After pandemic bicycle boom, local shops struggle to restock
Business has been great, when there's product to sell.
Brent Edstrom, owner of Galleria Bicycles in Hermantown, said it's been "a great year" for business, but after the initial surge of bike buyers this spring, it was difficult to restock. He even had to turn away customers this summer because he had no new bikes and very few used bikes.
"It was great," Edstrom said. "But now I don't have anything to sell, and I'm in a retail business."
That includes parts and accessories, he said.
"If you can think of a bike part in particular, to a certain extent, it's hard to come by," he said. "Some things are getting a little better, but as business, if I don't order it from my wholesaler fast enough, it'll be gone."
Early on in the pandemic, people flocked to bike shops, buying up new bicycles to get outside when it seemed like everything else had closed.
But the unprecedented demand for bikes and strains on the supply chain are making it difficult for bike shops to replenish inventory.
The cause is two-pronged, reported the New York Times . In early 2020, bike factories in Asia temporarily closed to curb the spread of COVID-19, and when stay-at-home orders and COVID-19 precautions reached the United States in March, nationwide sales of bicycles, equipment and repairs doubled for that month compared to 2019.
The supply chain hasn't caught up. According to Bicycle magazine, some in the industry are predicting the shortage could last until 2022, even though manufacturing has ramped up. The supply shortage is causing strain, particularly among small bike shops, forcing some to close.
In October, Fireweed Bike Cooperative in Grand Marais announced it is closing at the end of the year.
"I am sad to tell you that the international shortage of bikes, of equipment, and of labor has stressed me and our little shop to the limit, thus, I will be closing Fireweed Bike Cooperative at the end of this year," Fireweed said on Facebook . "2020 can suck an egg."
Fireweed owner Jay Arrowsmith-DeCoux declined an interview with the News Tribune.
In a November Facebook post, he further highlighted the inventory challenges after placing a pre-season order from bicycle brand Specialized for a rental fleet and a "few" bikes to sell.
"I have NO GUARANTEE that any of these bikes will show up because I am at the very bottom of the fulfillment list (I just got a bike last week that I ordered in July). I have been reassured that I will get SOME bikes," he wrote on Fireweed's Facebook page. "That's not something to build a business model on."
Denis Sauve, owner of Twin Ports Cyclery in Duluth's Lincoln Park neighborhood, has also been seeing supply issues.
"We had 11 bikes in from Jamis, one of our companies, and we had two left the next day," Sauve said.
He said the shop ran out of 26-inch tubes and tires almost immediately. Bike companies have told shops that product will be restocked in December or January, but Sauve said it could be later.
"They say they're going to have this stuff, but I'm not going to hold my breath," Sauve said.
Usually he sees a seasonal slowdown come Oct. 1 — not this year.
"It just kept going," Sauve said.
But he's not worried about low inventory hurting business. Demand for repair has increased, too, and the Twin Ports Cyclery basement has been cleared out to store customers' bikes over the winter so staff can work on them in preparation for spring.
"This is the craziest it's ever been," Sauve said.