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Finding Their Niche: How Reckless Bike Stores is Outlasting the Competition

Finding Their Niche: How Reckless Bike Stores is Outlasting the Competition

Reckless Bike Stores opened its first location 35 years ago on Fir Street in the South Granville neighbourhood of Vancouver, BC. Nestled in the shopping area of one of Canada’s most bike-friendly cities, Reckless Bike Stores is a must-stop for city cyclists.  

Paul Dragan, owner of Reckless Bike Stores, has been passionate about bikes since he can remember. He spent his early 20s as a competitive cyclist in Europe. When he decided to make the move to Vancouver, Dragan spent one summer working at a bike store and knew what he needed to do next:combine cycling and commerce. Fast forward to today, Dragan operates four retail locations in Vancouver where he’s heavily involved in his community.

We caught up with Paul to see how Reckless Bike Stores and its customers have changed over the past 35 years, the inspiration behind his in-house brand Rektek and how he’s managing an industry-wide supply shortage. 

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You’re now operating four stores. Can you walk me through the expansion process?

I was always interested in more than just one location. I’m sort of entrepreneurial—if there’s an opportunity somewhere, I jump in. We also do more than just retail. We have our own brand called Rektek so we’ve grown alongside the expansion in cycling over the last few years. 

When we started, it was very much an inclusive business where we serviced athletes and that’s why you wanted to ride a bike, or you were the person who rode their bike to work. Over the years, it’s grown into the mainstream. I would say that over the last 20 years, the cycling infrastructure has grown which makes cycling more and more normal so we moved from a niche market into, let’s call it, a mainstream market. 

A lot of the bikes you’re selling now are specialized for cycling in the city. Why did you decide to cater to this audience? 

About 20 years ago, when the market really started to expand, many different niche bikes started to become available. At that time, I knew we couldn’t be all things to all people and we needed change, we needed a differentiator, so we sort of consciously decided that since there was no one really addressing the urban market at that point in time, that’s where we’d put our attention. 

I always rode my bike growing up, and even when I was 25 or 30 years old, if I could ride my bike somewhere rather than driving or taking the bus, that’s what I’d do. We noticed that this type of behavior was growing and jumped at the chance to get involved. I think this foresight is one of the reasons for our longevity. We always look at what we’ll be selling three to five years down the road instead of what we’ll sell today or tomorrow.

How would you describe your customers? 

I needed a roadmap for the person who wanted to ride a bike but doesn’t want to look like they’re from the Tour de France. They may want to carry some bags, go commuting or even ride it to Whistler, but they’re not ready to get dressed up to look like Lance Armstrong. So when I talk about what we’re going to sell in the future, that’s my thought at that point of time. And the industry is up for that. 

It’s also my customers who have aged with me, if you will. When we all started we were 25 and wanted to be athletic, and now that I’m closer to 60, I want to go to the Seawall with my dog and I want to do an easy bike ride for an hour and a half, stuff like that. So the products we sell sort of have all followed my demographic.

Can you tell me a little bit about your own in-house brand Rektek?

What we found as a retailer in this industry is that it was easy for us to sell a bike branded by a large manufacturer, but when you sold the house brand, you knew that the customers buying it were supporting everything about your shop—they bought into your location, your staff and your knowledge. They knew we were good people who work hard and like what we do which resonates with customers. It shows that they trust us so that’s been great.

When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in 2020, so did major supply shortages—and it looks like this has gotten even more serious in 2021. How are you managing this challenge? 

We’re an urban store so three quarters of our population are in a condo and the thinking was, ‘I have a bike, but I have no air in my tires, so I’m kind of stuck. But if I have air in my tires at least I can go for a bike ride.’ So the business picked up when the lockdowns started—that’s when we started to notice things were different. We started selling 10-15 floor pumps a day where typically we’d sell 10-15 in 3 months.

It was a great problem to have at the beginning but then we started to run out of product this year. We started to run out of products in March.

How did you approach this with your customers?

It’s all about managing expectations, so we try to do that as part of the sales process.  We let our customers know that we’re going through a huge bike shortage so if they leave to shop around, we’ll be selling the bike they’re interested in over the next two days. We focused a lot on customer education. 

The other thing we did was a tremendous amount of selling over the phone. We’d have people calling in looking for a specific hybrid bike and I’d tell them what size they’ll need and suggest they take a look at the model online and call back with a deposit otherwise whatever bikes I have coming in will be gone immediately. 

We also have to handle each client at the door. We have to prescreen them for what they’re looking for because we don’t have the staff. We don’t have the time anymore to talk about the products that might be available. We could only talk to them about stuff that we know will be available.

Finally, why did you decide to go with Lightspeed?

I was a very reluctant POS switcher. My team alerted me to the fact that the system I’d been using doesn’t link our stores, doesn’t do this, doesn’t do that and I said ‘but it works for me,’ then I thought about how I am getting close to retirement and my team is younger and starting their careers—I didn’t want to be the old guy that said no all the time. So we researched it quite a bit and we really liked the system. We really liked the fact that the money was going to somebody in Montreal, QC, and that it trickled through the Canadian economy. One member of my team had worked on it before and they said, ‘even you’ll be able to understand it.’ It’s amazing. The really appealing feature for me was how it’s cloud-based so we can monitor and access inventory from other stores and that’s crucial for me.

Managing multiple locations with one commerce platform

Dragan was able to find their niche, adapt quickly during a global supply shortage and make strategic business decisions with one commerce platform running all four of his locations. 

Are you ready to supercharge your retail business with Lightspeed’s one-stop commerce platform? Talk to one of our experts to see how you can get started.

Editor’s note: Click here for more information on the aforementioned bicycle shortage in Vancouver.

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