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!