Most seasoned riders are familiar with the name Phil Latz who can be credited as one of the pioneers of cycling media in Australia. Latz was the man you needed to know if you were in the cycling industry and wanted people to know about your bike brand and products. Following Bicycling Australia magazine, Mountain Biking Australia and Bicycling Trade Magazine (specifically for the industry) were spawned along with the Where To Ride series of guidebooks.
Since selling his interests in the Bicycling Australia family, Latz has been a quiet achiever and last month launched The Latz Report, a website that fills the gap for Australian cycling industry news (as Bicycling Trade as since ceased online and print publication).
In this Interview, Christopher Jones from Bicycles Network Asks asks Phil Latz what he has been doing since departing from Bicycling Australia and for his expert insights into the state of bicycling retail and trade in Australia.
Christopher Jones: You have remained active in the Cycling Space since selling your interests in Bicycling Australia in 2014, can you outline your activities since departing from Bicycling Australia and Bicycling Trade?
Phil Latz: I sold the magazine and web publishing side of our business to Yaffa Media on 4th July 2014. This included Bicycling Australia, Mountain Biking Australia, Bicycling Trade and Bicycling Yearbook. I then continued working for Yaffa Media as a part time contractor, as Editor of Bicycling Trade and Bicycling Yearbook for three years, finishing during July 2017. Meanwhile I sold BA Gear, the mail order side of our business, to Everest Sports, and BA Press, to Woodslane Press, who are continuing to publish our Where to Ride cycling guidebook series.
From July 2017 until July 2019 I helped establish We Ride Australia as the new peak national cycling advocacy group in Australia. My role was Development Director, responsible for growing memberships and sponsorships. Over the past few years I’ve also helped establish World Bicycle Relief Australia, as the local branch of the global charity World Bicycle Relief that has built and distributed well over 400,000 bicycles into developing countries.
Christopher Jones: You have just launched The Latz Report, can you outline the purpose, the format and your audience ?
Phil Latz: The Latz Report will serve Australia’s bicycle trade. It’s aim is to help our industry become more profitable through providing timely, relevant information. Initially there is a monthly newsletter and a website. Soon we hope to become more active on social media. In particular I plan to start a YouTube channel with business training videos. Our target audience is every bicycle trade member across Australia and New Zealand. This includes not just the traditional membership of retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers, but also newer segments including mobile mechanics, bike tourism operators, MTB parks, bike share operators and so on.
Christopher Jones: What do you believe to be the main challenges which face bike shops and cycling trade doing business in Australia?
Phil Latz: Almost always, the first thing that bike shop owners will talk about is the internet. In particular the pressure this new competition places on margins and their difficulty in buying stock from their traditional wholesale supply chain at prices that enable them to compete.
But there are many other pressures including new ‘Big Box’ competitors such as Decathlon, along with the already established mass market players, some of whom are moving slightly more upmarket into the traditional bike shops’ price points and products. Then there’s a lot of talk about 99 Bikes, which is rapidly expanding and approaching 50 stores around Australia.
There’s also the ongoing pressures of rent, staffing, funding stock purchases and so on.
Christopher Jones: Online retail is an evolving market which makes it difficult to compete, both against online retail or as an online retailer. What does a cycling business (retailer or wholesaler) need to do in order to be successful in the Australian marketplace today?
Phil Latz: Traditional bike shops need to become proactive. They can’t just sit back and expect customers to walk through the door as they might have done in ‘the good old days’. Retailers need to be active online including social media. They need to emphasise their points of difference, such as their workshop. You can’t fix a bike online! The workshop is the theatre of a bike shop. It needs to be out in the open, in full view of the customers and mechanics need to be able to interact with customers. There are many other value-add activities that can also both directly or indirectly result in sales. These include shop rides, bike fit, group tours, shop based clubs, training services and more.
Of course, all of this requires a lot of hard work and planning to make changes, which is difficult when your business is already under pressure.
There’s also no substitute for good core business skills including tight financial management, good staff training and retention, good store layout and merchandising, buying the right stock and so on.
Christopher Jones: There have been various initiatives to unite and strengthen the Australian cycling industry (e.g. RCTA, CPF, Bike Shows, Industry Forums). Why has it been so hard to gain commitment and unity from retailers and wholesalers in Australia?
Phil Latz: It’s always hard persuade individual business owners to take collective action, particularly when it involves spending their hard earned money on something for which they won’t see an immediate, direct personal return, but instead grows the pie for everyone. Therefore organisations such as We Ride Australia (which has taken over from the former Cycling Promotion Fund (CPF)) have to work very hard to effectively communicate their message and benefits. In relation to trade shows, we’ve seen a worldwide shift of the major bike companies in particular, away from exhibiting at traditional format trade shows. But newer events that can offer them more customer interaction and demo riding opportunities are doing well.
Christopher Jones: For overseas brands considering retail in Australia, what makes Australia attractive?
Phil Latz: Australia is now the 13th largest economy in the world. It has gone the longest period (28 years so far) of any national economy without having a recession. Many major brands now see Australia and New Zealand as a single market and distribute to both of them from via an Australian based subsidiary. So between the two countries you now have a growing, affluent market of 30 million people. The ebike boom that has dominated the European bike market over recent years is only just getting started here, so I think there is plenty of upside in future years.
Visit: The Latz Report