When the stay-at-home order came down from the governor’s office, Steve Buchtel, of GoodSpeed Cycles in Homewood, expected business to idle.
Instead, bike shops in Illinois were deemed essential businesses, a move Buchtel said made sense. Many people rely on bicycles for transportation, and GoodSpeed also serves customers who use wheelchairs.
“So we stayed open to serve them,” Buchtel said in an email interview. “Then we hunkered down and prepared for a brutally down year like the rest of retail. Instead, it blew up.”
Phones started ringing off the hook, with customers scrambling to buy a bike or get one repaired. With employees opting to stay home over COVID-19 concerns, GoodSpeed's staff had slimmed down, and for the first time ever went from being open seven days per week to five.
To compensate for the situation, GoodSpeed began taking customers by appointment only.
Buchtel said they set up a service stand at the front door to minimize customers’ contact with the shop and its employees. After each customer interaction, staff disinfect the service stand.
“It was really stressful — trying to stay safe while serving so many new customers, and down on staff,” Buchtel said. “April and May were really great for the shop, but really tough for all of us to work there.”
Buchtel said bikes are sold out at local big box retailers, and GoodSpeed is running low on two-wheelers as well. In addition to its swift store sales, GoodSpeed’s website has gone from selling a half dozen bikes annually to selling the same amount in a week.
“We began selling bikes over the phone to people who hadn’t actually seen the bike yet,” Buchtel said.
He got some help easing the punishing pace of business when the shop’s seasonal staff came back from college in late May. “They’ve been amazing,” Buchtel said, especially with handling the phones which have been “a constant, eight-hour din that hasn’t abated.”
Buchtel said many people have turned to biking to replace their normal gym time or cycling classes, and also seek to fill this free time. Combine this with warm weather and what he calls “the Chicago Southland’s amazing network of paved multipurpose trails,” and it’s clear to see why so many people are jumping aboard.
It won’t surprise Buchtel if people discover or rekindle a love for bicycling, something that will benefit the shop’s bottom line — and the customers’ bottom lines, so to speak.
“We’re helping people blow off the cobwebs and get rusty bikes moving again,” Buchtel said. “Beyond this pandemic-fueled bump, this will be good for us longer-term, but great for people’s well being and quality of life in our communities.”