Design reflects product

If customers remember nothing else, they will remember the steel, store-length catwalks that frame level one of the recently constructed Sporting Life Bikes store in Toronto.Suspended almost seven feet from the ceiling and bolted into the walls, the catwalks resemble bicycle...

If customers remember nothing else, they will remember the steel, store-length catwalks that frame level one of the recently constructed Sporting Life Bikes store in Toronto.

Suspended almost seven feet from the ceiling and bolted into the walls, the catwalks resemble bicycle paths and are used as an in-store display area.

Mix urban, country

Catwalk creator and store co-owner Patti Russell says the catwalks mix urban and country, high-tech and the environment.

‘They combine and juxtapose the two worlds of the biker,’ Russell says.

In the current display, which is tied to the store opening, bike-sized wooden packing crates sit atop the catwalks.

Bicycle inner tubes coming out of the crates represent product being unpacked. Pieces of wire cable, packaging materials and copies of the store’s original blueprints add to the store opening theme.

High-tech look

Out to capture a high-tech look, Sporting Life Bikes rises two stories with an open joists white ceiling, grey textured walls at the north and south ends of the store, checkerplate floors like those found on buses, steel walls, black and steel display cases and, of course, the steel catwalks that run the length of the narrow, deep building.

Co-owner Dave Russell explains the store’s visual design concept:

‘We want our customers to experience high-performance bikes, bike products and retail lines in bright reflective light.

‘The products sell themselves – they’re bright, translucent, metallic, and their colors shine through,’ he says.

Patti Russell says they developed a high-tech look because of the respect technology gets.

New technology

‘People are attracted to new technology,’ she says. ‘The technical aspects of bikes and biking are interesting, fun and responsible to the environment.’

Although the bulk of Sporting Life Bikes’ customers are professional urbanites in the 30- to 40-year-old range, the Russells say they want their store to appeal to customers of all ages, in all socio-economic groups.

‘We created a store that is cool enough for teenagers and clean enough for grandmothers,’ Patti Russell says. ‘It’s high-tech, but still warm.’

Sporting Life Bikes became a reality based on solid research, Dave Russell says.

Most bike gear

‘Our customers came to Sporting Life (the Russells’ first sporting goods store) for car racks for their ski equipment,’ he says. ‘This extended to bike racks. Before we opened Bikes, we carried more bike clothing and helmets than any other single-owner store in the city.’

Further research in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver and visits to 10 bike stores in Los Angeles confirmed the Russells’ assumption.

‘We saw people doing a lot of volume, but merchandising was locked in the ’50s,’ Dave Russell says.

‘You’d walk into a bike store, and you’d feel like you were walking into a cave with three or four thousand bikes on display,’ he says.

Unlike other bike stores, Sporting Life Bikes has its stock displayed on racks where the bicycles can easily be touched and quickly removed.

‘There’s nothing on the ceiling in this store,’ Dave Russell says.

Surveyed clients

The Russells also surveyed their Sporting Life clients. A full-service, top-of-the-line bike store was their No. 1 request by a 50% margin.

When Torontonians thought of bikes, they thought of retailers such as Collegiate Sports and Canadian Tire and did not mention any specialty stores, Dave Russell says.

‘The survey clearly told us that customers wanted and needed to be educated on bikes and bike-related products and lifestyles,’ he says.

‘They wanted a store where they could get to know what’s available. So we gave them one.’

Golf was the No. 2 request, with a ‘yes’ vote from about 11% of the respondents.

Dave Russell, an avid golfer, was disappointed. ‘I would have loved to have opened a golf store had the demand been there,’ he says.

Service centre

Sporting Life Bikes incorporates a service centre, but unlike other bike stores, the area is located right up front.

Made up of several roomy, deep-gray arm-like tables that bolt into the wall, these legless tables allow customers to easily manoeuvre their bikes in for service.

‘Some of our customers take biking personally,’ store manager Don Morrison says.

‘Some are so enthusiastic about the sport, and committed to a biking lifestyle that they don’t want to leave their bikes for lengthy servicing,’ Morrison says ‘That’s why an efficient service centre is important.’

The spacious service basement is a mechanic’s dream, complete with a triple-size bike shower and parts washer.

There is hanging space for more than 200 bikes, and, since March 25, close to 400 bikes have been tuned up and wheeled out. In the parking area, there is also a free air pump and a soon-to-come bike valet.

In addition to service on level one, customers will find shoes, socks, Kryptonite brand locks, racks of colorful biking caps, bike shorts, water bottles and more.

Bikes and more bikes

And, of course, bikes – on racks of steel 22-strong to the left, two racks of four in the centre and a rack of eight to the right, with more upstairs.

Large fluorescent wall signs tell shoppers ‘More Bikes Upstairs; Kids’ Bikes Upstairs; More Fashion Upstairs.’

Dave Russell agrees even more signs are needed to direct customers to the second level. In spite of the spacious layout and signage, some customers do not see the staircase and ask if there is an upstairs.

Bright and spacious, level two mixes clothes and more bikes. Wall signs guide customers to designer names such as Louis Garneau, Descente and Pearl Izumi.

Children’s department

The children’s department is equipped with every piece of gear imaginable, including child seat systems.

A sunny nook overlooking the street outside invites shoppers to browse the shelves. T-shirts, shorts and shirts are neatly stacked.

The staff has had good feedback from customers.

‘Customers are amazed that we carry everything,’ says salesperson Deena Pantalone.

‘They think the design is inspiring,’ Pantalone says. ‘They want to get fit again and get into cycling. They all want to browse.’


First-time shopper to the store Lindsay Miller was impressed with its look.

‘It looks like it has a lot of stock, with lots of people ready to help,’ Miller says. ‘It’s colorful. My friends bought a bike accessory for me here, so I came to have a look.’

Miles Dew, who just biked in to see the store en route up north, says it was worth a stop.

‘I think it’s great,’ Dew says. ‘They have top-end stuff. I ride a lot. It’s big. I like the display cases. Looking through the cases, I suddenly remembered things that I’d forgotten and can definitely use.’

‘Looks expensive’

Toozie Dyck, who bought her bike from technical manager, Bob Esplin, says ‘the store looks expensive.

‘It looks like there’s a lot of high-tech stuff,’ Dyck says. ‘It also looks clean and well-organized, with a lot of selection. It’s new, expensive and a little trendy.’

Dave Russell believes there is more to biking than bikes.

‘Our concept is to capture an important lifestyle issue, and to set an industry standard for performance,’ he says. ‘We carry only performance products.’

‘Bikes’ success is guaranteed. Biking is environmentally friendly. It’s super exercise, fun and interesting. That’s what the store says when you walk in the door.’