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12 Oct ’12 Comments (32) Adventures, Better Bike Industry, Blog

What Makes a Really Good Bicycle Shop?

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I asked the question on Facebook and Twitter:

What makes a really good bicycle shop?

I’m opening up the comments and want a good sound off. I’m not giving you any ideas or going to steer the conversation, I want candid thoughts. If you work/own a shop please state so. If you are a consumer that doesn’t go to a shop anymore because of not being able to find what makes a good shop, please say so.

Ready, set, sound off.

32 Responses to What Makes a Really Good Bicycle Shop?

  1. Randy Foster says:

    What makes a really awesome bike shop is if I work there!

    Seriously, though, I think:

    First, it’s all about the wrenches (and I’m not one). I want wrenches who are invested enough that I feel like they’re with me on the road. I don’t care as much about price (although most shops perennially undercharge for repairs) as I do about trust. I’m putting my life in these guys’ and gals’ hands, and I want them serious enough to realize that.

    Second, it’s about sales staff (that’s me) who are knowledgeable but at the same time aware of their shortcomings. I don’t want to go to a shop and have some guy who’s never commuted by bike a single day in his life making up stuff that he thinks would work. I’d rather him own up, say, “I’m not sure” and walk the customer over to the guy who’s been doing it twenty years.

    Third, it’s about having enough accessories, tools, and parts to make strolling through and shopping in the store fun. At the price point we deal most with in our shop, the difference between different brands of bikes is negligible, so it comes down to accessories and its nice to have an array there that spans the gamut between affordable and exquisite, allowing the customer to pay what s/he can afford for stuff that will get the job done (or at least look good on a bike).

  2. Missie Wakefield says:

    After being in the bike business for a couple of years doing only fittings I went to work for a local shop. I already had a following since I had started a women’s only bike group several years before. This bike “group” since has turned into a nearly 200 member (men & Women) bike club. After working there for about 6 months I went to Interbike and decided then that I would not go back to work there. The bike world had much more to offer me. After 3 months of the shop owner bugging me to come back, I did. My 2nd evening back I was being so micro-managed by a 20 year old kid I got frustrated and asked “well Mark, then what do you want me to do?” Mark replied “Listen Missie. Show up for work, pretend that you’re doing something. Screw the customers. Collect your pay check and go home”!!! My reply ” I’m not doing this for the money, I’m doing this for the passion and love of cycling. There is nothing more exciting to me than to see a novice cyclist buy their first bike and learn to ride. All of our customers deserve to be treated with respect regardless of their level of experience”. That was December 18th. On January 6th I received the key to my new bike shop. We opened on March 3rd. No business plan. No years of research. Just plain faith and the overwhelming desire to give our area a bike shop that they could feel at home in. Regardless of what they are buying or not buying. First and foremost my staff provides knowledgeable courteous customer service. We all treat each and every customer exactly how we would want to be treated when walking into our local bike shop! Anyone in retail knows that you can’t make everyone happy. But you have to give it your best anyway. In the 6 months I’ve been open there is not a day that a customer doesn’t come in. Stop right inside the door and sigh a huge sigh of relief. Why? Because they just came from the “other” bike shop and had a terrible experience!

    • Dan Shuman says:

      Missy…I just wanted to say Right On. Welcome to being an owner of your own bike shop. Where is your shop located? I worked in shops for years before buying one of them. I bought the shop when I was 25, I am 38 and still love it. It has its ups and downs, but I still treat or try to treat every customer the same. For me, I got into this because I love bikes, the mechanics of them and the thrill of seeing someone get on a bike for the first time or the 100th time. I don’t do this to make the most money, but it is my career and I do do it to make money. I match other shops prices on everything but labor. I do not match online prices because I am not a warehouse, I have rent and staff and bicycle mechanics and the know how. I support my community and they support me and my shop.
      Dan

  3. TurtleDub says:

    A knowledgeable, attentive staff that understands and appreciates newbies and seasoned cyclists.

    @TurtleDub616

  4. Brian Griggs says:

    I used to run a bike shop a few years back, but these days I’m just a consumer/commentator of sorts. The core of every great bike shop has to be the employees. They need to be outgoing, knowledgeable, non-judgmental (that can be a tough one) and just plain excited about the sport. If you are relying on hang tags and POP displays to move your inventory you might as well close up shop now (or you are Performance Bike Shop). Beyond that, when I go into a shop I like to see exciting products displayed well. This means, don’t just have a wall full of the low and mid-range products you now you’ll sell, display some high end stuff as well. I want to see eye candy. Not only will it get me excited about coming into your shop, but it will also make the price of my purchase seem a bit more reasonable. The biggest display crime I see over and over again in shops is too many bikes on display. Dont try to “wow” your customers with how many bikes you have on hand. The bike they are looking for gets totally lost in the sea of options. There is a shop near me that is housed in an old grocery store. They are HUGE! and their display is the worst. Nothing seems exciting there because it’s just a couple thousand bikes lined up side by side by side by side by side by side ugh by side by side by side by side…. Put less bikes on the floor but display them well. The last thing that I hate to see at a bike shop is employees that turn their noses up at or flat out refuse to work on B.S.Os or internet bikes. #1 Service work is service work and it’s still one of the shops key profit centers. Don’t limit the customers. #2 These are people who have tiptoed into the sport with no guidance and could use some help and a good bike shop. Don’t blow your opportunity to be their new bike shop and the seller of their next bike! #3 Excited newbies buy accessories and service work. Both of which have higher margins than the bikes themselves! Some bikes carry such slim margins there is no reason to be upset to lose the sale.

