Edmonton is pretty fortunate to have the bike community we do. After all, we live in the midst of the Canadian prairies, where we’re blasted by winter-like conditions nearly 9 months of the year. Even after living here most of my life, I’m still surprised by the number of independent bike shops we have – and somehow they all find a way to co-exist in the face of competition with each other and with big retail. You might not think Canadian Tire, or Walmart bikes are direct competition to a small local bike shop, but they definitely are, especially in the ‘bikes for kids and families’ category, which is a huge percentage of annual bike sales across the country. So with all that in mind, I have to wonder, how do so many independent Edmonton bike shops manage to co-exist in a small city of just over a million people?

Other than observing the basic business savvy-ness needed to operate a business on thin margins, with a need to carry big inventory, in an industry with extreme seasonal highs and lows, there are a few other key things I think bike shops need to do:

Choose Your Brands Wisely:

Your brands will define you. The brands you choose to carry will have one of the biggest impacts on what your shop is known for. Choose to carry big brands like Specialized, Trek or Norco and you’ll likely be seen as a shop that offers the high-quality and value that comes with these tried, tested and true brands.On the other side of the spectrum, choose to carry lesser known, boutique brands like Felt, Moots, Colnago, Yeti and many others, and perhaps you’ll be best known for your penchant for the finer things in life, offering something special and rare to those who want their ride to stand out.

Respect Your Local Competition:

Don’t choose the same brands as another local bike shop. Creating your own market by offering your own unique line of brands ‘as much as possible’ is the best way to ensure you’ll get a piece of the bike shop pie, without just taking it directly out of the mouth of another bike shop. Additionally, in bike communities that are healthy and well-connected, word of mouth does get around and good-will is critical to any bike shop that wants to develop a strong and long-lasting customer base. My real point here: ‘play nice’. Carve out your own niche, and build it. Use this as an opportunity to champion new and yet unknown brands and products that will set you apart.

Build Your Community:

Offer more than just sales and service – offer a sense of community by doing things like organizing a weekly shop ride, run a shop race-team, offer ‘learn-to-wrench’ clinics, be sure to support local races and events – maybe even run and host some of your own unique events. These are just some of the usual ways shops look to provide the value-add that keeps clientele coming back again and again. Of course, you don’t need to stop there, but I don’t think you have to reinvent the wheel here either – to me the key is to offer people easy ways to plug into the local cycling community, by riding their bikes. By doing so, you’re not just helping your own business, but you’re also breathing life back into your local bike community, which helps everyone, including the other shops.

Although when I started making notes to write this post, I jotted down a long list of things I felt were important to the survival of any small bike shop, I think the things I’ve listed here are the most critical when it comes to not just existing in a crowded bike shop community like Edmonton’s, but to actually providing value and being a contributing member.

Naive? Idealistic? On point? What’s your thoughts?

Edmonton Bike Shops: