In spite of today’s global economy, catering to the local community is still a highly effective way for an independent retailer to build a strong customer base. For example, a recent report on bike retailers in Washington, DC indicates that they have managed to create loyal customer pools by servicing their local communities. Hyattsville, Maryland is the home of Arrow Bicycle, opened by Chris Militello and Chris Davidson, just at the moment when the recession first hit in the spring of 2008. Militello and Davison had resided in the neighborhood for over a decade, and both came to the conclusion that the area could really use a bike shop.
One of the things Militello and Davison wanted was a bright, open floor space. They achieved this with the help of popular bike distributor, Giant. Giant’s design and merchandising assistance allowed Arrow to open as a Giant bicycle store. A location was selected on a street slated for a redevelopment that never happened, thanks to the recession. The traffic is less than Militello and Davidson had hoped for, but nevertheless they have built a loyal, local customer base. “We’re hitting what we want to hit, but not by as much as we had hoped. Our three year plan turned into a five year plan,” says Militello. “Still, we wouldn’t change what we did, and we share our story with other prospective entrepreneurs through the local small business administration. We tell them it’s a struggle, but we love it.”
Meanwhile, another local bike retailer in the nearby Adam’s Morgan neighborhood, City Bikes, has had success selling flat bar steel road bikes in its two story urban store. Their approach has been to specifically cater to the city dweller. “We’ve always been commuter and urban focused. It’s how people use bikes to get around the city,” says merchandising manager, Eric Welp.
City Bikes has allocated a marketing budget in the past several years to focus on the commuter market. This means spending it with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and promoting Bike to Work Month. Welp maintains that while other customer bases have come and gone, the commuter market has remained a steady source of continual growth, year after year.
This story is based on a report featured in Bicycle Retailer & Industry News.