ST. GEORGE — While most businesses have struggled to stay afloat during the past few months, one local industry has flourished but struggled in a much different way.
Benefiting from all the stir-craziness of people isolating in their homes has been local bicycle shops that have seen a steady flow of customers. But because of that, they have also found they are quickly running out of their 2020 inventory.
Not to worry said Joey Dye, marketing director of Red Rock Bicycle, Co.
While COVID-19 has put a strain on finding an entry-level bicycle for less than $500, Red Rock’s fall inventory has already been ordered so availability should smooth out in the coming months.
“Going into any sort of crisis, it’s a bit unnerving because you are not sure what the market is going to tend to do,” Dye said. “But, because we are a world-class destination for cycling we are a pretty stable industry from its scale. We have everything from people who choose to use bicycles as a method of transportation to get to work and get around the city … and others who take to our trail system.”
Dye added when the coronavirus hit and shelter in place became the norm, gyms closed, vacations canceled and families began searching how to elevate the mental pressures of cabin fever.
“The only thing that wasn’t closed was being outside,” Dye said. “Yes, we’ve definitely seen a bloom in bicycle sales. It’s really fun to see everyone out on a bike and cruising through my neighborhood.”
To the extent of St. George’s trail system’s popularity, bike shops from throughout the region – including those in Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Los Angeles – have reached out to Southern Utah shops to purchase “any” inventory possible.
With pricetags upwards of $12,000 and more for high-end mountain bikes and the motor-assisted e-bikes, even more, the inventory has been relatively available, it’s the entry-level bikes that have “flown off the racks”, Dye said.
“We’ve had a hard time getting caught up the inventory of anything under $3,000,” he added. “Not only did this happen here but it hit globally. Bicycle supply is a global supply and everything got slurped up where you could find it.”
Along with a supply chain bug-a-boo was the timing of COVID-19 coinciding so near the typical release of new year models during late summer.
“Spring is our window to sell though inventory and a busy time normally,” Dye said. “We will see things get caught back up. In fact, we have a 2021 model just released in now … and feeder bikes, entry-level, are really important to us because this is where people get hooked on the sport and then decide to upgrade. We are seeing things get caught back up.”
While many industry sector employees have filed unemployment claims, for local bike shops like Red Rock it has been the opposite – finding the need to hire “a few” additional employees instead of laying off anyone, Dye added.
“The key was tightening our belt and finding different business practices to protect our employees and our customers,” he said. “It was a lot of massive wrenches thrown into our daily operations. We make sure every surface in our store is disinfected regularly.”
Unemployment numbers are not lost on businesses including bicycle shops.
The three industries that saw the highest percentage of new unemployment claims – June 14 through Saturday – were office and administrative support (11.7%), management occupations (10%), and production occupations (8.6%).
The five counties in Utah that had the highest number of individuals file new unemployment insurance claims were Salt Lake (38.7%), Utah (15%), Davis (7.5%), Weber (6.9%) and Washington (4%).
Adding to Red Rock’s business strength is a new shop in Cedar City. Although the plan for the shop at 996 South Main Street, Suite A has been in development for months, COVID-19 put a bit of a damper on opening its doors.
“The tricky part about this has been enough inventory,” Dye said. “But, we got to the point of no return and now we are open … and is well stocked. Our St. George store could have and still can gobble up all that inventory, but we’ve separated it out to benefit both communities.”
Brian Jeppson, owner of Cedar Cycle Bike Shop, said he is experiencing similar challenges as Red Rock but that he is also optimistic about inventory and his business future.
“Shortly after the shutdown, mid-March, sales began picking up and we were warned by our suppliers there was going to be a bicycle shortage because the factories were either shut down or running on minimal capacity.”
For Cedar Cycle, along with other bike shops, bicycles went first then parts next, which are still in short supply.
“The other problem we are also having are tires,” Jeppson said. “We are running out of tires, helmets and pumps, but I think everything will be good in the long run.”
Dannielle Larkin, St. George City Council member, co-founder of the St. George Bicycle Collective, past president and current board member of the Southern Utah Bicycle Alliance is “too” excited to see an industry she is passionate about becoming even more popular than it was before COVID-19.
“I love bicycles and they are freedom for a lot of people,” Larkin said. “They equal health for some and equal sanity for others. To have the wind in your hair and enjoy being outdoors is like stepping back into your childhood.”
A strong proponent for active transportation in St. George, Larkin believes in the importance of the community.
“Even for people who do not ride, it’s still an easy sell because it plays a huge economic benefit,” she said. “People here, both for residents, visitors, and people moving here, this is a big deal, to have accessible space.”
Larkin, a bicycle aficionado, acknowledged that local bike shops, including the St. George Bicycle Collective, are an important component to funnel people into the two-wheeled sport.
The collective carries a large selection of used bicycles that are overhauled by mechanics and given a multi-point inspection so they’re ready to ride out the door. They also carry used and new parts and accessories to get bikes “dialed in perfectly” to fit riding styles and personal tastes.
“Heading into COVID, the collective thought we would batten down the hatches,” Larken said. “Bike shops were all saying the same thing that there would be layoffs … but the boom has been insane to watch.”
As part of its mission, used bikes are stored at the collective waiting for refurbishment by local businesses. What Larkin thought would take a year to filter through to local shops quickly become a vanishing inventory.
“Every day we watched shops driving over and picking up 10 bikes and then the next day 10 more bikes,” Larkin said. “It was really neat to watch how people were craving the need to be on a bicycle and get outside.”
It’s a delight, Larkin added, to see multi-generations: children joined by parents and grandparents out riding bicycles instead of picking up a smartphone or turning to the television for distraction.
“I think this is what brings us together and is something beautiful,” she said. “We are getting out of our homes to be with each other and biking helps in that. It’s just a different existence … than not connecting with each other. I see others riding down the road and we stop and talk. It’s been an interesting side effect of all of this.”
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