I almost hesitate writing this because I truly believe in supporting your local bike shop. Without them, neither you nor I would have anywhere to take our bikes for major work or repairs. I’ve got a lot of tools, but I don’t have every bike repair tool needed to do major overhauls, so I depend on a few local shops to step in and complete some of my projects.
Most local bike shops are currently just eeking out an existence with tons of hard work and extra hours. Shop owners are burdened by bloated inventories and disloyal customers and don’t have any clue about how technology can help them build their customer loyalty and expand their customer base. Here are a few ways that local bike shops could stop the bleeding:
- Get a legitimate Web site: Most local bike shops have Web sites. Some are decent while others can barely pass as anything built in this decade. Spending a few hundred bucks on a legitimate Web site with real product information is a start. And, no matter what anyone says… don’t ever, ever spend money on a Flash intro or Flash-based Web site. Let me repeat… EVER!
- Answer your emails: I can’t count on all my fingers and toes the number of emails I’ve sent to a variety of local bike shops in Salt Lake City only to have them fall into a black hole. This is so frustrating! Not only do most bike shops not understand that most customers are working during their hours of operation (10am-6pm), but they do the working stiffs a further disservice by never returning emails.
- Write a blog: Every customer who enters your store has a story to tell. Why don’t you start communicating with your site visitors and customers about unique and/or fun success stories. For example: blog about the time you had to break out the blowtorch just to get that fork race removed or when a dude came in with a real 6th toe to try on bike shoes.
- Use Twitter/Facebook: Micro-blogging and community networking efforts can really attract a following. Just like a blog but even easier, Twitter is an awesome tool to send out quick updates, product photos, fun bike builds, happy customers, etc. Many businesses are sending out discount coupons to their Twitter followers with great success.
- Charge reasonable service rates: I’m all for making money on service and repairs, but I’ve been charged anything from nothing to $25 just to install a fork race. I mean, it takes a whole 5 minutes max to remove a Chris King fork race and install it on another fork… $25! <shakes head>
- Improve customer service: This goes along with not answering emails, but also extends to the showroom floor. When all you can afford are untrained 16-yr-old’s or grumpy middle-aged, unhelpful employees, you’re not going to give a good image to your business. The whole bro/brah thing can only go so far, then it gets annoying.
It’s time for local bike shops to step it up a notch and get with the times. If anyone knows of a true local bike shop that is following these suggestions, chime in. I’m unaware of any, but hopeful that some are taking strides in the right direction. We need local bike shops and unless they do start doing these things, there may be fewer and fewer to choose from
I 100% agree. With the typical bike consumer becoming more price sensitive…it is even more important to really sell the service end of the local bike shop. One of the best shops that we have in Atlanta (Reality Bikes) treats every customer like they are their only customer. It doesn’t matter if you have a 150 dollar Wal-Mart bike or a 10,000 racing rig…they treat you equally.
Reasonable standard rates are a great start…and like it or not…full retail pricing does not exist anymore. You have to be a little bit flexible or you will lose business.
I’d just like to point out that not all 16-year olds are guilty of the “bro/brah” thing. (In the interest of full-disclosure, I’m 17) The shop that I work at puts a big emphasis on customer interaction and service. We employ 5 or 6 of your “16-year olds” and our customers are always extremely happy with the service we deliver. We receive quite alot of business from a competitor that is staffed by older people who are total jerks. I would remove the age connotation from the point you make about service. There’s nothing that says that a 16-year old can’t deliver the same level of customer service as a 35 year old. Proper training, a proper work environment, and the kind of respect from adults that allows 16-year olds to be treated like adults will result in them acting like adults and delivering great customer service.
But then again, bro, I’m 17, so I probably can’t think clearly enough to write coherently on this.
Thanks David… yup, it was a gross generalization and I apologize. I guess by saying 16 yr olds, I should say “untrained and unprofessional people of all ages”. You’re spot-on though… slip on my part. That’s really what I meant to say.
Do you guys follow any of the technology suggestions I mentioned?
