With all of the challenges smaller businesses are facing these days, we wanted to share some examples of bike shops that are making strides in staying busy, keeping the service flowing, all while keeping their employees and customers safe. First up is Cosmic Bikes, located in Chicago. We had the chance to catch up with owner Justyna Frank to see how they’re handling all of the constant changes.

“We’re in an outlying neighborhood in Chicago, not quite suburban, but low-density, single-family homes, families, a lot of blue collar workers. We’ve been in business for four years. In addition to bread-and-butter family and transportation bikes, we carry Bromptons, Yuba Cargo bikes, recumbent trikes and some ebikes. We also promote adventure biking and bike overnights.

I could tell you that we carry wonderful niche products, or that we have a second to none repair department (which we do). But I think what really sets us apart is that we’re really good at helping people realize their dreams of independent travel, whether that means going around the neighborhood, for someone who’s never cycled before, or around the world.”

Some shops around the country are being designated an essential business during the pandemic, so we wanted to know what Cosmic thought about that and what new steps they’re taking.

“So, funny story. My partner received an email from Bike Co (Advanced Sports) to the effect that bike shops in Philadelphia successfully lobbied for that designation. This was a few days before Illinois governor instituted shelter-in-place. We forwarded that email to our advocacy group, Activetrans.org, and they jumped right on it, so when the governor’s order came out, bike shops were included as essential.

We’re lucky to have a large enough space to be able to create a separate customer waiting area. However, we’re still only allowing a couple people in at a time to drop off repairs. We can’t allow any browsing of merchandise, so we’ve created physical barriers throughout the store. Because we can’t have more that two mechanics working without being too close, and we have a huge influx of repairs, we’ve decided to close on Mondays so that we can complete repairs and builds without interruption. We’re also using gloves, masks and plexiglass partitions to minimize opportunities for transmit the virus.

We’re extremely busy with repairs, particularly with somewhat reduced staff hours. We’re noticing a definite spike in our online bike sales. The activity is not surprising for this time of the year in a normal season, and I’m also not surprised that people are eager to get outside. What is surprising is how easily customers adapt to taking our direction and suggestions, and I am shocked at how much business we might have lost in the past because we got in our own way. We’ve learned that customers come into the store to BUY, and now that circumstances have forced us to get right to the point, we’re guiding them toward a successful purchase more quickly and easily.”

We asked them to give some advice to other shops that are still open but struggling to gain traction.

“Specifics may differ from shop to shop based on their physical layout, staffing or product mix. Don’t be shy about letting customers know the new rules. This is an opportunity to offer some conveniences, for example pickup and delivery, but balance that with emphasizing your premium services. If possible, put ways for customers to pre-qualify themselves on your website so that you optimize your time in the service area.

A little thoughtful effort put into your online presence can offer big rewards, operative word being “thoughtful.” Don’t just throw stuff online and hope that people will buy it. Simpler is better. Figure out what value or values you can dependably offer with the least amount of effort to you or the customer, and do that.

We encourage people to purchase online and we offer free pickup/delivery for both new bike sales and tune-ups. We’ve also created online forms for people to reach out to set up appointments for come complex repairs or custom bike orders.

This experience has really made us rethink many things about our business and our industry we’ve taken for granted. If we can stay healthy, some of us may come out of this crisis with a stronger business than before.” -Justyna Frank