If you've visited either the Bike Nashbar or the Performance websites lately, you've probably noticed that they've gone through some changes. You might even notice that, apart from the names, they're virtually the same site. Well, it turns out that basically they are. The last year or so has brought pretty big transformations to the two famous mail/internet bicycle shops - including Chapter 11 bankruptcy, closed stores and warehouses, and a complete consolidation of brands.
It's all an interesting twist in a story about the rapidly changing nature of retail shopping. Both Nashbar and Performance have been such a fixture for me since I first got interested in cycling - and I'll bet many people can say the same.
A look back:
|An early ¼-page ad from Bicycling! |
magazine, January 1975. It's the earliest
one I could find.
I couldn't pin down exactly when it happened, but somewhere around 1981 - 1982, Bike Warehouse became Bike Nashbar. For the first year or two afterwards, they were putting "Formerly Bike Warehouse" under the Bike Nashbar name.
A double-spread-page ad from 1980 - Still going by the name Bike Warehouse. Look at some of those prices! Cinelli stem, $19.80; Campagnolo Nuovo Record derailleur, $39.80. SunTour Superbe derailleur, $24.40. Oh, to have a time machine.
|Now Bike Nashbar: this was from early in1982.|
Many cyclists in Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania probably share memories of an advantage to being nearby the company's Youngstown-area headquarters: the Bike Nashbar warehouse outlet store. It was a no-frills shopping experience, with tables and bins full of the things Nashbar was famous for: closeouts and overstocks - marked down to practically give-away prices. Also, the company had a very liberal return policy, so one could also get great deals on opened-box and returned goods (you had to check carefully that everything was in there!). When I was at Kent State University in the mid/late '80s, at least once or twice a year our bike club would rent a couple of 9-passenger vans and make the roughly hour-long pilgrimage to the Nashbar outlet to do some bargain hunting.
The origins of Performance Bicycle Shop are somewhat similar to the Nashbar story. In 1981, Gary Snook and his wife Sharon, from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, invested their savings into a catalog mail-order bike shop. The focus of Performance was to offer a wide selection of high quality bikes, parts, and accessories at low prices. The glossy, full-color catalog gave it more of an up-market look and feel as compared to Nashbar. I remember how getting those catalogs every few months was like getting a glitzy "wish book" - the feeling was not unlike being a little kid and getting the big Sears and JCPenney catalogs at Christmas time. "I want this, and that, and those, and . . ."
|This is the earliest Performance catalog I could find - from 1983, when the company was only about 2 years old. Compared to Nashbar, it was a much glossier, "slicker" presentation.|
|Performance offered top-tier frames - and complete build kits. If you bought a frame, you could choose between different component packages and have the complete bike assembled and shipped directly to your home.|
|My friends and I always loved seeing all this high-end gear pictured together in one place.|
Both Performance and Nashbar, along with the other mail-order shops, took a lot of criticism for undercutting brick-and-mortar bike shops. It was a fair criticism. With low overhead, volume buying, and eliminating some of the distribution layers, they were often able to sell goods for less than the traditional shops could buy them. Another source of irritation was that some shoppers would engage in "showrooming" - essentially using the bike shop as a place to try on shoes, helmets, etc., only to buy them for less from the catalog shops. Both of these issues have only gotten worse in the internet age - and in fact, those same changing trends, and an increase in internet shopping choices, eventually worked against Performance and Nashbar, as internet competition has re-shuffled the industry even further.
In 2000, Performance bought Nashbar (and another competitor, Supergo, if I recall correctly), but the two companies were still run as more-or-less independent entities. Both brands continued offering bicycles, components, clothing, and accessories with their own names on them, but Nashbar continued to put more of a focus on value pricing, deep discounts, closeouts, etc., while the Performance brand focused more on having a range of leading brands, and continued to have a more upscale image.
The current state of affairs started in 2016. Performance had accumulated a lot of debt to Advanced Sports International (ASI) which owned and distributed several popular bike brands, including Fuji, SE, Breezer, and Kestrel. The result was that ASI ended up buying Performance. A new company - Advanced Sports Enterprises (ASE) - was formed to manage both the internet shopping brands and the bicycle brands, and that takes us back to the beginning of this story.
Unfortunately, the purchase of Performance didn't stop the losses or solve the debt issues. ASE, the parent company that controlled both Nashbar and Performance, along with those aforementioned bicycle brands, filed for bankruptcy last year, and different parts of the company were divided up between different investors. One investment group, Tiger Capital, took over the bicycle brands, while another, AMain Cycling, became the new owners of the popular online retailers. AMain consolidated the Nashbar and Performance retail operations, and as a result, Nashbar's Ohio warehouse was shut down, and all the Performance brick-and-mortar storefronts were closed, offices shuttered, and most if not all employees let go. Both websites became little more than mirror images of one another, offering the same products, which now all ship from the same warehouse facility. (I'm hearing from good sources that some of the bike brands may be totally gone. Whatever future they have is uncertain.)
All in all, it's kind of a sad twist that demonstrates the volatile nature of retail. It makes me wonder what changes we'll see in the future, and what it will take for bicycle retailers to survive.