GREAT article and I could NOT agree more. My two favorite shops are both about 20 mins from my house. I use them whenever possible and buy as much as I can from them. Both do a good job and embracing technology which I in turn eat up. It makes me more loyal to see this approach which is based on high service
@Marc… Let’s give props where props are due… what are the shops and locations?
I love your web site! Great stuff! One bike shop that I really like is Revolution in Sandy on about 8700 South and 700 East. I like them because they really do a great job with their service.
Anyway, love your site, but I did want to point out to Jason Mitchell that there needs to be an apostrophe after the “t” in the word “Lets” if it is used as a contraction for “let us”. Dude, am I know way a pro with the English language but I just wanted to give you the “kind” heads-up! 🙂
Ha… thanks for the grammar lesson! And Revolution is quite the shop. I was just there yesterday in fact.
Their Web site, http://revolutionutah.com/, breaks the “No Flash” rule though. 🙂
Totally agree on all counts.
I went to 6 bike shops around Vancouver before I found one that was different (it was actually called Different Bikes, go figure). Mainly it was poor service, to push, not helpful, untrained etc.
Regarding the 16 year old thing: having a salesperson who is not like you, whoever you are, makes the interaction more difficult. Having well-spoken, well-trained salespeople can overcome it, but it is definitely something that has to be overcome, and few bike shops seem to acknowledge that.
My closest local shop has sold me the wrong tubes (for a stock bike that they sell), run out of a common tube (always stock the basics!), and refused to let me return something (I had to order it because they didn’t normally stock it). Internet shopping is not only cheaper, but the people on the other end know how to run a business and keep the customer happy.
It’s sad. I’d MUCH rather shop local, but at some point it’s simply not worth it.
Funny you should mention the tube thing… last year, the aforementioned shop who charged me $25 to remove a headset race had a whole shelf full of 29er tubes with Schraeder valves!!! There they sat all season because not one 29er rim I know of accepts a Schraeder valve.
I asked them if they had any Presta valve 29er tubes… nope. I just walked out shaking my head.
Thanks for the reply, Jason. As far as the tech suggestions go, I’ve been pushing my boss for a while to update our website. We do have one, but it’s very unprofessional and sometimes has incorrect information. We do watch our email though. Largely, however, our customer base is not the type that will look at an email or a website, and a large part of our business comes from local customers. We have more business than we can handle (sometimes we’re backed up about 6 weeks on repairs) in teh summer, but I think in the winter we could use more tech/networking to expand our business around the region.
And that’s funny about the 29er tubes.
Come north. I for 1 work in a moto shop and agree with everything that has been said and my shop should do such things mentioned. Come north for there are at least 3 shops I will continue to shop at Binghams in sunset (no other), Bikers Edge, and Go Ride. They all rock. They have what I need When I need it no hassle and good helpful people.
@David Howland — I think it may be a mistake to assume that your customer base wouldn’t care about the website, or that the website wouldn’t help the business. I know of a small shop that built themselves a small, imperfect site…but at least they could sell things on it, and customers could contact them. And pretty soon they were selling more of some items on their website than they were in their store. Like helmets —- they were flying out the door to be shipped to people all around the country. Not huge, but once their site got picked up by search engines it turned out to be a big boost for them. And it can help them negotiate better volume discounts with the helmet reps. That helps both the margin in the physical store as well as the online sales you make.
I agree with you on Go-Ride. I know the crew there very well… Scott and Kris know their stuff and will take care of you. They have taken the LBS thing online with some success. Still a lot they could be doing, but definitely on the right track.
These principles are not only for bike shops but for any small business who is struggling. Honestly, I’ve seen these tactics work well for many different businesses… it’s just that the LBS was on my mind as I emailed several shops asking about product availability and nobody has ever responded. Lost business for them.
Your heading of “The Bike Shops Suffering” should maybe read Customers suffering with After Sales!! What do we do with no decent
repair shop in our area ?? It’s something that has to be dealt with.
Spares etc can be got on the internet, but here we are stuck.
Let me give you a UK perspective on this interesting topic. For a start, in terms of customer service, the USA is light years ahead of the UK in general terms. As such, customer service as you know it does not exist in the UK.
