Ray’s Soapbox: The Ups and Downs of Bike Shops


Submitted by: Stan Gregg, owner of the three Gregg’s Cycle shops in Seattle, WA. Thanks to Stan, and feel free to submit your own cycling opinion, you could be featured next!

Our business was originally founded in 1932 by my grandfather. I purchased it in 1975. During the ‘70s boom, sales nearly tripled. There was little infrastructure for cycling, accommodation for commuters and product offerings were lacking today’s variety. The main accessory sold was a lock. Helmets and clothing had just been introduced.

In the early ‘80s mountain bikes were starting to gain traction and this would open up a whole different cycling experience. Plus commuting, bicycle racing and triathlons were gaining popularity. Stores began offering a wider range of accessories, helmets, clothing, and car racks which evidenced that frequent and varied cycling involvement was on the uptick. 

Growth in the industry since those years has been somewhat dependent on general economic conditions and product innovation. Probably the most significant ones in the past several years have been the introduction of the e-bike and growth of the gravel segment. And no doubt during the “Lance years” there was stronger interest in the performance segment.

During the pandemic, exercise options were curtailed with gyms being closed or limited with people being afraid to congregate. But people still wanted to recreate safely and cycling was clearly an option that allowed that. People bought bikes for their kids and themselves. 

Some bought e-bikes. They drove up sales, but not comparable to the ‘70s boom at all. We saw a sales increase of about 12% and a dropoff of 6% in 2023. I would call this Covid time more of a “blip” than a “boom” while acknowledging that other stores may have had more extreme results.

The issues that exacerbated the sales decline after Covid were in large part caused by over-inventoried distributors deeply discounting products by lowering MSRP’s that devalued shops’ existing inventories that were purchased at higher prices. 

This plus eroding parts and accessories sales due to internet competition and possibly the economy itself have combined to affect bottom lines. P and A, plus clothing provide better margins than bicycles, plus in our area ever-increasing labor costs that have been government mandated all combine to drag down the bottom line. 

The labor market and other cost considerations, including the cost of living are all a far cry from what existed 50 years ago when a bike shop employee could actually afford a house payment! I wish it were different today…

Ray’s Soapbox welcomes submissions from Community Cycles members and supporters. Timely cycling-related topics of local interest are given first preference. Our guidelines: Maximum length is 350 words. No name-calling or ad hominem attacks. Keep it positive, please. All submissions are subject to editing. We reserve the right to not publish submissions. Photos or other graphics are encouraged. (soapbox photo credit: Peggy Price)

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