Schwinn shifts marketing gears as bike riding surges during the coronavirus crisis

Cruising down the boardwalk in Newport Beach on brown classic Schwinn Collegiate bike.

Neos Design – Cory Eastman | Getty Images

Schwinn, the most acknowledged bicycle model in the U.S. and as soon as the prime vendor, was all set to have fun its 125th anniversary this 12 months with a marketing marketing campaign that includes trendy variations of such venerable fashions as the Sting-Ray, Varsity, Collegiate and Paramount. Then the coronavirus pandemic slammed on the brakes.

 The places of work of the Madison, Wisconsin-based firm closed on March 13, round the identical time the whole nation started shutting down. Then, nearly as out of the blue, tens of millions of stuck-at-home Americans began riding bikes, many for the first time in years, or the first time ever. Sales of grownup and children’ bicycles surged, to the level the place by mid-May two-wheelers beneath $1,000 have been as scarce as bathroom paper and hand sanitizers.

 According to market analysis agency NPD Group, retail bike gross sales skyrocketed 75% in March and April as these family-friendly fashions bought snapped up. In June, gross sales rose 63% in comparison with the identical time final 12 months, reaching $697 million, although that bump was resulting from elevated gross sales of higher-end fashions — a sign, mentioned NPD analyst Dirk Sorensen, that cyclists “are now more willing to invest in the activity for the long haul.”

 Americans turned to turning the pedals for enjoyable, definitely, but in addition for train when their gyms and yoga studios closed and youth sports activities went on hiatus. Cycling additionally grew to become a protected various to public transportation, noticed Jay Townley, a former Schwinn government and a founding associate at Human Powered Solutions, a biking consulting agency. “The pandemic has made people aware, and afraid, of mass transit,” he mentioned. “A bicycle is the perfect vehicle for social-distancing transportation.”

  What in any other case might need been a requirement dream for Schwinn grew to become a provide nightmare. Its mass-retailer companions that have been allowed to stay open, together with Walmart and Target, noticed their inventories shrink, as did its ecommerce channels, such as Amazon and Dick’s Sporting Goods, a key associate whose shops have been shuttered.


An individual wears a protecting face masks whereas strolling with a bicycle in Domino Park in Williamsburg during the coronavirus pandemic on May 17, 2020 in New York City.

Noam Galai | Getty Images

Yet, as a result of nearly each manufacturing facility in China — the place Schwinn’s merchandise and the lion’s share of all bikes and components are made today — had been idled for almost six weeks starting in February resulting from the pandemic, the pipeline dried up. So like graduations, weddings and holidays, Schwinn’s large birthday bash needed to be placed on maintain.

Today, Chinese producers are once more buzzing and bikes are aboard freighters certain for the States. But as the U.S. steadily reopens and other people return to work and college — which implies driving vehicles and taking public transportation — will the spike in bike riding change into a fad pale alongside binge-watching Tiger King and baking sourdough bread? Schwinn definitely hopes not, and the firm is revising its marketing technique so as to hold America pedaling.

 “We’ve gotten butts back on bikes and want to keep doing that,” mentioned Nando Zucchi, president of Pacific Cycle, a division of Montreal-based Dorel Industries, which owns Schwinn and a number of other different bicycle manufacturers. Dorel’s second-quarter revenues have been up 8.1% from the identical interval a 12 months in the past, to $724 million from $670 million. Revenues for the first half of this 12 months have been flat at $1.Three billion. The firm doesn’t escape numbers for Schwinn and its different items.

“Schwinn has been No. 1 in all the brand surveys I’ve seen going back 40 years,” mentioned Ray Keener, an trade veteran and editor at Bicycle Retailer. “While their bikes are lower in quality and price than when they were selling through bike shops [in their heyday], Schwinn’s mass-retail models have slowly gotten better over the years. So if consumers want bikes for under $300 or so, the demand is there.”

Schwinn retro bikes like the iconic Sting-Ray are coveted by younger and previous alike.


Schwinn has moved again releases of anniversary fashions such as the Sting-Ray and Varsity, fortified ecommerce gross sales with a brand new direct-to-consumer program, put better promotional emphasis on households, new riders and commuters and expanded its line of electrical bikes and scooters.

 Though they’re pricier, Schwinn has developed “one of the broadest and best offerings of of e-bikes from any company,” Keener mentioned. Its in depth line of street and mountain e-bikes appeal to riders who wish to pedal the old school manner, however get a lift when the going will get powerful, like up hills, and the small, built-in motor kicks in.

 E-bikes additionally allow longtime however growing old cyclists, whose legs aren’t fairly as spry, to remain in the saddle and sustain with children on conventional two-wheelers. E-scooters are all the rage on metropolis streets and faculty campuses, and Schwinn is banking on title recognition to assist its Tone fashions stand out in a crowded market.

  Schwinn’s rise and fall

 Well earlier than the pandemic upended its unique plans, Schwinn was dealing with a steep climb in regaining the model’s reputation, which peaked during the mid-20th century, and competing in the present fragmented market. “We’re looking at what we can do to use our tremendous heritage in cycling,” Zucchi mentioned when CNBC first spoke with him in mid-February, pre-coronavirus. “Not just that we’re old, but still new and relevant.”

 The firm was based in Chicago in 1895 by a pair of German immigrants, Ignaz Schwinn and Adolph Arnold, amidst the nation’s halcyon days of bike riding and manufacturing. Even after the car grew to become king of the roads and thinned out the bike trade, Schwinn thrived by buying struggling rivals, designing modern fashions and constructing a powerful supplier gross sales community amongst franchised and impartial bike outlets and mass retailers such as Sears and Montgomery Ward.

A classic picture of a Schwinn bike store taken in the 1960s.