Just last week I scouted around 6 LBSs to find a new hardtail XCer at a reasonable price(Around the $800-1000 mark). All the shops were proper local shops around 30 miles from my home. None of them were willing to move on ticket price – which surprised me considering the financial situation most of them are in. All but one shop had friendly, informed staff(for the UK – see first paragraph). I ended up buying from my most local shop – around a mile and a half away, a very small family shop that has been in the same location for 60+ years. The extreme locality of the shop was the main reason for buying, as well as supporting local business and, of course, actually liking the bike – a 2008 Cannondale F4. The owner bemoaned the internet and the fact that he cannot compete on price with huge online retailers. He refuses to have a website of his own and almost seems to resent people wanting to shop around for the best deal. The fact is where I live is a seaside town in decline – shops are closing fast and the ones that remain need local support. I am prepared to spend a little more to encourage local business and help support the town. Sometimes the best deal is, in fact, NOT the best deal. Hope that all made sense !
This is so spot on J – I’ve been so frustrated by bike shops who whine about online retailers yet do nothing to improve their online communication with current and potential customers. I love Go-Ride, and they are probably the most tech advanced shop in the SLC area, but the only just got a SHOPPING CART on their site last year. WTF?!
@Josh R… so true about Go-Ride… I know those guys really, really well and I’ve been pounding on them to get a shopping cart for years and years. I even told them I’d consult with them for free to get it online, but it fell on deaf ears.
Their solution is a little hokey now, but it works. It’s got built-in hooks to Quickbooks, which is what they use for inventory, etc. I’m stoked for them… they are growing and definitely leading the charge as far as hybrid LBS/Online retailers.
One suggestion i’d like to point out to bike shops are operating hours. As you know, most bike shops operate at exactly the time that most people are working as you have highlighted (10-6)
I believe that business would be a lot better if the shops considered extending their hours to 7 or 730pm in order to catch the customers once they finish work. In order to make up or the later hours, they could perhaps start work 1-2 hours later as well.
I do understand it is precious time away from family, but well…thats life in the retail business
I couldn’t agree with you more. That extra hour (closing at 7pm) would give working people an opportunity to stop in, with reasonable breathing room, on their way back from the office.
Another suggestion would be to open early on Sat or Sun so people heading out on rides can stop in before heading out to pick up tubes or other misc. items for the day’s ride.
Sorry…just saw this old update.
Passion Trail Bikes in Belmont and Trailhead Cyclery in San Jose (both in California).
Great article. Many of the things you said I have been feeling for years in the New York City Market. I have a local shop that is fantasic! Great service, great selection. Horrible website!!! They would do so much better if they followed your steps. The shop is called Peak Mountain Bikes.
As far as staffing. I know personally in NYC pay is a real problem. You have to pay higher wages just to compete. Many of the bike stores here usually have one or two late night’s, but they can’t afford to have more due to payroll constraints. The New York market place is losing great shops because they can’t compete with the online sites. More should take your advice.
Love your site!
Thanks for your comments, Stitch. Big city bike shops are even more of a challenge. Glad you’ve got a winner shop, but it looks like they need a bit of help with the Web site, eh?
Interesting article in Outside Mag about the demise of the “Angry Bike Mechanic:
Good to see that some shops are recognizing the same-old, same-old won’t cut it.
Another prime bad example… just tonight I emailed three different shops with a question about a complete custom bike build. One shop I know for a fact will not return the email and another one has an undeliverable email address listed on their Web site (how stoopid is that?!?!).
The third one was to my buddy Scott at http://www.Go-Ride.com. I know he’ll respond, but he’s a bit of a drive from my home though that’s where I typically end up going.
Great comments and the article Jason linked to on bike mechanics is an excellent read. I live in the US (midwest) and it strikes me how the complaints folks have mentioned are true here as well.
