Tuesday, October 20, 2009

To Tri Or Not To Tri - Retail Market Shift

Over the last couple of years I've seen an increasing number of bicycle retailers who have not previously carried triathlon products edge toward that market. The big question is should they? It's not as easy as basing it on the simple fact that the triathlon industry is quickly growing or that they have had a few customers come in looking for triathlon products. It's important for each retailer to qualify their need to carry those products as well as know who their competition is and how they can set themselves apart, if at all.

I've heard from retailers all too often that they have brought in a few tri products but "it just hasn't taken off".
Why is this?

First, one must consider the demographic of triathletes which is historically highly educated with an average household income of $126,000. I would say that this would have to be changing however since race promoters have been doing very well at broadening the market by creating races which can be completed with much less training. The second thing to keep in mind is that being a triathlete has been viewed as a status symbol, like those wearing a Rolex with a nice tan and having tons of pictures of themselves in exotic places. As status symbols go you can bet that many people want to find a way to emulate it. In triathlon it comes in the form of shorter distance events and lower priced gear. There is still a balance to keep in mind, and anyone willing to tackle a competitive sport which spans three disciplines will have to be at least somewhat education driven and have some expendable cash.

Are there any triathlon specific shops in your area? If so, you need to learn about them and their clientele. Ask your customers questions. Go to some triathlons and ask participants about where they shop, what they look for and best yet, ask about their good and bad experiences with shopping. It's important to learn from the mistakes of others. Remember though that no matter how good the shop is, not everyone will be satisfied 100% of the time. Use this information to figure out how you might be able to make your shop stand apart.

Do you have any tie-ins with the triathlon community? Having good customers or friends who are triathletes or even triathlon coaches can help your shop bridge up to becoming a worthy tri supplier. If no one knows you or if you have no experience in triathlons, credibility will be difficult to attain. Develop relationships with coaches and clubs and plan on hosting seminars and product demos. Along with that thought, you must at all times have an experienced triathlete on staff if you do decide to carry.

Your shop must also be inviting to the beginner yet have the ability to go the distance with more experienced triathletes. Creating a "beginner package" is a fantastic way to cater to new people to the sport and make it easy for them. Being three disciplines, purchasing equipment for triathlons is very confusing and overwhelming for the newbie. Having all the basics laid out in a package at a reasonable, entry level price will help build your shops reputation and customer loyalty. Don't forget to have some nice bling in the shop that people can look at and aspire to purchasing as they feel more confident in their abilities. You don't want to lose the customer base you've cultivated to the high end shop down the road.

Commitment is a big part of becoming a triathlon retailer. You must be willing to devote at least 20% of your space and budget to support this move to start. I have seen this throughout the country in various shops where only 5% or 10% is devoted. Customers can smell the fear of shops "testing" it out. There is no "testing" about it. Either you do it or you don't. This is by far the biggest mistake I see. This space devoted must also be separate from other equipment. Make it stand out so that there is no mistaking that you have a triathlon section. I will reiterate that having an experienced triathlete on staff at all times is very important.

I've mentioned some of the basic questions and ideas that bicycle retailers need to ask themselves if they are thinking about catering to triathletes. Sometimes the best answer is to leave it to the tri specific shop down the road and continue being the best bicycle shop in town. Don't stress out if it looks like you should stay where you are at. It's good to re-evaluate what you do and what your community needs from time to time and to hone your shops position.

Lastly, if you decide to delve into the world of retailing triathlon products, don't do so quietly! Have a launch party and put out announcements and flyers. Invite the triathlon community and friends. Shake hands and kiss babies. Introduce your experienced triathletes on staff. Make it an occasion and show your confidence. This will go far!

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