Handsome Cycles Pedals Into Record Sales
Spring is typically the busiest season for bicycle sales, but in a pandemic, Handsome Cycles is pedaling more than ever as people look for safe ways to get out and be active. The Minneapolis-based bike manufacturer with a national fan base saw April sales rise more than 32 percent over the same period a year ago—despite a statewide stay-at-home order and cool temperatures.
But at a time when test rides are a no-no, selling a fairly high-ticket item like a new bicycle is complicated. Handsome co-founder and CEO Jesse Erickson has found a way to recreate that test ride experience virtually, even while building bikes in his kitchen and taking care of his young kids. He’s also offering discounts to frontline workers.
TCB: How has your work been disrupted by Covid-19?
Erickson | The pandemic hit just as we were getting ready for the Spring rush. We had to change many things about how we operate, but the main change was the decision to no longer do in-person consultations and test rides at Handsome Studio. We quickly launched a live video consultation system with the help of KNOCK inc. and have been talking with customers remotely ever since. The live video allows me to still show them options and figure out customization without being there in person. It has been working effectively so far, and I feel that I can give people great guidance while seeing them via FaceTime or WhatsApp. I’ve even been able to help some existing Handsome owners with small repairs via video chat as well.
TCB: When did you start experiencing the disruption and realize it would be necessary to close your studio in Northeast Minneapolis?
A | We knew things would change, but we weren’t quite sure how extreme the measures would be in late February. By early March when San Francisco issued their shelter in place order, we started planning for the inevitable order in Minnesota. When Gov. Walz issued that order, it became official.
TCB: How did employees and clients react?
A | This happened at the exact time of year when we bring a few employees back to help with bicycle assembly. With the uncertainty of how our customers would respond, along with the need to keep Handsome a safe place for me to work, we suspended those efforts. We are now finally in a comfortable place where two employees will be starting in the next week.
Our customers have been amazing! Everyone of them is understanding of the challenges we are facing and have been patient waiting for their bikes. We have had the best April ever so far. We are up 32.8 percent over April to date last year even though the weather hasn’t exactly been cooperating.
TCB: Have there been any challenges related to going fully online?
A | Yes, of course. It takes a good amount of trust for someone to make this type and size of purchase (bikes start at $899.95) without ever touching the product first. I believe in the quality and ride feel of our bikes and I think that translates when I talk to people online. It hasn’t been a barrier for most, but some people have decided to wait it out until they can get into Handsome and ride a bike first. I totally get it and respect everyone’s decisions. I can’t wait until we can re-open fully and welcome people to take our bikes out for a joy ride before purchasing.
TCB: Why do you think sales have gone up for you recently?
A | I think there are a few factors to it. With so much less to do this summer, people are looking to bike riding as their best option to get outdoors and enjoy life a little. We are as local and small a company as it gets and I think that people are happy to support us. At least it feels that way to me, and I really appreciate it! Also, we recently launched our Essential Workers Discount campaign giving 25 percent off the purchase of our bikes to anyone in the health care, education, food service, or delivery professions. We have seen a huge response from that. We really appreciate the work they do to keep us safe and healthy and to get us the things we need to get through these tough times at home.
TCB: Have you issued any advice or statements to your riders while they’re out riding during the pandemic?
A | I wrote an article with bike riding safety and tips during Covid-19.
TCB: I’ve seen people debating whether or not bike shops and other bike related services should constitute “essential businesses” during the pandemic. Do you have any opinion on this?
A | Some people may not realize, but there is a decent percentage of the population in Minnesota that rely on their bike as their only form of transportation. In this time, bikes are not only essential to those who must use them to get groceries and medical supplies, but as a great way to keep mentally and physically fit. Keeping your body healthy is important for so many reasons, but if nothing else, to be ready to fight off a virus should you be exposed to one.
TCB: Are you working from home?
My work life has changed quite a bit. We have two little kids (3 years and 7 months), and they no longer go to daycare. My wife is still working full time, so I usually watch the kids most of the day while sneaking in time to chat with customers and manage inventory purchases. I then start my “real” work day building bikes at 6 p.m. until around 2 a.m. It means less time for sleep, but it has been awesome spending more time with my littles and watching them grow day to day. Family before anything.
TCB: What advice would you give to other businesses navigating the crisis?
A | No matter what industry you are in, there is no question you have had to change how you normally operate. I think that the most important thing to do right now is to plan for any foreseeable scenario in the next few months and also plan for what your business looks like going forward once we are back to the new normal. Take care of the people who support your business and make it go the best you can. Be transparent with them and do whatever you need to in order to preserve the relationships you have built. Also, keep your options open and try to be nimble. It is very hard to predict exactly what the new business landscape will look like. Make your best guess and be ready to resume when it is possible.