My first road bike purchase was a Trek Pilot 1.0 that I bought new in 2006 from a LBS. Being new to road biking I didn’t know anything about gruppos or proper fit, I just liked the bike, and could afford it. The sales guy didn’t offer or suggest any kind of fitting. I took a test ride and the bike felt a bit uncomfortable. The salesman chalked it up to my being new to road bikes and left it at that. It took a year of tweaking and adjusting and learning about stuff on my own to realize that the frame I bought was too big. By the time I figured out it was the bike, and not me, it was too late to exchange it. I still have the bike, with almost 4k miles on it now, but I finally had to turn the seat post 180 degrees to be able to ride it comfortably. I’ve taken the bike to other shops in the area for service (the original LBS always has a turn-around time of at least a week on even minor tune-ups) and run into the “Oh, you bought a Trek…” bias. E-mail questions, if they are returned at all, take 3-4 days on average. Stores aren’t open past 5 on weekdays and some are only open from noon-4 on weekends. How do these stores expect to stay in business with hours of operation like that? I have given it some thought and I think it comes down to the “cult” of cycling. It seems that most LBSs are run and staffed by folks who are deep into the cult of cycling. I get the distinct impression that they would much rather be riding bikes themselves than working in a bike shop. Passion for what you do (and what you sell) can be a great thing, but I think every shop needs some people on staff with more of an eye for the bottom line than the finish line.
I should have added that I just purchased a Scott Speedster S30 from a large sporting goods chain store (Scheels) that should be delivered in a week or so. I test rode a Jamis and a Cannondale at two different LBSs. At the Jamis shop, the guy I first spoke with left me to go for a ride and the other employees were too busy crowding around the TV in the shop watching TDF highlights. They literally didn’t even know I was in the store until I brought the Jamis up to them and asked them if I could take a test ride. I’ll still use the LBS for major service that I can’t do myself, but until they change (or adopt) their business model, I’ll take my business to big box stores and the web.
Lets add clearance sales to the list. I know too many local bike shops which carry inventory years old and ask full retail price for the item when etailers are clearing the same items at fire prices. These retailers are relying on customers with an immediate, emergency buy and are willing to pay way over what would be charged online. The local bike shops seldom hold sales and I’m tired of the same inventory on the shelves year after year – in fact, I no longer frequent the local shops except for those emergency items.
Part of the problem lies with bike shop owners, many of whom are not “business” people but former mechanics, racers, enthusiasts, etc. The idea of building a customer base is so off base to them – I have never, ever received a follow up letter or call after a repair or a reminder mailer that a yearly tune-up is approaching (hopefully with a small discount).
Local bike shops have to find their competitive advantage or the day of the small shop might go the way of the old community store. sadly
Your dead on with Bike shops! There is no with this guy and I will not give him another dime of my business! This guy thought he was so cool in trying to upgrade me. His Arrogance made me reach for my air sickness bag!!! In sharp contarst, Nor Cal Bikes in Santa Rosa Rocks!! Jeff executed a great bike fit spent the time and I believe I have already reffered 5 qualified bike riders! Moral of the story earn my business! When people expect you to pay them that does not work! I hear you too I love Bikes Shops! Yet their customer service skills are poor! If you do not want to be there than find another job
Passion in bike shops sell! Love getting people involved with Bikes!
The real key issue is maintenance people who are mean to customers!
They should be terminated quickly! I have had two expereinces where I walked out the door and said, They really do suck!!!! When you suck you suck! When you have game you have Game! Bike shops also have to eductae their market base on the fundamentals of proper riding! By doing this they will create a long term relationship
and long term dollars. Find out where the customer is and start there. I promise you the dollars will follow! I love bike shops!
The ambassador of motivation
One of the most frustrating things I have keeping me from buying more at my LBS’s is the official international bike shop opening time of 10:00 AM and closing time of 7:00 PM.
I’ve told the local shops that extended hours would be awesome- if not just for weekends, or perhaps one day a week- It’s just that these ‘middle of day’ hours are almost useless for regular working people.
well…thats life I know personally in NYC pay is a real problem. You have to pay higher wages just to compete.
Have you been to Infinite Cycles in Riverton? They offer all the bullet points you mentioned. I found out about them when an add for their shop came up on my facebook page. They offer free lifetime service on bikes purchased at their shop. I bought my wife a Cannondale hardtail there as I was impressed with the shop and staff. They sell Titus and Cannondale bikes. By the way have you been on the Titus FTM? It is at the top of my shortlist with the Blur LT, and Ibis Mojo.
