In an era where everything is instantly available and at your finger tips, what do local independent bike stores need to do to survive and are they even still needed?
I think it has become increasingly apparent that they are, or at least the good ones are. And there are a lot of good local stores, but what makes a good local bike store and why should it be supported?
We have been around in Queenstown since 1999, that makes us 20 years old. Surely by the time you are twenty you are pretty well developed as an adult and you have put the tough teenage years behind you. You start to figure out what you can do well and what you cant, what your strengths and weaknesses are in life. But alas not, you are constantly evolving and exploring new things trying to "find yourself" as it were.
This rings true with us. We have constantly morphed into the shop we are now. We have had to change as Queenstown has changed and as the mountain bike market has changed. If we hadn't we would have been long gone years ago.
Thats not to say that all our previous experiences and ventures were a waste of time and not to say that we might not revisit some of them but it has made us what we are and given us lots of knowledge and experience in different sectors of the market.
We started off as a bike guiding company, offering DH trips on the gondola before it was even open to bikes (Tim built one of the first tracks up there in 1999). Then the guided trips expanded and we started Heli Biking on the Remarkables range and offered beginner DH trips on Deer Park heights until it closed.
Helibiking on the Remarkables 2000-2015
Doing all this gave us skills to deal with the tourism sector of the market in Queenstown. Offering good customer experience and service.
Once the gondola opened for bikes and Queenstown Bike Park started in 2011 things began to change so we had to change. You no longer needed to come on a guided trip with Vertigo Bikes to get your downhill fix, you could rent a bike and buy a lift pass to the bike park and get way more riding in on a good variety of trails.
This is when we started to venture more heavily into the rental bike market, offering downhill bikes for the bike park. Because of our history with the Ben Lomond forest with our guiding and building trails we were given the opportunity to open a little store at the top of the gondola offering bike rental and basic workshop repairs. This lasted a couple of years and Skyline decided they wanted to use the space for something else. It was fun while it lasted but it was more of a free tool station than anything else (lol).
The Vertigo Bike Box at the top of the Gondola 2012
Anyway. Things changed pretty quickly once the bike park opened and the mountain bike scene just started to grow massively, attracting people from all over the world that wanted to visit and that wanted to stay here for the summer to get amongst the action.
With this growth began new challenges for Vertigo. One of the biggest was the opening of new bike related businesses and existing shops jumping on the biking band wagon. Everyone wanted a piece of the pie. Especially so in the rental and retail market, big chain stores and aggressive pricing and discounting got prolific for a while as locals were now starting to shop around and bargain hunt. This never sat well with us, there was no way we could compete on price with these other shops, so we had to change our game plan a bit and try and find our new spot in this growing market.
We pushed on and grew our bike rental side of the business, all but sacking off any retail bike presence in the store. We were happy to leave the other shops to battle it out. We also increased our workshop area and hired more mechanics to help keep locals and visitors own bikes running.
We also drew on our guiding experience and started "Queenstown MTB School" offering coaching in the bike park. This lasted for 4-5 years and then we decided that it was becoming cost prohibitive to run this due to new health & safety regulations in the adventure tourism market and we were just too busy in the main shop dealing with rentals, workshop and sales that it wasn't worth carrying this on.
At this point we really started to hone in and specialise in what we do, it was obvious that this was how we were going to survive. Not to spread ourselves too thin trying to do too many things. Stick to your knitting as it were.
Our workshop has grown massively and so have our skills. We have never wanted to fall behind and have constantly upskilled and evolved with the ever changing bike technology. We wanted to be able to keep people riding, both locals and tourists alike. At the end of the day that is why you live or visit here, to ride.
Ofcourse the one thing we haven't mentioned is the staff we have had come through the shop over the years. We have always been lucky and we have always had our pick of the bunch when it comes to staff, and have had some amazing people work with us over the years. It is these people and the energy and ideas they bring with them that has also help us become who we are and for that we thanks each and every one of them.
As the owners of the shop, we are down working on the floor getting our hands dirty along with the staff which we believe is really important. We aren't just barking orders from some desk after looking at figures on our computer. We love it. We love dealing with people and we love to share the riding Queenstown has with people.
Squad Goals 2020
The team/family culture is important to us at Vertigo and it is always reflected in our staff. We are all one big team working together in the customers eyes. It exhilarating after a busy day and you have been flat out but work seamlessly together getting everything done. We are nothing without our staff, they have made what Vertigo is and we like them to know this.
Through treating our staff fairly and with respect we always get good staff retention. We have guys that have stayed with us coming back each summer for 3, 4 or 5 years. There are plenty years when we dont need to hire any new staff. This is so important to us and should be important to our customers. You know what you are getting when you come to us, you are getting passion, experience, knowledge and a friendly, familiar face who is going to get the job done right.
Hardest man in Queenstown and an integral part of what
our shop has become- Ben Hildred
Like I mentioned earlier our experience from guiding days has given us plenty of time dealing with customers in the tourism market and this is a very customer service focussed market. This has carried on as we have morphed into our current bike shop status. I feel like this is a very unique balance that we offer traditional excellent customer service with our bike knowledge and passion. Everyone that walks through the door gets our attention, no one gets talked down too or made to feel like a fool when they come into Vertigo just because they aren't bike experts themselves.
It doesn't end here though, to be truely a local store you need to support and help grow the local mtb community. This is so key. The bigger chain stores do this by offering discounted product for local mtb club members or donating old stock as prizes for local events. To me this is fine, you need people to do this I guess, but to me its faceless, its half assesd and its an easy way out to ty and make it look like you are giving back.
To give back you need to be putting on dig days you need to be putting on races and events, raising money and help grow the scene through youth development. It is only the passionate smaller rider run business that can achieve this and that's why it is so important to support these businesses like Vertigo.
To Vertigo this is key. We have been running local race events since 2008. Downhill is our background and our passion and that is what we focus on. The DH scene in Queenstown has always been thriving and we have always been there to help it do so.
In 2016 we started our local DH series in conjunction with Skyline. We take care of the paperwork, permits, timing and prizes and skyline take care of the tracks. It has been a successful relationship which has seen us raise almost $20,000 for the club and which has also allowed the club to invest in a professional timing system. Not only has it helped raise money but the local DH scene but it has brought on so many local younger riders and we are so chuffed to see our series as a catapult for them into their race careers.
So where is this going? I have rambled on a few tangents, but hopefully it has helped paint a picture of why local stores are so important to the mtb community and why they need supporting. It is not about us being better than them or bad mouthing anyone, I dont believe in this, it is unprofessional. Every store has its place as you can be everything to everyone, you can only do what you can and do it to the best of your abilities.
As long as we are in business you can rest assured we will continue trying to be the best we can, not resting on our laurels and constantly trying to make ourselves better as well as helping grow the Queenstown scene.
See you on the trails.