In The Way-Back Machine: Bike Retail in 1890s

Arguably the first person to ever combine bicycle sales with shrewd retail savvy was John Wanamaker. Wanamaker was a merchant who lived from 1838 to 1922. Along with being a retailer he was a religious leader, political figure, a pioneer in marketing, and considered by some to be the father of modern advertising. He was born and for most of his life lived in Philadelphia. He has been credited as the first person to ever take out a half and full page ad in a newspaper and the first retail merchant to hire a full time copywriter. While he sold nearly everything such as furniture, clothing, and tools he was also one of the largest bike retailers in the United States at the time.

An advertisement for bicycles from The Wanamaker Store in 1898. Retail experience and education of the sport were just as important to Wanamaker as price.

One of his more notable achievements was being the first major merchant to offer a return policy and establishing the common use of the price tag. Before Wanamaker, prices were constantly changing depending on a number of factors. If the product was in high demand, the price went up. If the store was busy, the price went up. If you were not a regular customer, the price went up. If you were only buying one instead of two, the price went up. If the store owner was having a rough day or just didn’t like you, the price went up. Many customers saw this as an unfair system while the retailers saw it as smart business. In the mind of the retailer, if demand or costs go up then price should go up as well.

Wanamaker had a vision that all shoppers get treated equally and fairly. To do this Wanamaker introduced the price tag. He believed that there should be one price, all the time, no matter who they were or how often they shopped there. This simple strategy won over customers by the thousands and further established Wanamaker as one of the nation’s best retailers.

Another Wanamaker ad from the 1890s, this one focused on price, quality, and selection.

While the price tag is still alive and healthy today, we have never let go of the idea of a marketplace where price tags don’t exist. Customers feel they deserve both a fair price and better pricing if they have demonstrated their willingness to dedicate themselves in some way to the IBR. Wanamaker’s price tag, as it turns out, is a facade. The bike industry has never let go of negotiable or moving pricing structures. Manufacturers offer better terms and pricing based on the volume and inventory purchased. Thousands of retailers will offer different pricing to their customers depending on their amount of purchase, frequency of purchase, or loyalty to the store. Peter Fader may have said it best, "Charging everyone the same thing and treating everyone the same way, as retailers do today, is 'Six Sigma' thinking which is great for producing widgets on a production line, but it makes no sense in a world where customers are inherently different.”

IBRs have built dozens of systems that allow us moveable price tag. Frequent buyer programs, club memberships, buy two get one free, discounted tune-ups in the winter, or buy a bike and get 10% off of accessories. All of these are strategies to relive the glory days of the early 1800s when price tags did not exist.

Should Bike Shops Be Selling Men's Underwear?

The world of bike retail is changing, and changing drastically. Is there anything off limits for a bike retailer?

Twenty years from now we will look back upon this decade and we'll have a name for it. Much like we named the Industrial Revolution. We will point to this time and say, "That's when it all changed." In the world of retail the way it is changing is from the merger of manufacturers and retailers. The traditional model of manufacturer to distributor to retailer to customer is dying and in many places is already dead. From now on it will be simply, manufacturer to customer.

Many would look at Target, Wal-Mart, or their neighborhood grocery store as the traditional definition of a retailer. They bring in products made by other people and sell them to consumers. Though when looking closer we realize that more than 50% of what Target and Wal-Mart sell, they manufacture. Every grocery store has their own brand of items. Even Amazon, the world's largest retailer, is a manufacturer of electronic goods, kitchen supplies, books, and much more.

What does this mean for the independent bicycle retailer? It means, more than ever, they should start looking to create products of their own. Controlling the entire value chain. Right now nearly every bike retailer is the owner (or manufacturer) of the services they sell. Going forward they will begin to own their apparel, the shoes, the nutrition, and possibly even the bikes. 

Some retailers will even expand beyond tradition and start selling items we never expected, but with a brilliant cycling twist. Look Mum No Hands in London sells their own band of men's underwear for example.

Underwear sold by  Look Mum No Hands

Underwear sold by Look Mum No Hands

What is the next product you really want to own?

Thanks for taking the time to read this far. If you found value in this piece would you please consider sharing it on social? Thanks again. Donny

This Isn't For Professional Cyclists Anymore

I am still looking the bike retailers that are willing to take a risk and purchase the paper and printer to do pro-level name stickers for their customers' bikes. Retailers who did this could surprise each customer by labeling every new bike and tune-up with a name sticker. Complete with the customer's name, flag of choice or your logo.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you found value in this piece would you please consider sharing it on social? Thanks again. Donny

Source: http://www.vcgraphix.com/