Since a number of outdoor recreational activities have been allowed to open during Michigan’s shelter-in-place order, cycling has suddenly become popular throughout the nation as healthy exercise and social distancing can be practiced while doing it.
Riding with this trend, two Michigan-based bicycle shops from Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti experienced unexpected rapid growth of bicycle sales.
Wheels in Motion, a local bicycle shop rooted in Ann Arbor since 1933, has recorded the largest ever growth of sales recently, according to Travis Plotner, third-generation owner of Wheels in Motion.
“A lot of customers who never owned a bicycle come to us since the pandemic lock-down. The entry-level bicycles and equipment were the fastest sell at the beginning, but we found the overall buying interests are slowly emerging to high-quality bicycles.” said Plotner “Many of them bought an entry-level bicycle and come back later to buy a better quality one because they want to keep cycling as a regular sport or commute way,“ Plotner said.
During an interview with the Echo at Wheels in Motion, both salespersons and mechanics, wearing self-made masks, were still working hard with inquiry calls and repairing a large number of bicycles one hour after their official closing time at 4 p.m.
“We have to restructure our mechanic room to store the incoming maintenance orders in huge numbers,” Plotner said. “Meanwhile, we are still trying to accommodate some delivery orders by our own staff within 55 miles.”
To follow Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order, the shop redeployed its staff and resource several times as restrictions are implemented and lifted.
“At the beginning of lock-down in March, we were only allowed to operate online. Some of our staff chose to stay at home. Our staff cut down from 26 to 6. It was until 4/24 when the Michigan governor released the executive order 2020-59 which considers bicycle shops as essential business and allowed to be resumed. We are able to open more service to customers in a curbside pick-up based. We have now 10 staff working regularly.” said Plotner.
“It really takes time to convert our best showroom experience to an online walk-through and giving guidelines by email and phones. In the beginning, it was only me and my wife handling the customer services, but as the rules have become more relaxed recently, we are able to call back more staff to work together.”
The showroom of Wheels in Motion remains closed as of May 15 to maintain social distancing. The other shop in Plymouth is not operating as to concentrate their staff at the Ann Arbor location, their weekly group ride activities are temporarily canceled until further notice.
Although Plotner expected the rapid growth of sales might slow down by the mid-summer, he is happy that more people are enjoying the cycling experience.
“I can see the changes on the road, and around my neighborhood. It is happy to see more people are interested in cycling and have adapted a healthier lifestyle, and I hope customers will keep coming back for upgrading their cycling experience,“ Plotner said.
Plotner also hopes the customers can be considerate for the longer than usual waiting times. The wait time is due to less staff, large numbers of requests and orders, all while trying to keep their staff safe and healthy.
Tree Fort Bike, a bicycle store in Ypsilanti Township that specializes in high-end bikes, reported a rapid overall growth from the online orders since customers are not allowed to enter the store.
“We are doing online orders and curbside pick-up. People can still order and try outside the store, and come back if they want any changes,” said Scott Mulder, the owner of Tree Fort Bike.
Tree Fort Bike is already experienced in selling bicycles online before the pandemic.
“We have been opened for 17 years, and heavily involved in online orders for the last 12 years. We are experienced enough to walk people through online to get people on the right place to find their high-end bikes. Our buyers are from all over the countries, around 50/50 for Michigan and out of states. We are shipping out hundreds of bikes every few weeks,“ Mulder said.
However, the sudden increase of inquiries and orders are still challenging to a local business.
“The amount of orders has been challenging. We exceed the capacity of the last couple of weeks in a maximum of 3,000 orders per day. Our staff is working with a lot of overtime while we really try to keep everyone employed,” Mulder said.
To keep up with the increased demand, Tree Fort Bike is planning to hire more employees for shipping, customer services, and programming. Since the team has to catch up with the sales, maintenance services are lower priority.
“We can’t hire fast enough. We are looking for people who have experience working on bicycles and good at mechanics,” said Mulder.
Mulder observed the change of people used to buying high-end bikes as an expensive toy, now it really becomes a part of their lives.
“Our customers are looking for high-quality bikes that are above 1,000 dollars, they are not bothering with the department store bikes that are not considered real bikes,” Mulder said. “Even a lot of the buyers are new cyclists, people are going to fall in love with cycling and stick with the high quality,” Mulder said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left many missing daily life, picking up cycling is just one of the ways people adjust to this ‘new normal.’ Visit Wheels in Motion’s and Tree Fort Bike’s websites for more information.