Imagine a bike shop with a wallpapered dressing room that’s decently lit and hung with a large mirror. Where there’s a spacious bench in the open service area for you to put your stuff down and check your smartphone while waiting for your flat to be fixed. Where clothing for women and men is a hung by collection on wooden hangers for easy perusal.
That’s Huckleberry Bicycles, a full-service shop (above) geared toward urban cyclists in San Francisco that I visited last week on a 10-day swing through California and Nevada. Opened last November, Huckleberry is an example of a new-generation bike shop that provides the type of merchandising and customer service that most of us take for granted in our everyday shopping experiences, say, at the Gap or J. Crew.
The model is notable because bicycle retailing continues to lag in merchandising planning and execution, including display techniques, point-of-sale methods and customer amenities that foster a pleasant shopping experience and potentially boost customer loyalty and sales. Other examples of innovative shops include Adeline Adeline here in New York City and Pedal Chic in Greenville, SC (awarded “Best Bike Shop for Women” by Bicycle Retailer and Industry News at last week’s Interbike cycling industry trade show).
Interestingly, merchandising often tends to be discussed in the industry within the context of “selling to women,” but it’s hard to imagine that men don’t appreciate a well-lit dressing room, as well.
What’s in a Name?
Veterans of bike shops in Berkley and San Francisco, Huckleberry’s trio of owners — Brian Smith, Jonas Jackel and Zack Stender — focus on providing friendly and knowledgeable service and an inviting shopping environment to urban cyclists. Stender says their previous experiences helped them learn both what to do to woo customers, and perhaps more importantly, what to avoid.
For people who aren’t immersed in the bike scene, Stender notes, bike shops — with their roots in garage culture and male dominance — can be intimidating, certainly to women, but also to guys. So Huckleberry set out to create a welcoming atmosphere, starting with the name.
“Attitude was a big thing,” Stender says. “We chose a name that doesn’t relate to aggressive cycling. It’s a word that makes you smile.”
Huckleberry is located in the Mid Market neighborhood between the Tenderloin and SoMa districts on Market Street. The shop inhabits what used to be a hip-hop clothier. It was the liveliness of Market Street — San Francisco’s busiest bicycling thoroughfare, and one that’s targeted for improvements in infrastructure, according to the advocacy organization San Francisco Bicycle Coalition — that attracted the Huckleberry team. Before signing the lease, the partners hung out in a nearby coffee shop to observe the daily flow.
Mixing It Up
The shop’s design and merchandising help elevate the shopping experience for customers seeking bicycles, accessories and apparel. The build-out by local architects David Baker + Partners emphasizes warm surfaces, wooden fixtures and shelves rather than slat walls. Customers are more likely to pick up a Brooks of England leather saddle from a shelf than a crowded hanging rack, Stender notes. Displays of varying heights form a runway up the center of the floor that draws shoppers in and encourages browsing and discovery. Thus products aren’t displayed by category, as in most bike shops; rather, displays mix a variety of merchandise.
In addition, attractive lighting fixtures replace the more typical florescent strips that do neither merchandise nor customers any favors. Decorative bicycle-themed prints (one celebrating the 20th anniversary of Critical Mass) take the place of plastic and cardboard point-of-purchase signage from bike companies that decorate most shops. Also on offer: Quick check-out on an iPad with the receipt emailed, and, as part of a commitment to local advocacy, a discount for members of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition of which Stender is a board member. (The shop even discounted for my membership in Transportation Alternatives in NYC.)
Getting Back to the Joy
Late on a Friday afternoon, commuters and other San Franciscans on two wheels whiz by in the street, and business through the front door is brisk, mainly from people stopping in for minor adjustments or to purchase tubes and the like. Others browse among attractive displays of apparel for men and women, from Chrome and Twin Six for urban lifestyle to Castelli and Giordana for road cycling; a wide selection of stylish accessories by quality brands like Brooks, Velo Orange and Basil; and multi-tiered racks of bicycles ranging from Civia city rides to Cannondale commuters to Pinarello road bikes.
“I think there will be more shops like this that are more about bike culture and less about racing,” Stender says. “Years ago, when new materials meant that you could peel pounds of weight off a bike, it became all about a culture of speed. Now we’re getting back to the joy of cycling.”