War with the Industry: Starting with the Bike Shops

ArleighAdventures, Better Bike Industry, Latest27 Comments


I have many bones to pick with the industry I love, I’m calling it a war – a war to get more butts on bikes, to get kids safer to adventure and for the industry to get their head out of the ground. The first battle in this war is with the small guy on the totem poll with so much power… bicycle shops.

Most bike shops forget at the end of the day they are the ones selling the bikes to the consumers. Marketing may have led the consumer to their door but they are the face of the bike industry. If they have horrible customer service or no foundation in the community there is a chance that the consumer won’t buy from them. The bike will be bought at REI, Dick’s, Target or even worse THE INTERNET. (Is that really worse than Target? Come on!)

Gripes with shops, I’m sorry if I offend

  • When you aren’t busy on a Saturday it is your fault. You can’t assume or hope that people will walk in your door.
  • Stop blaming the weather. Minneapolis has some crappy weather but they have embraced it and you see people riding in January.
  • Putting things on sale in the store is only rewarding people walking in the door. You must tell people OUTSIDE your store about a sale to get them IN your store.
  • Stop worrying about the haggling team racers. It is super cool to sell a $12k bike but not if you make $400 on it. If that is your business model I commend you and would probably want to visit. For everyone else, worry about growing that beginner cyclist. Empower them, teach them and they will respect you and spend tons of money with you over the years. The guy haggling you on the new Red brakes to get the best deal ever that he found on the internet…he isn’t making you money. Treat him well with great service and move on.
  • Find your place. Not too many shops can be everything to everyone. Do you love mountain bikes? Do you shred hard core and everyone is astounded by your riding? Embrace it. Behind everyones back you make fun of roadies, so why try to be a roadie shop? Have more mountain bike rides, help your local mountain bike group. OWN IT.
  • This goes with the above….Believe in yourself.
  • Get out in the community. Some shops are already doing this. Bike shop owners, are you on group rides? Do you get out to group meetings or advocacy events? Are you pounding the pavement for Safe Routes to School or anything of the such?
  • Build your community. Become friends with the other bike shops in town. Find what you all are good at and help each other.
  • Make the bicycle pie bigger. Stop hating on the shop across town. If bikes keeping coming to you with bad tune ups call the shop and tell them. Why? To keep people from getting injured and to keep people from hating on bicycles. Yes, you may be making money off of it – but is that really how you want to make your money?? Figure the missing pieces in your community. Help get more kids on bikes, find a way to market to guys that would be buying golf clubs, make your local advocacy group stronger so people are riding bikes instead of joining the gym.

I love bike shops, but I am biased. Alone in my southeast territory I have roughly 380 bike shops. Now that is a movement ready to happen. Could you imagine – 380 business owners and all their employees coming together for one like cause? BICYCLES



27 Comments on “War with the Industry: Starting with the Bike Shops”

  1. Bike shops push my drug of choice, my bike. The “drug dealers” need to take responsibility for the drugs they push. A shop I worked in used to pay us a day a summer for going to a trail work day.

    How much does it cost a shop to be friendly? Sometimes a lot by the business they LOOSE by being unfriendly. A simple greeting when I walk in the door at ANY business will keep me coming back. When I’m ignored, you loose me for life. How hard is it be friendly? Smiles are contagious. Give smiles away, they’re free. A shop with good juju will bring people in just to hang out, and most of the time people will buy something, just because they like you and they like to BE there…

  2. I have another gripe with shops (and this as well is based on inside experience)

    It makes me nuts to hear that a bike shop either won’t work on an internet bike or they look down their noses at the owners of such bikes like they are not worthy of the shops time or experience. Sure, your shop missed out on that bike sale, but so what? The margin on the bike itself isn’t that great to begin with. You make better margins on the parts and service that they are in your shop looking for RIGHT NOW! That customer is in your shop because they want and need a local bike shop and they are essentially “interviewing” YOU for the position! You could a.) Continue to scoff at the customer or make fun of their bike and basically drive them away thus blowing the “interview” or b.) Treat them like they are already your customer, knock ‘em dead in the “interview” and probably sell them their next bike and a whole bunch of add on sales in the meantime.

    A lot of people buy a bike at Target or on the internet because the wanted to get into the sport. When those customers came into my shop I always looked at it as an opportunity to turn a guy/girl with a bike into a cyclist and once you’ve and once they realize they love the sport they’ll realize they love your shop for the introduction. At that point you’ve gone beyond creating a customer; you’ve created a fan which is way more valuable.

    1. You’re absolutely right, Brian. Averaging out the NBDA’s Cost Of Doing Business studies since 1990, the retail association’s own records show that bike shops at best break even selling bikes.(Some years they make a point or so of profit, some years they lose it.)

      So you’d think the savvy retailer would welcome the opportunity to do work on any bike purchased elsewhere, whether from another retailer or the internet.

    2. Sure that’s potentially true but after you’ve taken great care of a customer for years and they still don’t want to support your shop because they think they may save a buck online it gets pretty old. Especially when many times they’ve not even saved any money over in store prices. Lots of people are won over by great service and understand that the resource that is your outstanding service may not be there if they don’t make some effort to support the business at least some of the time. And then there are others who do not, never will, and don’t even seem to care one way or another. Focus on the positive I guess.

  3. Right on BSG! We have a shop in North Eastern CT. It is my husbands deal really, but he strives for all of the ideals you mention and would rather get 4 new people into riding then accomodate high maintenance racers any day. He does it with Passion and for his love of bicycling, that is truly what has put on on the map. I appreciate your honesty and just know you have soldiers behind you ;).

