Shifting gears: As Detroit Bikes’ sales soar, company taps supply chain to buy PPE to help fill gap

While most small businesses have struggled as a result of the novel coronavirus outbreak, which has essentially shut down many aspects of everyday life from working out at the gym to going out to dinner, one type of business has been doing well: bike shops.

In a nationwide trend, shops across the country reportedly have seen an uptick in sales. And for Detroit Bikes, known for its commuter bikes and models such as the Sparrow, sales have not only skyrocketed but it’s also presented a “heck of a side business”: buying and selling personal protective equipment to organizations that need it most.

The storefront recently reopened after closing down in mid-March. Zak Pashak, president of Detroit Bikes, says sales for April were up 644% over April of last year. Online sales were up 1,112% for the month.

“We basically sold out of everything we have,” he says.

Sales started to climb a week after the governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, which went into effect on March 24. Businesses except for grocery stores and other essential businesses have been shut down since and residents have been directed to shelter in place except for caring for a sick loved one, getting food and medicine, and going outside to get exercise. With the order extended until May 28 and the weather getting nicer, bikes seem more appealing for people who have been in quarantine for several weeks.

Pashak says before the pandemic hit, the company had already made strides in positioning itself for success online, such as purchasing a Ford Transit to make deliveries of fully assembled bikes and increasing its web presence.

As for personal protective equipment, Pashak says he stumbled upon a “heck of a side business.”

“I got a call from a friend in mid-March who asked, ‘Can you help get masks?’ I hadn’t been thinking that way. I’d been thinking about bikes and thinking about my family, how to stay at home, get groceries. I wasn’t thinking ahead and what’s my business opportunity here.”

He started thinking about his resources, including a trusted supply chain, knowledge of sourcing goods from China, and his contact overseas who can vet the authenticity of products and deals on his behalf.

“I realized I should take advantage of that ability to do that and people need [the personal protective equipment],” he says. He sourced 200,000 masks including the in-demand N95 and KN95 masks and supplied them to nursing homes, medical offices, assisted living facilities, and public safety departments.

“I feel like I’ve been able to contribute … I’m lucky to have an opportunity to lean into it a bit. I’m not a nurse or doctor, they’re doing incredible work, but what I am is someone who has experience with product and supply chain.”

After sourcing thousands of more masks, he will reassess whether to keep on going with the side business. But so far the demand is still there – as well as the demand for the original business, the bikes. All currently sold out bikes will be replenished by early August.









Read more articles by Dorothy Hernandez.

Dorothy Hernandez is a freelance writer and editor who frequently writes about food at the intersection of culture and business. She has contributed to NPR, Midwest Living magazine, Eater, and a variety of other publications. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter @dorothy_lynn_h.
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