Just do it.