 Ignaz Schwinn’s heirs maintained the firm’s market dominance into the 1960s and ’70s, introducing a sequence of best-selling fashions, however then didn’t sustain with fabrication know-how and biking developments, particularly street racing bikes and mountain bikes. Domestic, European and Asian bike makers capitalized and surpassed Schwinn, till the once-preeminent firm filed for chapter in 1992 and was acquired by an funding group, led by infamous company raider Sam Zell,  the following 12 months for $60 million.

“At one point, Schwinn almost meant bicycling,” mentioned Bill Strickland, a former editor-in-chief at Bicycling and presently the journal’s rider-in-chief. “But questionable leadership didn’t understand what was happening and was slow to innovate. Companies like Specialized, Trek and Cannondale took market share, and by the time Schwinn responded in the ’90s, it was too late.”

The Schwinn title lived on for about one other decade, most notably with forays into mountain biking, however could not sustain with growing competitors. The firm was bought in one other chapter public sale for $86 million in 2001 by Pacific Cycle, which in flip was acquired for $310 million by Dorel in 2004. Besides Schwinn, now thought of a low- to mid-level model, Pacific operates Mongoose and its well-regarded line of mountain and BMX bikes, whereas Dorel manages the higher-end Cannondale, GT, Charge and Caloi marques.

 Cycling beneficial properties in reputation

 The U.S. bicycle trade — which reported complete retail gross sales of $3.Three billion in 2019, up 1% from the earlier 12 months, in accordance with NPD — is a blended bag. There are also dozens of small-scale builders of personalized, handmade bikes, together with Mosaic, Dean, Co-Motion and Waterford/Gunnar, (owned by Richard Schwinn, Ignaz’s nice grandson,) that promote fashions for upwards of $20,000.

 The market is broadly divided into street, mountain and hybrid bike classes, with subcategories in every. Gravel bikes, designed for on- and off-road riding, are well-liked proper now. The fastest-growing section is e-bikes although they signify a small a part of the market. The coronavirus-related craze has boosted demand for metropolis/commuter bikes. Many manufacturers additionally supply a plethora of biking attire and equipment.

We wish to use our heritage to carry us to the forefront of the trade.

Nando Zucchi

president of Pacific Cycle

 Generally, entrepreneurs goal informal, leisure riders and hardcore fans. Price factors fluctuate broadly, from beneath $100 for a Schwinn children’ bike at a big-box retailer to $12,500 for a Trek street bike with a carbon body, digital shifting and disc brakes at a specialty bike store. Ecommerce gross sales are growing amongst Amazon, quite a few online-only bike shops and mass retailers, as nicely as direct-to-consumer (D2C) on-line gross sales by a rising variety of manufacturers.

 Schwinn has bikes in each class — for males, girls and children — and sells them by mass retailers’ bricks-and-mortar shops and on-line channels, plus its D2C one. They’re low- to reasonably priced, most beneath $1,000, although the top-of-the-line mannequin in its e-bike roster goes for $4,000.  Dick’s declined to touch upon its Schwinn gross sales, and Walmart would solely say that usually it is promoting extra bikes during the pandemic than it did for Christmas final December.

 “We serve people from trikes to trikes,” Zucchi states, “from their first tricycle as a kid to their last bike, an adult tricycle. We’re not targeting the high-end road cyclist, but someone who is interested in cycling, who wants to be outside, get some fitness and enjoy the sensation of biking, that feeling of freedom. Schwinn is not about cheap, but about value and quality,” provides Zucchi, a loyal bike owner who retains six bikes in his storage.

 Like most companies during the pandemic, Schwinn’s almost 100 workers have been working remotely. “We’ve reviewed next year’s products with customers via Zoom,” Zucchi mentioned from his residence when CNBC spoke with him once more, in early June. The exception was Walmart, which insisted on an in-person evaluation. “We had to charter a plane to Bentonville,” he mentioned.

 An American icon

Although the firm’s 125th anniversary plans have been rescheduled, Schwinn has been utilizing social media to welcome shoppers who’ve come again to biking during the crisis. “We want to keep them engaged and interested,” Zucchi mentioned.

 While launch dates of the up to date classics have been delayed, the new Sting-Ray is now accessible on Schwinn’s web site ($370) and at Walmart and its different mass retail companions, Zucchi mentioned. Schwinn additionally needed to push again the launch of the reimagined Collegiate from its deliberate June debut. An enormous hit when first launched in 1954, this revamped all-steel roadster — primarily based on the 1965 mannequin — is being produced in an unique cope with Detroit Bikes. Just 500 shall be made and so they’ll solely be accessible on-line by, for $998, in the coming weeks.

Schwinn’s revamped roadster: the 2020 Collegiate bike.


 Schwinn has shifted some summer season marketing {dollars} to later in the 12 months. “There’s no sense in doing a lot of marketing when people can’t buy products,” Zucchi mentioned. “That will serve us better and not frustrate consumers.”

 The resurgence in biking matches completely into Schwinn’s technique of leveraging its storied legacy. “We want to use our heritage to bring us to the forefront of the industry,” he defined. “Instead of just doing a repop of a Sting-Ray because retro is cool, let’s reimagine what the Sting-Ray would look like in 2030.”

 Not that Schwinn is reluctant to play the nostalgia card. Last 12 months it made an enormous splash with one its many licensing offers, a limited-edition Sting-Ray like the one the children rode in the Netflix sequence Stranger Things. “Schwinn found their way back into the lives of people who love bicycles,” mentioned Strickland, who bought his arms on one. “I rode it and felt like I was 12 years-old,” the 55-year-old mentioned. “That told me the Schwinn thing still exists, that love and passion.”

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