I haven’t been to Infinite Cycles, but I’ve driven by and know where they are. Perhaps I’ll have to stop in and do a profile on them. For everyone else’s benefit, here’s their Web site:
I haven’t been on the Titus FTM. I was going to at Interbike, but opted to ride the Santa Cruz Tallboy instead–glad I did! I’ll have to see about getting on a Titus this year though. Ping me if you want to take my Ibis Mojo out for a spin. I think you’d like it.
I have to put in my two cents for Contender Bicycles. At one point, a lot of the staff fit the “you are not worthy” school but there has been a huge change. Great staff including from smart teenagers, who take good care of everyone from the local fast and skinny crowd of cat 1s to the people buying their first bike. But…. everything you said about late 90’s web sites is oh so true. Now, if they only carried Ibis I might get my “dream bike”
I’ve heard plenty of good things from Contender as well…
Great lineup if you’re looking for a boutique road brand.
I can tell you why LBS Suffer. It’s when you have the experience I had this week. I take the bike in, explain the work (about 2 hours – put fenders on, fix spokes and true a wheel, retire the bike) and leave it to pick up in the afternoon. They call and say “Bike is next in queue – The bike is not ready tonight, it’ll be ready by 1pm tomorrow”. OK. Well 1pm tomorow comes, I call and they say “the bike is next in the queue” again. I say “Well, will the bike be ready by tonight?” I am assured its the case. I guess the bike ahead of me in the queue needed alot of work ;D. Well, they don’t call me that night. I have no idea what’s going on.
Does that sound like an unfamiliar scenario ? NO probably not.
I just noticed this “review” and had to comment on the lack of email response by LBS’s. I decided in my “old” age to get a FINE bike. Sort of like the mid-life Ferrari. Do we really need it? No. Does it make us drool and be deliriously happy? Yes.
I spec’d this thing out in the best (in my opinion…and I think Jason’s since they were based on his reviews and suggestions) components possible. I went to Wrench Science and couldn’t even get what I wanted…but their closest version was almost $8,000. The MSRP with all the additions…Ibis has a great site…was almost $7,300. I called my LBS that is the only local dealer for Ibis several times about building this for me…and they told me that the owner had to make these decisions and he would call me. He never did.
They finally suggested I send an email to the shop. I emailed several times with the exact build I wanted and asked what the best price he could give me was. This wasn’t a POS build…so I expected SOME response. Nothing. I finally went eBay happy and ordered everything myself. I’m going to build it myself too. Total cost…about $5,200. I would have happily (well maybe not happily) paid in the $7,000 range to have them build this for me and save the time and energy I spent doing it. Oh well…their loss. Customer service is KING (or QUEEN depending on your view) in retail. Do these LBS’s just not get it?
@Mike… this is pretty typical when they don’t keep their shop estimates in touch with reality. I’m not sure how they could let your timeframe slip again and again and again… very bad.
@Brett… I know you would have made it happen right then and there and it’s too bad a bike shop lost out on your business! But, the non-followup is oh so typical (unfortunately). Bummer for them indeed.
Oh well…I saved a butt load of money. Maybe I’ll buy the wife a better bike! And my addition was off. I put it all on a spreadsheet this morning and total cost was: $4875.10. I’m fairly impressed with my eBay skills! LOL
what constitutes a “disloyal” customer?
Good question… I’d like to think that I can find a LBS that will be my “go-to” shop for all my biking needs with great prices, responsive service, reasonable shop prices and a usable Web site. If that was the case, I may become a loyal customer.
Jason great article. You wrote this over a year ago and it still holds true. I’ve purchased two bikes and have spent over 8,000 dollars at my LBS. I try to be loyal and buy all my stuff there, even if it is priced a little more than on the internet, but I’m done with getting all the stupid service fees for a two second fix. Even with all my time there I still have to wait forever to get my bike looked at; this includes if no one is in the store. I don’t like to burn my brigades but I think I’m going to give the manager some “feedback” and let him know I’m looking else where for my stuff. I wish LBS knew that if they took care of us riders we’d take care of them because in cycling you can never have too much stuff. Keep up the great articles.
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