Owner Garfield Cooper says it’s difficult to keep cruiser bikes in stock and all new and used sales are trending higher.
ZenCog Bicycle Co. owner Garfield Cooper said his customers like to be hands-on when they come into his Riverside showroom.
Because of COVID-19, customers can no longer come into the store at 883 Stockton St. for browsing. In response, ZenCog has taken its sales space curbside.
“I’ve been getting out in the morning and setting up a tent that’s like my social area — my 6-feet minimum distance from people,” Cooper said.
It hasn’t kept customers away.
Cooper said it’s been a strong two months, with sales volume up 15% over this time last year.
“Somebody said, ‘Why do you think that the bicycle is essential now?’ I responded, ‘It’s always been essential, it’s just an awakening of the essentialness,’” Cooper said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s COVID-19 “safer-at-home” April 1 executive order deemed bicycling an essential activity. Bike riding also is permitted on Duval County beaches after Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Beaches communities mayors ordered a limited reopening April 17.
Cooper said it’s difficult to keep cruiser bikes in stock. ZenCog received a shipment of mountain bikes, hybrids and single-speed urban bikes April 22, and many are reserved.
New bike sales and used bike repairs both are trending higher, Cooper said. Accessories like locks, bells, water bottles and helmets are displayed in baskets and tables outside ZenCog’s storefront.
“We don’t actually have a lot of bikes to sell at the moment. I am down to a handful of bikes. Some of them are higher-end,” he said.
The shop gets 10 or more calls daily about refurbished used bikes, and ZenCog staff is rebuilding inventory as fast as possible.
Bike shop employees are doing on-site or phone interviews with customers to determine how and when they’ll use the bike and record their height to get the appropriate options. Cooper said that allows many customers to know what bike style they want before arriving.
The goal is efficiency and to keep up social distancing, he said.
ZenCog is allowing test drives, but Cooper said employees use alcohol to wipe down handlebars, grips, seats and any surface that makes contact with the customer.
ZenCog is making its sales and service staff available to customers for morning and evening appointments to cater to customers who are asking for individual service.
The increased sales allowed Cooper to issue pay raises for his employees, and he’s cognizant of workers’ scheduling needs and preferences related to the pandemic.
The shop reduced its operating hours by 25 hours per week to noon- 5 p.m. daily. Cooper said his 10 employees are doing more work in fewer hours.
He has employed “creative scheduling” and is keeping shop personnel and clientele physically distant whenever possible to ensure the comfort of his staff and customers. At least one ZenCog employee is nervous to work directly with the public due to the coronavirus fears, he said.
Historically, ZenCog’s business slows during the summer months, and Cooper is planning for sales to stabilize in June as local governments begin to lift more safer-at-home restrictions.
Then he will encourage his staff to take “much needed time off,” Cooper said.
“I often refer to summer in Florida like winter in Montana. As far as the bicycle business goes, because of the heat it slows to taking care of your core customers and occasionally getting some new customers,” Cooper said.
The ZenCog owner also expects a “new normal” to emerge in lifestyle and consumer trends even after fears from the coronavirus have lifted.
Cooper, who started the business a decade ago, said he knows other small businesses are hurting due to the pandemic, but he sees people’s renewed interest in cycling as a bright spot.
“What I really am happy about is the bicycle has become so important during this. That’s the bigger picture on this,” Cooper said.
“Everyone is riding their bikes and everybody is getting outside and getting some sunlight.”
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