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By Joel Zanatta

However necessary it is for us all to #stayhome right now, unfortunately small businesses across the country are feeling the devastating effects. As cycling is my passion, I have a particular soft spot for all my favourite local bike shops, and am feeling their pain. They were just gearing up for their busy season when COVID-19 hit, and virtually overnight, their businesses evaporated.

To help them through this hard time, if you’re thinking of purchasing something cycling-related, I’d strongly encourage you to resist the call of Amazon Prime, and if possible, instead turn to your local neighbourhood bike store.

Luckily, the BC, Ontario and Saskatchewan governments declared bike shops an essential service at the end of March, and Quebec followed suit in early April. But despite that designation, social distancing means bike shops and cycling-related businesses are having to do a fast pivot, trying to find innovative ways to stay profitable during this crisis, and I for one, want to support them in every way I can.

To accommodate, many shops are quickly changing gears. They’re selling more trainers so people can ride inside, and offering remote support to guide you through setting them up. And if they didn’t already have online sales, you can bet they’re definitely trying to establish them now.

Brody Isaak, General Manager of Vancouver’s La Bicicletta, says when they first closed their doors to the public a few weeks ago, it was a bit “unnerving” to say the least. But they quickly looked for ways to shift their business.

Brody says they made the decision to fall back on the e-commerce channel they’d been working on for the last two years, and so far it’s been very successful. They’re now pushing most of their transactions through their website, and offering curbside pick-up for the first time. They are also now shipping outside the country.

One of my colleagues at The Cycling Lawyer recently purchased a bike through La Bicicletta and took advantage of their new curbside pick-up service. And like many other shops, the store has also moved a good portion of their client care team to work from home. They’re now taking orders and answering questions through calls, chats, and emails, and for the first time, assisting customers over Google Hangouts and Zoom. It’s been a complete change in the way they do business, and it seems to be working. Brody says they’ve just hired two more people to help fulfill online orders.

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Most bike shops are also still offering maintenance and service, and getting your bike tuned is another good way to support them, as you’ll want to be ready to go as soon as this crisis is over. James Wilson, owner of Obsession Bikes in North Vancouver, says their service department is “working strong” and they are offering home pick-up and delivery.

And several bike shops I talked to have also found a surprisingly strong side business in selling kids’ bikes – as desperate working-from-home parents try to keep their kids active – AND get them out of the house!

When spin classes shut down, many studios also quickly changed their business model, moving to virtual classes and on-demand training. Another thing to explore to help to keep all those instructors we love cash-flow positive. Every class counts.

But if you can’t shop at one of your favourite bike stores at the moment, or participate in your favourite spin class, I’d also encourage you to consider buying a gift card or gift certificate. That kind of purchase helps boost the bottom line of a small business – not to mention morale, and it will be something you can look forward to spending once things get back to normal.

And if times are a little too tough to purchase anything right now, you can also support your local business by writing an online review. Good reviews can push their ranking higher in search engines. Or consider giving them a shout-out on social media—everyone could use a little love these days—and remember, we’re all in this together!

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