A few tips for bicycle shop managers (and owners).

Visit many corporate retail stores near you and take notes

Most shops want to keep that “home grown” feeling. I’m not recommending to lose that, if anything harness it but don’t forget in the end you are fighting to win customers over. Retailers that I recommend to visit include The Gap, REI, Apple, Best Buy, and Starbucks. Did they give you breathing room for when you first walked in? Did they greet you warmly? Was the store clean and organized? Did the staff present themselves well and provide help when needed? Were you ever lost in the store? Did you feel rushed? How was the checkout process if you purchased something?

Visit them often and compare notes. These companies pay good money to train their staff, merchandise their store and have a strong processes to make sure all these things are handled correctly. Save your money and learn from them. Pull from as many best of class ideas as you can, use the ones that you can relate to.

Clean your bathrooms as if your mom was visiting

I visit a lot of bike shops, and I always ask to use their bathroom. You can really get an idea of how a shop is run behind the scenes by their bathroom. Are there magazines of half naked women? If you have one bathroom for men and women, ask your male staff to put the seat down every time they use it. Better yet, make it mandatory. If your staff has to clean the bathroom daily, they will keep their pee in the toilet and not leave greasy chains soaking in the bathroom sink. I understand some staff’s need to use the bathroom sink for this use, but let the chain soak in a water bottle and wash it off in the sink. Don’t leave it in there. I also don’t think anyone will be offended if the kit you rode into work was in there, I will be offended if it is hanging chamois side out right next to the toilet (where my face has to be!)

Think before you buy

Never write a pre-season order when your rep is still sitting there. Ask feedback from staff, compare numbers from the last 2 years and purchase wisely. Pre-seasons, discounts, and bulk buying is a great thing that many companies offer, remember that it is ONLY great if you can sell it before the bill is due. Too many shops get sucked into saving 5% on their order and at the end of the season they are left with SKU’s they were required to purchase to make minimums. It doesn’t matter if you save $800 on an order, if you have a pair of $3,000 cost wheels sitting on your shelf for 2 years after you have payed the bill. Those wheels have COST you money by sitting there after you have paid the bill. Depending on margin, there is a change you needed to sell 2x, or had 2 cycle turns on that wheel set to make money when you factor in paying the invoice, losing floor space, and how the cost of the wheels tied up money from being spent on better turning product.

Never buy something that you or your staff wouldn’t use

There is a reason special ordering is around, promote it. If there is something you think is superb, bring in one to test out. Let someone try it out, purchase more based on that review. Your staff will sell more of something they believe in, help them do this. Teach your staff how to properly special order a product, require money down, require a time period to pick up and if it isn’t convenient ask the customer if you could drop it off or ship it to them (based on weight, shipping cost and the ability to ship!) If special ordering is treated properly most customers will be happy to wait. You can get me the EXACT bike I want, built and in my hands before the weekend? I’ll be the first person to test ride it? – Direct quote from a customer I had. One season I proved my shop owner wrong, that special ordering is possible and most customers won’t mind a bit! Special ordering over a 1/4 of the bikes sold in the store.

Pick and train your employees as if you could do the same of your children

Teach them manners (customer service), morals (trustworthy and dependable), cleanliness (pick up after themselves and their customers) and a healthy attitude (give them a chance to ride their bike.) You aren’t their parents, and it isn’t your job but to have a stronger company you need to make your employees stronger. They are more valuable than your low margin inventory.

If you have experience running a bike store, or any other retail establishment please add your advice and tips in the comments below!


  1. I am glad you put in the part about visiting and understand retailers outside of the industry. So man bike shop owners/managers think they can get by being that neighborhood, dirty bike shop because they feel it adds some kind of legitimacy. But, it doesn’t. It alienates the customers that are going to buy your high end products that are used to mainstream and high end retail.

    You can still be just as legitimate bike shop without looking like you are running a business out of your mom’s garage.

  2. I also used to manage a bike shop and this is all great advice!

    I would also recommend to have at least one woman on the floor – either a mechanic or sales. It helps keeping the riffraff in check and some women have a natural talent for keeping the store organized and tidy and will help with that warm friendly shopping experience.

  3. I’d argue that chain stores are not always the best places for gathering information. The service in my local REI (Berkeley, CA) is awful. I try to avoid ever going.

    Here’s what I would add:

    Don’t cram product into your space. You might earn more $$ per square foot, but it’ll make it hard for customers to find what they need.

    With every other store out to eliminate clothing and shoes, now is actually a good time to get a complete run of one brand in. Try-ons are annoying but sometimes you just need to get a jersey right now or new bibs, or new shoes, and waiting for mail order isn’t feasible.

    Niche it down. The most successful shops around me are commuter-specific, high-end road specific, boutique-brand specific, etc.

    And of course, clean, well-lit, and well-staffed.

    Customer service first and foremost.

  4. Great Advice Arleigh.

    I am a huge customer service geek. If I’m in a store and get no customer service, I will walk out the door and not return. One shot is all you get. First impressions are everything when you’re competing for customers. Go the extra mile with a customer, whether they are buying a $5 item or a $5k item….it really shouldn’t make a difference. I see many local businesses who are only worried about the ‘big sale’….remember, the littls ones lead up to the big ones.

    In regards to visiting the various retailers…I think Arleigh’s point was that you can get good points on what to do and also what not to do.

    Just my 2 cents.

  5. Fact is, the ambient quality of bike shops in the USA improved a tremendous amount between 1998-2008. That’s because a lot of the dumb ones– a little more than one in five– went out of business during that time. And the ones who remained had to step up their game.

    Overall that’s good news for consumers, both because bike shops are getting better, and because more of them *want* to get better. Which brings me to your excellent Five Pieces Of Advice.

    These are all utterly sound (although I might rephrase “Never buy something that you or your staff wouldn’t use”) points, and they’re all things I’ve heard from best-in-class retailers around the country. So your thinking is consistent with some of the smartest and most successful folks in the industry.

    But those aren’t the folks who need to be listening to this stuff, it’s those *other guys* who should be paying attention. You know the ones I mean– dead flies in the window, boxes and packing materials on the floor, bathroom that looks like it hasn’t been cleaned since the invention of indoor plumbing, surly sales staff, snotty attitudes all around…you get the idea. My bet is that those guys never will listen, either. And that they’ll be out of business eventually, preferably sooner rather than later.

  6. I am glad you put that down. I would like to extend a invitation to you to come and visit our little store here in Miami. We do our Very best to stay Humble and serve our customers to the best of our Ability. I made a promise 4yrs ago to my wife that when I started I would never ever try to be like the others. Especially the big box shops. To the Author I hope to see you in our store some day.
    Frank Vega
    Owner of Two Wheel Picker Bicycle Shop
    Miami FL

  7. I am so glad that all this points are brought up. its has always been my priority to make all customers feel right at home when they visit my bike shop. I have trained my staff to keep it that way. It works,don’t get me wrong , there is a day here and there when someone walks out unhappy but for the most parts it’s a good practice for any business to have. Try to keep your inventory small, in good taste, with the option of special order service and many other services as you can to accommodate the customer different need.

    Luz Pezza
    Owner of Zukkies Bike Shop
    Brooklyn NY

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