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The Commuter Package

May 12, 2008 By: Peter Smith Category: Advocacy

Bike sales are booming. Great. Now what? Well, it’s Bike-to-Work Week. I say we put some more people on bikes!

But how?

I stumbled onto the website of a local Austin triathlon shop, Jack and Adam’s, and they had three triathlon packages. I thought, “Great! This is exactly what we need to turn commuter motorists into commuter cyclists.” To attract more people to bicycling, I would very much like to see a “Commuter Package” in every bike shop and retailer in America and around the world.

Of course, this idea of a commuter package could be a total disaster (and it’s not even necessarily new). I could also just be completely wrong that this would be at all useful. On the other hand, you/we might be able pull something like this off with a relatively small amount of effort. Details below.

Here are the details of Jack and Adam’s Rookie Package (miniaturized a bit to fit on this page):

First, I want to point out what I think are the brilliant aspects of package deals and this particular implementation:

  • It’s a known price, so customers can work out the financials. (Comfort)
  • Every item is listed and details about them can be found online. (Comfort)
  • The package level is intuitive. (Comfort)
  • The package is not just a salesperson telling a potential customer about some unseen package deal that includes a myriad of options about which the customer has no information whatsoever. This package is marketed online, allowing the customer to get completely comfortable at their own pace with the lifestyle they’re about to buy into. (Comfort)
  • The package deal might be more attractive to the value-conscious customer. (Value)
  • It is obvious to the customer that someone has made a significant effort to market to new triathletes. The customer appreciates the attention to detail, as well as knowing that any salesperson they encounter at the shop will be fully knowledgeable of the significant information overload confronting any new triathlete. (Expertise, comfort)
  • This web page / ad is very visually appealing: the design is crisp, focusing on the core component—the bike. The price is clear. The discount is clear. It all seems pretty straightforward. (Experience, comfort)

I soon stumbled onto the Austin Tri-Cyclist website, another triathlon shop in Austin which also has four triathlete packages. Here is their Newbie Package. I really like the name Newbie because it’s honest and simple; I imagine it would significantly simplify communications between sales staff and customers.

Imagine someone thinking about trying out this cool triathlon stuff they heard about on the radio or from a friend. They hear about the Newbie Package at Austin Tri-Cyclist, check it out online, start looking at some upcoming races, maybe take a peek at some training programs, and think, “Hmmm…I wonder if I can do that?”. And they eventually decide that they can.

So they get in touch with Team in Training or some other training program and then head down to Jack and Adam’s or Austin Tri-Cyclist to buy a triathlete package. When they walk in the door, they say, “Hi. I was checking out the Rookie/Newbie Package,” and the salesperson can take it from there. There’s no fear, no groveling, and no further explanation needed. The shop person will get the future triathlete outfitted with the correct bike and gear sizes, big-up their confidence a bit, make sure they’re on track with a training program, and send them on their way to a fuller, happier, better life. Austin has a new triathlete, local walking / running / swimming / cycling groups may get a new advocate, the local economy gets a boost, and these retailers get an immediate sale with repeat business to come. Just like that.

It’s easy. And it should be.

But it is only easy for the customer / future triathlete because someone took the time to make a big effort in compiling these packages, getting the pricing down, designing the web ads, thinking ahead, staying on top of things, and generally making the entire activity of triathloning much more approachable than it would otherwise be.

We need the same thing for cycling—in particular, bicycle commuting (usually we think of this as “to and from work”) and “lifestyle” cycling (“to and from the grocery store, to visit friends, etc.”).

I posted this idea to our local cycling list and got some good feedback. They were two main types of feedback: a) this “packages” concept already exists, and b) you forgot to put item x/y/z in your commuter package item list.

For a), I think it’s not enough to tell folks after they come in the door of your shop that you have some deal going on with the twenty items they’re going to need to become commuters. It’s too much information to process at once, and they might get suspicious. Having it on the website and available for inspection is a big deal, in my opinion. I’d say it is crucial; if you are not advertising your commuter package on your website or in a newspaper or on a flyer/handout, then you don’t really offer a package.

For b), if I don’t get hammered on this post too much, I’d like to put up a separate page proposing what I and others (including you!) think would be good items to include in any commuter package. These will be things like: a “commuter bike” that comes standard with the following items:

  • Chainguard and fenders
  • Front and rear lights
  • Lock
  • Bell
  • Back rack
  • Panniers
  • Gearing suggestions
  • Repair kit / tube / tire levers
  • Membership to local cycling group
  • City cycling / Road I / Confident Cycling training ride,
  • Route-finding / bikepooling help

If you have a suggestion or comment, please leave a comment or send an email and I’d be very happy to make sure it is included if and when we create this page (I still have all original email list replies).

It may very well be the case that some bicycle retailers may not have the time or money to do something like this. I understand that. The more I learn about the bicycle retailing world, the more I wonder how it’s possible for any independent bicycle dealer (IBD) / local bicycle shop (LBS) to even stay in business. The stories of these smaller shops closing down by the hundreds per year or being forced to move about just to stay afloat are sadly not news to anyone in the bike business.

That’s not to preclude smaller shops from offering this or other inventive products and services; I’m merely acknowledging that resources are limited.

So who else could market these kinds of packages?

Well, there are national chains like Performance Bike, which I just started working for part-time. (Yes, I’ve pitched the idea already, but no, I have not quite been successful yet). Is Performance the only regional/national bike chain?

There are stores like Walmart, Target, and REI, but I don’t feel like they’re necessarily good advocates for lifestyle and commuter cycling. Not that they couldn’t be—it’s just that they probably would not want to be. There’s not enough money in it for them, I suspect, and doing so is just not really in line with their business. Nonetheless, I’d wholly encourage them be bigger / better / stronger advocates for lifestyle cycling. :)

There are somewhat-larger independent bike shops, like Bicycle Sport Shop here in Austin—a place with an intense local following, a long history of community involvement, and deservedly loyal customers—and they’re big enough that they might be able to pull off something like this. That is, they might have the time / money / floor space / window space / attention to assemble a full-on commuter package.

Any thoughts? In the meantime, Happy Bike-to-Work Week. Get out there and ride!