Quite a lot, finds a reporter for National Public Radio in the US, joining a bookseller tour to a Washington DC bike shop

What can book shops learn from bike shops?

The American Booksellers Association, which represents independent book stores in the US, recently organised a study tour of a Washington DC bike shop, and a NPR reporter went along for the ride

Revolution Cycles, founded in 1997, has five stores in the Washington DC area. Co-founder and CEO Mike Hammanwright is most famous for riding with Dubya at the head of Peloton One, chewing the skinny with the then president of the USA. 

His bike shops are the official stores for maintaining and acquiring bicycling equipment for the US Secret Service and the White House. 

A visit from a bunch of book-sellers was therefore easy street for Hammanwright.

He told the ABA members that bikes weren’t so different to books: both are bought by dialled-in enthusiasts.

"To most consumers, our product is a passion product. Well, I think that’s true of books, as well. I think people who love to read, they have a passion for books."

But staff have to be dialled-in, too.

"You’re living on the edge of a sword, and so, if you’re really good you’ll do well. But if a customer comes expecting that expertise, and you don’t deliver it, you’re going to do very poorly," warned Hammanwright.

Training, he told the booksellers, is key. 

"We want to ask you questions to find out what are you looking for, what do you want to do with the bike. Is it for fitness or fun or racing or whatever? And if we’re listening and paying attention, and we hear what you’re looking for, then we can show you the products we have that we feel meet those needs.

"Part of our process is to make sure that our consumer, now that they have the bike, what can I do with it? We actually want to encourage them to ride. In the end, even if it’s a competitor of mine that sells a bike, that benefits me as a bicycle retailer because at some point they need a nutrition bar or a flat repair or want to get a new jersey or whatever. So I would rather they get a bike than a new TV, a new computer or go on a vacation."

The newest Revolution Cycles store doesn’t sell bikes, it’s rental only. This part of a planned evolution, said Hammenwright:
"I need some risk. I need to be able to feel like we’re trying to make significant change. So – and especially in this industry…if you don’t evolve and change, what’s going to happen?"

Hammenwright’s tour chimed with the book retailers. Annie Philbrick of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Connecticut, said:

"Sometimes as a bookseller, because it’s such a difficult business, and you’re so passionate about it, you tend to run it on hope. We’re really at a turning point. We can look at it as doom and gloom, that there’s e-books and e-readers, and we can say okay, we’re done and walk away from it. Or are we can look at it really positive and take advantage of the opportunity and turn it around and embrace the whole electronic age and also be, you know, a great independent bookseller, as well."

Chris Curry of the Novel Experience in Zebulon, Georgia, was fired up by Hammanwright’s go-get-’em approach. Curry said if a bike shop can get more ‘butts on bikes’, as Hammanwright puts it, then bookstores need to work on getting more ‘eyes on the page’.

The tour closed with Revolution Cycles selling two bikes.

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