Children’s bikes have vanished from shops, not from the market’
Young people are the consumers of our future, yet many bicycle retailers are paying too little – if any – attention to the kids’ bike segment. They are doing themselves a disservice, because the sale of children’s bicycles can be a very lucrative business, according to Edwin Boelsz. And he should know, since he is managing director and owner of Kubbinga BV in the Dutch town of Purmerend and manufacturer of Volare kids’ bikes. Although he doesn’t reveal the actual sales figures, he explains that the company is one of the major players in this segment.
Boelsz sells exclusively through dealers, but not all of them are necessarily in the bicycle sector. The company’s bikes are also purchased for resale by toy retailers and department stores who see them as a good line of business – and not only in the Netherlands, because the roughly 250 different models in his range of kids’ bikes are exported to a total of 27 countries. The sale of children’s bicycles is clearly big business, but it is also an area of the bicycle trade that certain industry partners appear to be neglecting or have even abandoned – and that presents interesting opportunities for Boelsz. “Over the past few years, many big bike brands have continuously reduced the size of their kids collections, which has made it pretty easy for us to gain market share. We take the children’s bike segment very seriously and make a conscious effort to offer a wide assortment in every size. For example, we have something like 20 different models in the 14-inch category.
That’s a key strength for us, because we have them all in stock and can offer just-in-time delivery; if you place your order before 3 p.m., the bikes are delivered to your door the next day.” Boelsz believes that not only bike manufacturers but also many dealers are missing out on potential profit. “They’re letting it fade away, which is such a shame. The sale of kids’ bikes has vanished from the bicycle trade, but not from the market. Bike shops that work with us sometimes order up to €10,000 worth of kids’ bikes at a time. Halfords places an order with us every week, and sometimes even every day. And it sells our bikes on for a good price, so you can’t tell me that there’s no money to be made in children’s bicycles.”
Display a wide assortment
Boelsz is firmly convinced that kids’ bikes offer revenue opportunities for specialist retailers, provided that they take the right approach. Consumers are definitely willing to buy a children’s bike from a bike shop, says the supplier: “In fact, they actually expect reputable bike retailers to sell kids’ bikes too; it’s only logical from a Dutch consumer’s perspective. But they also want some degree of choice, plus high-quality products that are attractively priced – an Audi for the price of a Fiat, as it were. That’s why it is so important to display a wide assortment in your store so that consumers actually feel like they have a choice.”
Kubbinga presents its complete range of children’s bikes on its digital platform, where consumers can select their favourite and then locate the nearest dealer where they can pick up their fully assembled bike. “The website attracts a huge amount of interest. People don’t mind driving some distance to collect a bike as long as it’s at least 95% ready to ride when they get there. And that’s how we supply our bikes to the dealers,” says Boelsz. “In the past you used to have to spend around half an hour assembling the bike after taking it out of the box, but that now takes less than ten minutes because we supply our bikes virtually fully assembled.”
Bicycle trade is fairly traditional
Just like many other people, Boelsz regards the bike retail trade as fairly traditional. Pressure from internet-based competitors is increasing. “The competition now comes from two sides, both offline and online, so you have to be smart in how you react. It’s not necessary to display everything in your store,” claims Boelsz. “Present your products effectively and attractively, but restrict yourself to just a few popular models. Then put an iPad at the checkout desk so customers can see the rest of your range. If a customer chooses a bike from the rest of the collection, it will be ready for pickup from your store – and ready to ride – shortly afterwards thanks to our fast delivery times. That’s how you should approach it. As I said, you need to offer some degree of choice, but you don’t necessarily have to carry everything in your shop; you can also present products online. Dealers are sometimes afraid of the internet. Well-known retailers such as Blokker have felt the same, and look what’s happened to them. If you don’t embrace the internet, you’ll end up losing out.”
Kids’ bikes are just a niche market for many A-brand manufacturers, but not for Kubbinga. “We only make children’s bikes and that’s what our aftersales is geared up for. We deal with all the questions we receive within 24 hours. We’ve got almost everything in stock, and otherwise we always look for a satisfactory solution.”
Strength in specialism
The Kubbinga showroom in Volendam contains a huge assortment of kids’ bikes. The sheer size of the showroom underlines the company’s unquestionable leadership position in this market segment, because it is the largest collection of children’s bicycles in the country. “People are amazed when they step inside. They’ve never seen anything like it, and they never leave empty-handed,” comments Boelsz. “Dealers visit our showroom to gain new ideas and often rearrange their display of kids’ bikes as soon as they get back to their shop. They also see the power of a wide variety of choice. You won’t break into the market by offering just two kids’ bikes, that’s never going to work.”
Children’s bikes are not the biggest money-makers, as Boelsz himself readily admits: “A consumer who buys a children’s bike isn’t going to generate hundreds of euros for you, that’s true, but they will leave as a satisfied customer – and they are likely to keep coming back as they move towards adult bikes. An average child gets through four bikes, because they keep growing out of them. Not all customers can afford kids’ bikes. In the past customers always used to choose expensive options because ‘expensive’ automatically equalled ‘good’. Nowadays you have to explain things to customers more because they no longer know what children are riding. Brand names have become less important.”
The market for kids’ bikes is also changing rapidly, which is why the company is continuously working to update its collection in terms of colours, designs, frames and accessories. “Our specialism is an important strength; it’s definitely an advantage that we can offer so much variety. We listen to our dealers and try to respond to their needs if they – like us – believe in selling children’s bikes.”
One thing consumers struggle with is determining the right size of bike for their child – and that’s an excellent reason for them to visit a bike shop. “If you have a couple of bikes on display in each size, you’ll soon strike it lucky,” states Boelsz. That is also why Kubbinga prefers to sell its kids’ bikes through the dealer channel. Although lots of people are initially triggered by the low prices they see on the internet, Boelsz claims that the price incentive usually only lasts for a couple of days. “A children’s bike isn’t all that price sensitive; only 10% of consumers focus purely on the price. Most people also want to buy based on trust, which is why it’s so important to provide good advice. Once you’ve got people into your store, colours play a big role and brand licences are very important too. Bikes with a Disney theme (Cars or Frozen), for example, and Paw Patrol are always a big hit. We have complete licences, so not just for bikes but also for accessories. To be honest, I think it’s fair to say that selling children’s bikes is a mature business,” concludes Boelsz.