Social distancing, sustainability and accessibility helped fuel e-biking during the pandemic, but the battery-propelled bicycles seem to be here to stay.
Seattle-based Rad Power Bikes is widely considered the largest e-bike seller in the United States. Last month, they opened a St. Petersburg store — the company’s first in the South and only their second on the East Coast.
Vice President of Customer Operations Pete Boudreaux spoke with the Tampa Bay Times about what customers can expect from the new Warehouse Arts District store, at 2400 5th Ave. S, just off the Pinellas Trail. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Why St. Petersburg for Rad’s second East Coast store?
The journey starts about 16 or 18 months ago. A lot of our growth primarily started in the northwest and then proceeded down the West Coast and into Canada. We didn’t have as many customers on the East Coast so we started looking at how could we diversify our customer base. We looked at a number of cities. We recently opened Brooklyn, N.Y., and then we landed on St. Petersburg.
We looked at a couple of factors. Number one, we want to look at historical revenue with Rad. Is there some customer base or are we going to start from scratch? In Tampa and St. Pete, there was definitely a customer base. Number two, we look at the population density. Is it a strong population to help fuel growth? Our customers will travel to a Rad location. We have people coming from The Villages, Orlando, Fort Myers, to the store today. We know customers will travel to a Rad location but we also want to make sure there’s a population there we could serve as well. And then we also look at online analytics. Through Google Analytics and others you can determine if there is an interest in e-bikes and alternative mobility options in Tampa and St. Pete.
Then we venture out into finding the right location. We knew Florida was where we wanted to be on the East Coast and we explored different options, between Tampa and St. Pete, South Florida like Fort Lauderdale and the Miami area. We landed on St. Pete, we thought it was the best market to attract customers. Once we identified that market, we then zero in on the specific location. We looked at a number of real estate options across that area.
The new location is close to the Pinellas trail. Was that was a coincidence?
The trail is an added bonus. The ability to test ride a bike is one of our key criteria, so when we were looking for locations across that whole Tampa-St. Pete area, we wanted to make sure that there was accessibility to ride the bike. Rad stores across the country are often not in the same locations as typical retail because of the added element of having to ride a bike.
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A number of customers will come in to Rad either having never ridden a bike, an electric bike, or maybe they haven’t ridden a bike for a number of years. We get a lot of customers who haven’t been on a bike in 20 years and want to kind of, you know, regain that feeling. Getting them on a test ride will help with the comfort and understanding of what they’re getting into and how it’s going to hopefully change the way they think about not just transportation, but mobility and getting around. Being close to the trail was a huge benefit.
Since launching, has Rad seen a shift or change in the kind of customer base you’re attracting?
I’ve been with Rad for about a year and a half. I think we’ve seen really strong growth in the e-bike category. Specifically with Rad, we have over 500,000 riders. What I saw early on is people looking at alternative transportation options. After COVID hit, what was last thing you wanted to do? Get on public transportation. And so, in cities where there was a lot of reliance on public transportation, we’ve seen a shift especially during late 2021 to 2022.
As we’ve grown, you’re seeing demographics of customers expand. It’s not just a market of 25- to 40-year-olds. We have customers that range from early adults to those well into retirement. We recently introduced the Rad Trike (a three-wheeler) and we’ve had a tremendous amount of customer interest.
Early-on adopters of e-bikes were people who are really into biking or really into the environment and making a change. While that still maintains, you’re also now introducing customers for whom it’s changing the way they just think about getting out and recreation. Myself included. My wife and I will ride with friends on our Rad bikes every weekend. We’ll take them to the restaurant when historically, we would have driven a car.
Florida is not known for its public transportation. And while a lot of downtown St. Pete is fairly walkable, and we’ve seen an expansion in like different micro mobility programs, public transit is often seen seen as something that you do out of necessity rather than out of choice.
There was obviously a demand in St. Pete prior to us arriving. What we believe we’re going to see is that we’re able to introduce Rad and e-biking in general and the benefit of e-biking to a larger population by having the retail store there. We’re direct to consumer so we don’t use dealers. Customers either buy online directly or they visit one of our Rad retail locations. We have nine of those across North America.
We knew there was a community and obviously the weather favorable the majority of the year. That was another attractive thing and then also the broad spectrum of population. We have an e-bike family, so are not just targeting the commuter population. We’ve got different models for different types of individuals. And so St. Pete and Tampa really offer a mix of customers and options.
What can people expect from the store itself?
We started opening stores a few years ago. We want them to be a hub for our customers, who can come in and get annual bike tune-ups, a service or repair. We also know that there’s customers who want to learn more about the bikes and local regulations around biking. And some of them are maybe DIYers who want to learn more. So at our stores we do different events. Because we just opened St. Petersburg we haven’t launched a lot of events there yet. But if I looked at our other stores, for example, we have a store in Berkeley, Calif., who this past Saturday held a “how to change a flat tire.”
We try to bring people in for education and also excitement. Some of our other stores, which we’ll also be offering out of St. Petersburg, offer group rides. These may be existing customers or they may be customers who are wanting to learn more about e-biking, meaning they haven’t purchased anything. The store is not just for you to come and buy a Rad bike one time. We want you to feel like you’re part of a community.
What’s the policy landscape surrounding e-bikes at the moment? A handful of places across the country are launching local rebate schemes or voucher projects. St. Pete is not one of those places. Denver comes to mind. Is Rad involved in any advocacy?
There was some proposed legislation at the federal government level, in the Build Back Better proposal that didn’t get through with an e-bike rebate. But a lot of cities or states are adopting their own policy. We have to find alternative solutions. Electric cars alone won’t solve the problem, because you’re not taking cars off the road. We have to get solutions where people are looking for alternative transportation.
You mentioned Denver. Denver kicked off the program last spring. We have a store in Denver. I was there on the opening weekend, seeing community members come in with voucher program, getting a cargo-type bike almost for free with the voucher. We try to understand what is potentially coming, and we try to help legislation. We worked with CalBike, so I presented at one of their summits last year in Oakland. We talked about the bikes and the impact it’s having on communities, and we’ll continue to do that with different cities. If Tampa and St. Pete start to build momentum around this, we will participate in a way that makes sense.