  4. Great story. Now I do purchase all my bikes from bikes from one bike shop. Richardson Bike Mart, Joe Howard. I always get great customer support and service.
    @takeabike (twitter)

  5. Agreed, agreed, agreed. We want to be behind a sport we love, but sometimes we’re all just haters. What’s it take to move past this?

  6. Great points, although I would argue that location can play a factor in slow Saturdays as well. I manage a shop that is in a downtown business district that is completely dead on weekends, yet we’re the closest thing to an underserved, low income area of town so we stay open. Totally hit and miss.

    Just wanted to point out there are potential exceptions to the above.

  7. Wait, Target, Dick’s and the Internet, I get… But what’s wrong with REI?! No, really, what’s the beef? I’m not trolling, I’m honestly, genuinely curious.

    1. JB – no beef with REI. In fact I spend way too much money there a year and have used them as examples of great customer service and retail design. BUT they aren’t a local bike shop in my mind.

  8. Sweet article…no offense taken… while, in the process of opening a new bike shop, our issue isn’t the community, products, location..it’s the $$ and current full time career’s. While a joint venture, I personally coming from the area where bicycle education for civic groups, community involvement & even enforcement, the bicycle caters to ALL walks of LIFE, regardless of race, creed, heritage, wealth, religon, it’s getting “it” out there that matters! I love articles like this, it only secure’s my dream of being a full time bicycle show owner, customer, leader within the area…now, back to it! Keep articles coming!

  9. Right on target BSG. Well said. Current cyclist can help and teach as well. Et’s face it. We all started as newbies and we were intimated at first. I personally have been blessed to ride with patient teachers and that made a world of difference. My turn now to spread the joy.

  10. I totally agree w/ Lisa. How hard is it to say “hi” to someone who walks in? I’ve been ignored way too many times. So I shop where they are nice/polite to me.

  11. Wondering if gender has anything to do with the bike shop experience Marcy and Lisa point out. As a woman, I’ve experienced it also…even while buying cars. In all instances, I tend to walk out and make my intended purchase elsewhere, which translates into their loss.

    1. Sedef
      While I think gender has to make it worse, I have heard tons of stories from guys being uncomfortable or not treated well.

    2. It is unfortunate that anyone is made to feel alienated in a shop- I can’t see my worst experiences in bike shops translating over to dudes, though.

      1) Asking where the saddles were for my (race) bike. Getting a judgmental look up and down before being shown to the super big and cushy cruiser saddles (across the store from the fast/expensive saddles I wanted to buy).

      2) Being hit on to a point of having to leave the store without buying anything because I honestly didn’t want the sales dude knowing my name off of my credit card.

      3) Having sales associates talk to any guy I’m with rather than me… despite being the customer, the person asking the questions, the one with the bank account, and the bigger bike nerd/rider out of the two. This one is way more common than the other two and stings the worst.

      Despite now living in an amazing bike city, I still get anxious about going to bike shops.

  12. BSG logo has 2 wrenches in her hand and you failed to mention my #1 beef with most shops…service. It’s their most profitable area yet on weekends when most of us need service a lot of shops have inexperienced ‘mechanics’ in the back. I was recently riding in Boulder when I needed a Campy brake adjusted. This is THE SHOP that recently tweeting about how they sent their best to Japan to learn customer service. The kid hand adjusted my brake, literally moved it with his hand and said all fixed.

  13. OMG! had to drive all the way to downtown L.A. yesterday just to find an “urban bike” shop only to discover they didn’t carry bike frames below 48cm or less for women….. (I saw 3 other women in the shop at the time I was there) go figure.

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  15. You got it right! My wife just opened a new bike shop (The Bike Shop of Bel Air) in Maryland and she subscribes to your comments. It is all about your commitment to supporting/promoting cycling. She only hires people that love cycling and want to work at a bike shop. Everyone is family and the atmoshere is down right enjoyable. She had her share of walking into shops that have an “attitude” but there are plenty of great shops out there.

    1. Carl –

      I’m from annapolis. When I visit home I will come to visit your shop (and wife’s shop) as well!!

  16. And hire some women! Smart, strong, community building women and empower them to have a voice.

    Great suggestions Arleigh. I’m not suggesting that men can’t do the community building job, just that women are really good at it.

    The more women you get rallied behind your shop and your cycling community, the more successful you will be.

  17. Always thought it would be great to work in a bike shop… Never actually thought about it being “retail”…. Don’t get me wrong; I do believe that I am selling something that makes people happy. But there are some difficult customers out there that just suck the hapiness out of it all. And can never be satisfied.. Unfortunately, that one customer can influence the rest of my day..

  18. I agree with all the points of this article and especially the sentiment about treating people who walk in with big box store bikes or internet bikes with respect. IMHO, having worked at shops while going through school, THE KEY is engaging those people for a long termn relationship. Take them on shop rides, teach them to fix things on their bike themselves, show them the trails, help them love the sport as much as you do. Those shops stay in business a lot longer due to building a relationship with their customers. Its a tribe – be welcoming and build your numbers

  19. “Stop blaming the weather. Minneapolis has some crappy weather but they have embraced it and you see people riding in January.”

    Thanks for the love to Minneapolis. Yes, we do ride in January! And it takes serious support from our local bike shops to keep wheels rolling, derailluers shifting, and cables moving through -15 Fahrenheit, ice, and salted and sanded roads. Anyone who’s ridden year ’round here can think of at least one time where a bike shop bailed her out.

    I’m happy to say I’ve got a great shop 4 blocks from my house that is doing almost everything on this list, including hosting shop nights to empower more women and queer people to bike. If they don’t carry something I want, I know the owner will special order it for me.

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