From left to right, Phil Cabbad, The Cannibal, Al Cabbad. Father and son and co owners of R&A. Phil started the business in 1976 originally selling toys and bicycles. A year into it he made the decision to go all in with high end bicycles. The rest is history as they say and since then R&A has become an institution in the performance bicycle retail industry.
This weeks Lucarelli & Castaldi bike shop is R&A, which bills itself as "The World’s Largest Cycle Store" primarily because of their huge online presence. However recently they have put more emphasis on their brick and mortar shop in Brooklyn.
Most bike shops complain about the internet hurting their business but you built a lot of your business on the internet early on, are you still doing most of your business online or are you working to build your brick and mortar business more now?
R&A has been very fortunate to successfully transition into the Internet marketplace from the beginning. We’ve actually been in business longer than most bike shops which helped to make the transition smoother than it has been for many others. Our Internet business accounts for a large percentage of revenue but it is and always will be an extension of the R&A brand that was established in 1976. The focus today remains the same as it was on opening day, regardless of the sales channel – to be the best source of elite level performance road, mountain, triathlon, cyclocross and track bicycles, running shoes and equipment anywhere. We’re committed to this in everything that we do, both online and in our store. As business dynamics and opportunities evolve R&A stays ahead of the curve in all aspects. 2014 will be a very big year for us with many technological enhancements designed to allow us to be an even better partner to our loyal customers around the world. We have what many companies work tirelessly for, which is trust and passion amongst our customers that spans in many cases, years. We never take that for granted and we’re always looking at new opportunities. I believe that where other shops see the shift in the marketplace as a challenge or a threat to their business, our view has been to embrace this from the very start and view ecommerce as a great opportunity to bring the R&A brand to every corner of the globe.
What is unique about the customers in your neighborhood? What changes have you seen?
Spend a day in R&A and you will have the true NYC experience. Our clients reflect NYC itself – a melting pot of people from all walks of life, who share a love of high end cycling and running. On any given day you’ll hear accents and foreign languages spoken by locals and visitors as well as our staff.
A certain self made billionaire stopped by the store recently to buy a bicycle. With his limited time and limitless budget he could have gone to any shop or sent someone in his place but he made the time to visit R&A because as is the case for so many, it’s more than a store – it’s an institution and trip worth making.
Our customers have changed over the years but at the same time have remained very much the same – people whose passion in life is cycling and/or running. Bicycles have taken on a different place in our culture as is very evident in Brooklyn. Fixed wheel bikes are everywhere, used for efficient transportation and as alternatives to cars and traffic. The same riders on their “fixies” are also some of our best customers who have a collection of bicycles for multiple disciplines. Our customers are now riding more types of bicycles for more reasons, versus in previous years when it was more often for fun or exercise. Cycling has gone beyond a casual hobby for many and become an integral part of their lives, which is why they continue to seek out our expertise for all of their needs.
How has your business strategy changed since the recession?
While America’s Great Recession has impacted every retailer, our strategy hasn’t changed significantly. As a company with a global presence, we enjoy a growing demand for our products, despite a challenging period for the bicycle industry and economy as a whole. Our strategy has been to expand into new markets and redefine our relationships with our vendors to ensure that we are carrying the products that our customers most want and have come to expect from us. We’ve also focused on the smaller brands that we expect our customers will enjoy. After 36 years we know who our customers are and what they are most interested in, which allows R&A to often be the first retailer to offer the next big trends in cycling. Our longstanding partners often contact us to offer products to carry before being available elsewhere. Our history and reputation as a premier bicycle shop for elite products gives us advantages that we are able to share with our customers. Ensuring that we are first to market with the latest product is part of what sets us apart.
How do you think the role of the local bike shop will change in the future?
The retail marketplace for all products has changed profoundly and will continue to change. Those that adapt will prosper while those that cling to the past will have a difficult road ahead. It’s been surprising to see how bicycle shops have avoided the trend towards nationalization that can be seen in industries like hardware and home furnishings for example but in time, I expect that to change dramatically. I sincerely hope that the neighborhood bicycle store will remain a cornerstone of the community and not lose it’s standing and relevance. We know that change is inevitable, which is why we are embracing it and seizing every opportunity. We strive to deliver the best experience to our customers, in our community or wherever they may be. We’re a local bike shop and proud of our roots. We have a very prominent Brooklyn and NYC presence but we are also one of the largest online retailers in the elite bicycle industry. While this may seem like a difficult balance to maintain, we are well established in retail and ecommerce. Both sides of the business will continue to be equally important to us as we evolve our technology and processes to meet our customers’ needs and expectations. We work hard every day to be the best at what we do, regardless of how you interact with R&A Cycles.