Feature: Your LBS’s supply in the times of Covid

Words by William Keith


On behalf of all the Local Bike Shop’s (LBS) out there, I would like to start this second article with a big thank you. Evidently, many of you took to heart the plea of encouraging all your non-cycling family
members and friends to take up the good past time and buy a bicycle. South Africa is now officially almost out of stock of sub R15k bikes! Congratulations, that was a special effort.

In the continuing theme of Your LBS in the Times of Covid, this article highlights some of the challenges facing the South African cycling industry. The bicycle trade has resumed, albeit with initial restrictions; some having slowly faded yet others reappearing. As I write this, we are in day 120 of lockdown, Level I think, I am not sure, I have lost track. Facemasks are compulsory, at least in my shop. No apologies given, no face mask = no entry. Get with the programme by thinking of others.

It is not my intention to have this article become a whine piece, although a glass of my favourite wine (pinot noir, thank you Andries) right now would not go amiss. No, merely to highlight and communicate some of the challenges in product supply facing your LBS so that you may also be aware of why that
particular bicycle or rear mech is not in stock. This returns me to the first paragraph. WOW, South Africa really bought into the fun and recreation bicycle scene over the past few weeks! So much so that we as the cycle trade now face a very real scenario, that being we have almost run out of sub R15k bicycles. How, you may ask? Simple, replenishment stock to distributors is not making it into the country in the numbers required. Some small boutique brands are successfully flown in but the vast majority of bicycles are shipped to SA via container ship. South African harbours and SA Customs are rarely super efficient in processing product entering our country and Covid has exasperated this. Regardless of which is your favourite brand of bicycle, chances are it is manufactured in China or Taiwan. Despite what these countries may or may not officially claim, they are not yet back to the production figures of pre- Covid times, let alone caught up with the numbers. Factoring in the new season’s models imminent release, the pull of the huge European and US orders and little old SA is somewhat down the pecking order of 2020 model stock replenishment. Currently, our harbours are backed up with container ships trying to offload, the system is under strain due to a portion of staff members having to quarantine etc. New ships arriving see the backlog, they don’t even slow down – let alone join the queue– they just sail on by up the west coast of Africa. They have timetables to adhere to. Those containers of SA bound bicycles will be offloaded somewhere up the African coast to be shipped back down at “the first opportunity”. That is a somewhat open-ended schedule if you ask me!

Distributors of components are experiencing similar challenges. You try and order a SRAM Eagle GX or Shimano SLX M7100 upgrade kit from your LBS. If they don’t have it on their shop shelf, you are fresh out of luck as these two upgrade kits have proven immensely popular. If you still want to upgrade your drive train, you may have to upgrade to the next level as the distributors don’t have the GX or SLX either. They are sold out and cannot guarantee an exact replenishment date. Need to buy a new set of pedals? You may be better off having your LBS service the old ones. The good shops are those willing to embrace creativity in satisfying product demand. It is also an opportunity for the smaller distributors, those able to react faster to changing demands, to fill in at least some of these voids with suitable alternatives thereby entrenching their footholds in the marketplace.

The LBS challenges are not restricted to the sourcing and stocking of product either but have also stretched to business practice protocols. Certain distributors have for many years been tied into debtor insurance
companies and have their debtors book insured for bad debt. I have a document stating Credit Guarantee has handed out carte blanche notices of cover reduction and in many cases retraction of cover for bike shops that have hitherto had, for many years, perfect or near perfect track records with those very same suppliers. What does this mean? It means that your LBS may well now be paying COD to stock your favourite big brand component on their shelf instead of enjoying their normal 30 day account. This is a scenario that many shops will not be able to entertain with any degree of satisfaction or spread of product.
A headache neither LBS nor supplier needs.

The above scenarios will create an occasional feeling of emptiness when entering your LBS. However, stick with it, persevere and take heart, it is not as dire in SA as it has been this past summer on the North American continent. My good mate Sean living in Calgary recently sent me a pic of his LBS. Initially I thought they had been broken into and cleaned out.

He assured me this shop’s situation was not unique. Apparently cycling in Canada has become so popular that many bike shops simply have no stock left. He also claimed that lead times out of their workshops had, in some cases, stretched to beyond four weeks. Now we are by no means at this point nor do I think we will reach it, but we will have gaps in bicycle and component supply at various price points. Our redemption to
this situation may well be the oncoming 2021 model season. These bikes would have been ordered a year to 18 months ago and so while production of 2020 bikes has been severely interrupted, 2021 appears to be full steam ahead and in time for our summer. Rock on new bikes, new carbon layup and all those hectic new colourways. Your scribe has, in the space of two sentences, typed himself into a new positive frame of mind.

I’ll take that pinot noir now thank you!

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