Bicycle shops in the Netherlands are different from the rest of the world, in the same way Dutch cycling is different. The upright bicycle to get from A to B safely and conveniently not only dominates the streets, but also the shops. That makes that a bicycle shop in the Netherlands does not look like a shop for sports equipment, but much more like a place where you get what you need for a means of transport. A place where you are also welcome when you are over 40 and in ordinary clothes.
Like most of the Dutch I visit one and the same shop for all my bicycle related wishes. Ever since I came to live in ’s-Hertogenbosch 18 years ago, I went to a nearby shop that suits me. I recently went there to buy a new bicycle, something I didn’t need to do in all those years. The time has come to say goodbye to my “English” bike. Even though it is not even half the age of the Dutch bike I also own. This foreign bike has to give in to the consequences of ordinary Dutch daily use for so many years. Something the Dutch bike endures without problems.
Video showing the interview I had with Rick Kemps in his (and his wife’s) bicycle shop.
Rick and Mignonne Kemps are the current owners of the shop I frequent: “Kemps bike totaal“. A shop that was founded on this location by Rick’s father Jan in 1960. But there were two generations before them, who had shops in this region as well. Gerrit Kemps had opened a shop in Hintham in 1925 and Willem Kemps was the first to open a bicycle shop in Gemonde around 1911. There will be a 5th generation too. Rick and Mignonne’s son Tommy Kemps already works in the shop on Saturdays and in school holidays. He has shown great interest to continue the family tradition that already lasts over a century. On some days you can find Tommy side by side with his grand-dad, who hasn’t really left the shop yet. Sure, he is at the age of retirement, but his life wouldn’t be complete without bicycles!
As a real city bicycle shop Kemps sells mainly what the Dutch call ‘city bikes’. The upright every day bicycles which are so typical for the Netherlands, that the Germans even call them “Hollandrad” (Dutch bicycle). Of course they also sell everything you could need as a sports cyclist, whether you are a mountain biker or a ‘wheel runner‘ (racer), but these two categories only make up close to 3% of the sales each. Almost 95% of the turnover is made by selling the upright bikes and everything related to it. Like classy panniers, baskets, children’s seats and rain gear. E-bikes were 15% of the sales in numbers in the last two years, but these sales account for 40% of the turnover. The workshop also brings in a lot of the income. With the current recession people rather have their old bike repaired and revised than that they buy a new one. Reason for a recent conversion of the shop. In March 2013, the workshop, previously hidden in the back and only reachable via a narrow and long corridor, was brought to the front and became open and visible to all. The beautiful historic basement was opened for the sale of second-hand bicycles and a part was designated as storage room. The refurbishment of the shop floor completes the make-over that gives the family company a solid basis to continue trade even in these times.
Selling bicycles as sports equipment may only form a small proportion of their work, but when I ask Rick if they enjoy selling racing bikes and mountain bikes his eyes begin to twinkle. “Sure we do! We are all enthusiastic about cycling ourselves. We ride together with a part of the staff on Mondays (when the shop is closed) on mountain bikes. Two of the staff really do ‘wielrennen‘ (racing). So of course we are keen to advise others about their equipment. That is really great fun!”
And the love for the trade is also shown by the fact that a whole range of bicycles for children in different sizes for different age groups can be found in the shop. This is something you see less and less even in the Netherlands, as many revert to the internet – forced or by choice – for their children’s bikes. Rick is clear: “It takes just as much effort to sell a children’s bike as it does to sell an electric bike. But the children’s bike sells for about 200 to 400 euro and an e-bike sells for up to 10 times as much. That is a reason why some of my colleagues have stopped selling them. But we feel that our shop wouldn’t be complete without them, so we choose to go that extra mile for our customers.”
The range of brands Kemps sells is a bit at the upper end of the market. “Koga is a very good Dutch brand that we sell a lot, but of course we also sell Gazelle, Sparta and Batavus, the more mainstream but good Dutch bike brands. Some bikes that come from abroad are of an acceptable quality, mainly if the manufacturers were advised by Dutch or other European designers. But bicycles that were completely designed and constructed abroad are not up to the vigorous way the Dutch use them day in day out in all types of weather. You won’t find them here. We want to sell good quality products, with a professional advice, service level and guarantees, that’s simply it.”
Since cycling is so widespread in the Netherlands, the bicycle shops are widespread as well. According to the telephone directory, the municipality of ’s-Hertogenbosch has 24 locations where you can buy bicycles or have them repaired. Not bad for a municipality with a population of 143,000.