Tyler Forbes said he has never seen anything like this before.
Forbes, a sales associate for Austin Canoe & Kayak’s New Braunfels location, said in the last few months customers have been bombarding his shop with demand for river equipment. Everything from kayaks to accompanying accessories has been difficult to keep in stock, he said.
“We’re aggressively trying to get what we can, but it’s mainly just a lot more of the obscure stuff that we have left,” Forbes said of the inventory at Austin Canoe & Kayak. “We’re selling so much that we’re taking a while to re-up.”
By and large, a run on inventory combined with long waits for new products and gear due to major distributor production pauses has meant less inventory. It has also resulted in strategic business model shifts from sales to service for many outdoor recreation shops throughout Central Texas.
When combined with temporary state restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many local shop owners are speculating a perfect storm of low supply and high demand is the main reason for changes in an industry that has of late been turned on its head.
“I think COVID[-19] locked everything down, but people started getting outside,” Forbes said. “You see it. People are getting outside and getting on the water.”
A bottleneck with distributors
According to Forbes and many other outdoor recreation sales associates and business owners, it is not just water recreation outfitters that are struggling to meet demand.
Bicycle shops throughout Central Texas have had to make do with what little inventory they can get.
Besides customer demand, many major distributors have had to temporarily pause production around the start of the pandemic, and sales orders are still barely trickling in to local shops.
“Every industry that’s outdoor related has been sucked dry,” said Casey Maron, a bike mechanic for Galaxy Bicycles in San Marcos. “Camping, rock climbing, everything. They halted production on most factories for at least two months.”
Major global bicycle distributors such as Specialized, Canondale and Giant, with which Galaxy Bicycles is partnered, have many local shops waiting months until they can receive new shipments of popular models.
A May 15 report from trade publication Bicycle Retailer and Industry News stated even though production and revenue could improve if COVID-19-related lockdowns diminish, Giant, which Maron and others said is the largest bicycle distributor in the world, had crippling first quarter sales for 2020 once China began locking down.
Now, local shops are reporting likely shipping delays of popular models until as late as December or January 2021.
Paul Culverwell, a sales associate at The Peddler Bicycle Shop’s West Parmer Lane location in Austin, said some shipments of bikes from their distributors that include Giant and Canondale are on hold until as far as May 2021.
“It’s definitely a nationwide issue,” said Erin Mikrut, an employee at The Chain Link Bicycle Shop in New Braunfels. “Specialized is our main distributor, and they shut down temporarily when the pandemic began and didn’t open again until midsummer.”
Switching to service
While sweeping shifts throughout the industry have resulted in more unpredictable inventory and sales revenue, service and maintenance revenues have been booming for many Central Texas shops.
Maron said to make up for shifting sales revenue, Galaxy Bicycles switched to a largely service-based model in the last few months.
“Service based is where you make more money anyway,” he said.
That is also the case at The Peddler, where Culverwell said the shop’s revenue is still doing well at a time when many other small businesses are having to lay off workers or put them on furlough, close temporarily or even shutter permanently.
Culverwell said a typical wait for service work at The Peddler used to be about 72 hours.
That timeline has jumped exponentially in recent months.
“Right now, we’re up to about 10 weeks of a wait, but anything outside of a standard adjustment will be up to nine, 10 weeks,” Culverwell said. “Two weeks ago it was up to 13-14 weeks.”
The pause in production at the distributor level combined with record demand has also resulted in local shops scrambling to keep even minimum amounts of inventory in stock.
Forbes said throughout Austin Canoe & Kayak’s five stores, which include locations in San Antonio and Austin, products for sale are almost entirely down to more obscure products, such as motorized boats and watercraft with pedals.
At Galaxy Bicycles, Baron said the shop’s normal inventory amounts to roughly 300 bikes in stock with about 170 on the showroom floor.
“Right now, we have less than 10 bikes [in the shop],” he said.
At The Peddler, Culverwell said the location on Parmer is down to about 20% of its normal amount of bicycles for sale. That amounts to 25 bikes when it would normally have 150.
The same is true of The Chain Link, where Mikrut said the shop have less than five bikes in stock, down from its normal inventory of around 30.
“We’ve been able to stay on top of a lot of our inventory, but with more popular items it’s been more difficult,” Mikrut said.
With regard to demand, many in the industry have noticed a spike in interest in outdoor recreation since the pandemic began.
Even though Gov. Greg Abbott’s order in mid-March to close gyms was lifted in June, outdoor recreation industry representatives maintain the demand for alternatives has continued to have a meaningful effect on their business.
Mikrut said the demand across the industry has been so high and the inventory so scarce, she has had customers come all the way from Houston looking for certain brands and products.
Maron said he has had the same experience since March.
“[Galaxy Bicycles] moved into a new location in March, and then the industry exploded with huge demand, maybe three times the demand,” he said. “Across the board, the industry could not estimate the demand.”