In this age of random Covid hot spots and unexpected lockdowns, I’ve chosen not to risk too many road trips. Not because of health concerns, but just to avoid the potential disruption of having to quarantine and get tested through being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
On Friday 26th March I finally poked my head out of the burrow, and headed to Sydney where I visited five busy bike shops.
None of these were pre-arranged ‘on the record’ visits, but I got permission in four of the stores to take a few photos and got a general feel for how things were going.
Here’s a summary of the five stores I visited.
Engadine Cycles and Scooters has been owned and run for many years by two generations of the Marsh family. It’s an outer suburban, family bike shop focusing on entry level adult bikes, kids bikes and, being surrounded by bushland with MTB trails, mountain bikes. It’s also strong in scooters (non-electric) and BMX.
This relatively small store is always packed to the rafters and this visit was no exception. The owners are buying many back orders that other shops are not taking to make sure they’re heavily stocked as insurance against future shortages. So storage space is at a premium, with overflow stock being stored off-site.
Chain Reaction Bicycle Company is a very large, modern, two level store that was purpose built by founder and owner Craig Milton. It’s located a couple of blocks back from the ocean on the main road into the popular beachside suburb of Cronulla. One corner of the store is set up as a café, which was doing a roaring trade when I visited.
Chain Reaction stocks a dozen bike brands with the main ones being Giant, Merida and Norco. The floor looked packed with stock across a wide range of bikes.
Clarence St Cyclery is one of Australia’s best known bike stores. It now shares this city centre street with two other large bike shops, both on the same side of the street: Jet Cycles and Giant Sydney.
Clarence Street, which is now owned by Trek, had the lightest bicycle stock of the five shops I visited that day. Still far from empty and with a good range, but perhaps a third less stock than I’ve traditionally seen in the store over the years.
Jet Cycles, a short stroll to the north, is the key Specialized dealer for the Sydney CBD. When it was founded by Mark Newton in 2010 it was pretty much wall to wall Specialized, with their ‘concept store’ fitout. These days Specialized is still their biggest brand, but they also stock Merida, Norco, Cervélo and BMC.
Jet was looking full of stock and appeared to have the most staff on duty during the Friday lunch time when I was visiting.
A few blocks to the south is Giant Sydney which as the name suggests only stocks the Giant family of brands. They were also looking full of stock.
In summary, a customer walking into any of these five stores would not have known at first glance that there was any shortage of stock in Australia. All of the owners, managers and employees that I chatted with spoke about certain models or ranges that were in short supply but if this selection of stores is any indication, retail stock levels are building up as demand starts to ease off and new shipments continue to land in Australia.
It’s still too early to tell if stock levels will keep getting better from here. Most wholesalers are still unloading containers then shipping the bikes straight out to retailers on back order without being able to re-fill their warehouses. But not every store is taking all of their back orders, so those with deeper pockets are being offered extra bikes above their standard wholesaler allocations.
To me, the two biggest questions that will determine stock levels for the next six months are:
For how long with the current strong consumer demand in Australia continue?
How strong will northern hemisphere demand be for their spring and summer seasons?
In Australia, where we’re virtually locally transmitted case free now, it’s easy to forget that the rates of daily new cases and deaths overseas are at record levels and still rising sharply.
So there’s new rounds of lockdowns and demand for bikes could skyrocket again.
It will be very hard for USA or European based brands not to prioritise their home markets at the expense of Australia over next six months or so, until hopefully vaccinations get to a level where they start to return life to ‘normal’. Their home markets are not only larger, but more profitable.
If the import tap dries up and local demand remains strong, then it won’t take too long for even well stocked stores to be finding bigger gaps in their range.
But Australian wholesalers have put in record forward orders, and if the supply arrives from overseas on schedule and local demand drops significantly, it also won’t be long before wholesale warehouses start re-filling. Then the question becomes can they throttle back in time before there’s a glut? With wholesalers currently being forced to make such long-term forward commitments to manufacturers, that will be easier said than done.
But dealers would certainly prefer to go back to being able to order just what they require after each sale.
Join the Conversation: Tell us how your bike store or warehouse is currently looking compared to your normal supply?