Thursday, March 7, 2013

Retail ideas that never die.

Perched outside of the DC beltway in College Park, MD is the largest retailer of Bianchi steel framed bicycles this side of NYC. New ones, not refurb classics. Come to think of it, the I-495 region is my largest selling territory for steel bikes by the brand thanks to the retailers I service. These cyclists understand the merits of a good quality steel bicycle. 


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Proteus Bicycles doesn't not carry one of the big four brands. They do not have walls of sterile white slat wall. They also do not carry parts and accessories by a brand that demands only said-brand and their brand only. (You ever walk into a bike shop and 4/5 of the merch racks are XYZ branded pumps, cages, etc?) Proteus is not staffed by employees who will snicker about your flouro riding jacket when you leave the counter after purchasing a clip-on helmet mirror. Proteus Bicycles stocks what they believe in and feels you'll like what they stock.

Helpful, kind, good karma, empathetic- would be a fist full of descriptive words for Laurie, Ben and the crew at Proteus Bicycles. They believe that cycling should be enjoyed on your terms, the way you want to interpret the bicycle- be it cyclocross, adventure cycling, mountain biking, commuting or touring.

Proteus Bicycles was a frame building shop decades ago. Despite the frame building going away, some of the old branded steel bicycles make their way through the shop doors for service or restoration. 

I've been calling on Proteus since 2008, the shop has been staffed lean and efficiently over the years and has the least amount of turnover with it's employees compared to many larger bicycle retailers in the area.


What little to no employee turnover means for a business. 

-Better customer relationships; due to the staff knowing their customer base and their needs. 
-A higher retention of product knowledge due to long term exposure of stocked goods. 
-The closure of sales are greater from a retail manager perspective due to the staff matching the cyclist with exactly what they are looking for.

Sharks find their food, goldfish wait to be fed.
Retailers need to be sharks and find their food. Goldfish die because they wait to be fed. Do this by going out and getting customers! 


This is achieved through Proteus Bicycle's group rides, Pot Luck Dinner on Thursday evenings and political involvement through cycling advocacy like the Tim Johnson's Ride on Washington. All of this outreaching, builds community for the business. When the retail selling season slows during the winter months, the faucet does not totally turn off for Proteus. Service work still comes in, bike sales still ring at the register and accessories like cold weather shoe covers and winter cycling jackets keep the local bike commuters out on their routes- all thanks to loyalty and friendship that's cultivated during Proteus events.

Feb 28, 2013 Proteus Bikes/ Pot luck night.
Great low cost advertising--
Everyone likes a nice bicycle jersey and this winter Laurie and Ben are using their Pot Luck dinner nights to size up their customers for the 2013 shop jersey. The jersey fit kit is hanging on the racks. Last Thursday's Greek themed Pot Luck brought smiles, full stomachs and hopeful conversation that Spring will be here soon enough so the new jerseys will see some miles on the area roads.

Back to steel road bikes-- 
The roads are not the best in this area. Budgets are tight, spirits never fade for cycling and riders want the best ride quality and utility they can get for their money. Carbon road bikes on a non-Pro level provide the rider with almost vibration free ride at the cost of several hundred dollars more than a quality steel framed version. This is where Bianchi steel bicycles come in to play.

Steel frame manufacturing has decreased in demand over the years as the market has shifted towards aluminum and carbon frames. The bikes Bianchi has in their steel range are produced in relatively low numbers, are not cheap hi-tensile (low strength) steel like the latest outcropping of glam-euro city bikes, and are typically air hardened double butted tubing. In the case of the 2013 Vigorelli, Reynolds 631 seamlessly drawn tubes is used for construction of the frame. 

Last Thursday as I ate from my bowl of pasta and wandered the shop, I witness a terrific collection of steel bikes for the adventure cyclist (Volpe), classic road rider (Imola, Vigorelli), commuter (Campione) and the minimalist (Pista). 


All of this adds up to shopping and a test ride you need to experience. If you're there on a Thursday evening looking for a new bicycle, grab a taste of their Pot Luck. You won't regret it!



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