Bicycle Sport Shop is the behemoth of Austin bike shops. Whatever you want, they probably have it tucked away in a corner of their massive, warehouse-like central shop at south Lamar and Barton Springs.
Last month, I interviewed Leslie Luciano, Community Relations Manager, about the shop and got some quite interesting facts and tidbits about Bicycle Sport Shop and its history. Here’s what she had to say. You guys have been around for a long time (over 25 years) in Austin. How has the shop evolved over the years?
Bicycle Sport Shop started out as a mountain bike specialty shop and sold only fat-tired bikes for the first 5 years in business, riding the mountain bike boom and sharing our passion for off-road cycling with as many people as we could. Nothing against road bikes; we were just new to the scene and staying focused on the things we loved helped us get established and created a strong identity in the marketplace. We opened our second store in North Austin in 1988 and expanded our offering to include a diverse array of bikes in that new location. Today we cater to almost every type of cyclist—road, off-road, utilitarian, fitness, kids and we even sell several unicycles every year.
Personally, I think it’s very helpful if bicycle shops become more of a community hub for cycling, not just a shop. BSS and Mellow Johnny’s both have cafe-style spaces, both of which I think have been done very well. How did the idea for Joy Rides come about in the Lamar location? Has it been a success?
Helping foster community in Austin is a key component of our mission at BSS and having a comfortable place to hang out and socialize supports that mission. It’s also a great way to keep our staff well-fed and highly-caffeinated and that helps us serve our customers better (hopefully not too much coffee!). It’s not a big contributor to the bottom line but we believe it adds warmth and ambience to the store, contributing an intangible benefit that makes it worth the investment.
Joy Rides Cafe
What kind of cyclists does Bicycle Sport Shop focus on serving?
We talk about this a lot in our effort to provide the highest level of customer service and quality product because even though we stock and enormous inventory we simply can’t be all things to all people and have to focus on specific segments of the diverse cycling population in Austin. Our core customer is 25-45 years old, 60/40 male/female and considered an “enthusiast” cyclist, which is typically defined as someone who rides more than 3 times a month, either on road, or off-road.
That said, we see the greatest opportunity for “growing the pie” of cyclists as people who would never be seen in spandex, think a 20 mile ride would probably kill them, and only want to ride bikes for fun on the weekend with their spouses and kids. A great example of this was the Urban Farm Tour where we had hundreds of people on bikes. I’d bet many of those bikes hadn’t been ridden in months if not years, but they were having an incredible time socializing and visiting the local farms on the route, many of them realizing that its not that hard to get around Austin on a bike. And it’s a ton of fun to boot! The great thing is that this is where tomorrow’s committed cyclists, whether for recreation or transportation, or both, will come from. As many of us know, once they cycling bug has bitten there is no going back.
Since about 90% of the people who work in our stores are passionate, committed cyclists who just love bikes, we really enjoy customers who like the bling type bikes that we like but that are a small percentage of our total business. The folks buying a quality $600 commuter or mountain bike make up a bigger share of our total business, which is great because our goal is simple: More people riding bikes more often!
I know, being a customer, that the summer of 2008 was incredibly busy for you. Have you seen an increase in customers wanting bikes for transportation, and has it continued now that gas is “cheap” again and the economy is heading downwards?
It was a great summer of cycling for the bicycle industry nationwide, and fortunately for us in Austin that hasn’t really changed. What has changed is the mindset of many people who see the necessity of re-thinking our transportation opportunities and the need for us to diversify our means of getting around Austin. Not to mention that most people who give it any thought realize that today’s extremely low gas prices are a temporary reprieve and that we need to be prepared for the price to pop right back up in the near future, a price that is likely to stay high and never fall to today’s levels again. So people are taking to bikes for transportation and realizing that not only is it good for getting to and fro, but its good for the health and general well-being, and good for their wallets. And don’t forget….It’s fun!
How do you feel about the bicycle infrastructure here in Austin? What would you like to see happen in the future?
The bicycle infrastructure in Austin is good and getting better and will get a lot better when the new Austin Bike Plan is unveiled sometime next year. Annick Beaudet, the City of Austin’s bicycle Coordinator, is doing incredible work on behalf of the cycling community and making significant progress towards institutionalizing cycling within every city department that has an impact on using a bike in Austin. The Street Smarts Task Force recommendations will have a long-term positive effect on how Austin’s city managers support cycling.
But now is not the time for us to let up and it will be critical that the citizens of Austin who see the potential for cycling to improve our quality of life, and that’s everyone’s quality of life, not just those riding bikes, speak to our elected officials about how important cycling is to the fabric of our city. We have a mayoral and city council race coming up in May of 2009 and that is a great time for us to speak out in an informed, coordinated effort about the importance of improving our cycling opportunities in Austin. There is absolutely no reason Austin can’t be one of the very finest cycling cities in the world and its up to us to make it so.
Anything else you would like to tell our readers about?
We are a sponsor for many cycling events benefiting various non-profits throughout the Austin area. One big event we produce every year, of course, is the Real Ale Ride held in March.
We are also going to be selling Texas Bicycle Coalition memberships in house in mid-January of 2009. As you know, the Texas Legislature will be in session January 2nd, and there are several bills that will be filed that will benefit cycling. We will designate certain days from February thru August that we will donate 20% of sales to the TBC, to help expand their war-chest, and move those bills through passage.