Inside the Company Trying to Solve the Global Bicycle Shortage
Billion dollar bike-maker Trek was bracing for its business to implode in the pandemic — until the opposite happened. Now, it‘s racing to keep up.
Back in early March, as Europe slid into lockdown, with the United States not far behind, John Burke, the CEO of Trek Bicycle Corp., called an emergency meeting. As he generally does when facing a crisis, he told his leadership team he needed three scenarios: Best case, worst case, and likely outcome. Soon, the oversized whiteboard in Burke’s office was a scrawl of figures, bullet points, and backup plans.
The mood was calm, matter-of-fact, but even the rosiest scenarios were exceedingly grim. The best Trek could hope for, Burke was told, was that sales would fall 50% in April, 20% in May, and remain flat through the rest of the year. The worst case? An 80% plunge in April followed by a 40% drop in May, with business tumbling an additional 10% to 20% through the end of the year. For Trek, it would be the business equivalent of watching a $9,000 Top Fuel XC mountain racer soar straight off a cliff — all that would remain would be to pick up the pieces.
To Burke, this seemed unfathomable. Trek was still riding the high of a record year in 2019, with sales driven by the strong economy, growing concern about climate change, and cities becoming more bike friendly. Trek itself seemed indomitable. Founded by Burke’s father in 1976, the company was now an industry behemoth, the second-largest bike maker in the world, with sales reportedly exceeding $1 billion and some 3,000 employees — about 1,000 of them in the company’s Waterloo, Wisconsin headquarters.
Much of the credit for that growth went to Burke, a rangy, 57-year-old redhead who had developed a reputation as a demanding and decisive leader since taking the reins in 1997. Opinionated and a tad swaggering, he is the author of three books, most recently Presidential Playbook 2020: 16 Non-Partisan Solutions to Save America, which offers fixes for everything from the tax code and manufacturing policy to campaign finance and climate change.
But with virus fears mounting, and states and cities shutting down their economies in…