  5. Retro says:

    I wish it were somehow easy and graceful to get myself and my ride in the door, with parking inside. Drinking water accessible and easy to find to fill up my H20 bottle, and tissues available after winter riding (I -always- have to blow my nose).

    Anyway that I can get off my ride and relax is appreciated! Is music playing too much? Yes. Maybe that’s too much. Thanks Bike Shop Girl! Great question.

  6. Frugalapolis says:

    I think its important that they will match online bike shop prices if they carry the same items. Also provide services like installing accessories on brand new bike purchases as part of the assembly. Provide complimentary service for one year on a brand new bike,also give a one year tuneup with purchase. These are what make me keep going back to my favorite bike shop even though it isn’t the closet one to my home.

    • redhead says:

      In response to Frugalapolis’ comment to match online retailer’s prices. I absolutely disagree. A) this will drive your local retailer out of business. B)Good service costs money – money to pay employees who know what they’re talking about, money to have a location that is convenient for shopping (not a warehouse in the cheapest industrial area – which is what many etailers have). The stats say 10% of buyers are extremely price conscious – no loyalty to anything except the cheapest price. That leaves 90% of the people who fit somewhere in the spectrum of being willing to spend money if they are serviced well.
      I think this all fits into what makes a good local shop. Get amazing staff who know their stuff and appreciate that people want, deserve and need good service. Combine this with having good product selection – good as in large and good as in you have chosen the product because you have a reason to sell it instead of one of the hundred other options in each category.

  7. dicky says:

    Community involvement, tireless owner.

    By “tireless”, I don’t mean the shop doesn’t stock tires.

  8. Karen Skorochod says:

    I am extremely budget-minded because I have to be. I am still riding my 10-year-old entry-level road bike out of necessity for this reason. But in spite of that, treat me with dignity if you want me to be a customer. I do work for a living, I just won’t sacrifice my children’s needs for my own wants and desires, that is all. Keep my 10-year-old bike running and riding safely and well, and I’ll be your customer for life. I truly appreciate my local shop because they treat me with respect and never ever try to sell me things I don’t need. They also offer no-cost layaway, which is an option I will exercise when I do finally get to upgrade my ride.

    It really gripes me when people and publications (like Bicycling Magazine for one) a$$ume that all cyclists can just go out and afford high-ticket bicycles and accessories no matter what, and that the failure to do so means that you just are not serious enough.

    Also, I realize safety is a concern, but I would like to see more of a marketplace for all things used out there. I buy used clothing and furniture, so why not used bicycles and accessories. Many times things like a bike trailer or trail-a-bike are used very lightly and have many years of life left. Shops could safety inspect these items and offer them “as is” for their customers. I have even gotten clean used bike clothing at thrift stores and would love to see this in shops. I’d much rather try a used item only to find out the chamois is not comfortable than drop serious bucks on new stuff to find out the same thing.

    • Randy Foster says:

      @Karen, I really understand and respect your wanting more of a market for used stuff, but there’s kind of an issue there. Most honest shops don’t like dealing with used bikes unless we either know well the customer who’s providing the used bike or that customer has the original paperwork. Bike and trailers are absurdly easy to steal and the one thing a responsible LBS will do is refuse to deal with stolen or potentially stolen bikes (more for moral reasons than legal ones). It’s really hard when we see a bike come in with years of life left in it and the (almost certainly honest) person wants to trade up for a nicer mount, and we have to say no because we can’t be sure of the provenance. The same goes for accessories which are also absurdly easy to steal.

  9. Charlie says:

    To walk into a shop and feel I’m not welcome because I don’t ride a xxx bike. I understand some shops specialize, but make me unwelcome because of it – you won’t get any more of my money. That happened a few years ago in a small town in PA. I started going to the next closest LBS 20 miles away after that. Those guys made me feel my business was important to them. Anytime I had someone asking me about bikes, that’s where I sent them.

    Not asking or listening to what I want to do on my bike tells me you only want to sell me the highest profit items you have. When I recently went to one shop to see about some new tires, the first question was what kind of riding I do – not about the bike. That told me they were more interested in me getting the right tire for the application. Not just the right size.

    A great experience was when I lived in NC. I went in to the LBS for an opinion/recommendation as I was preparing for my first bike tour. We talked for a while about what I had already purchased before they looked the bike over. The only recommendation they made was for wider tires and a tune up before before starting off as I already had everything I needed and had made good choices.

  10. Bike Commuter says:

    Staff that is non-judgemental and actually LISTENS to me, how I ride, and what I want.

    Sample convo with an area salesguy:
    Me: I’m looking for bike shorts for a tour and commuting.
    Salesguy: You should totally get bibs! I think they’re awesome!
    Me: No, I’m going to be wearing them under skirts and dresses for city commuting, and I’m not interested in bibs.
    Salesguy: They might seem weird, but I know that if you try bibs, you’ll love them!
    Me: Dude, is there someone else here I can talk to?

  11. harris says:

    Humble professionalism. You want a shop that takes pride in their work and takes it seriously, but is not snobby or condescending.

  12. Alison P says:

    I like shops that are organized, but not too neat. I want to see products at both ends of the price spectrum–sometimes I like to purchase high-end products and other times I’ll spend just enough to get by. Also, I appreciated sales people who can sense when I need help with something versus when I’m just enjoying poking around and want to be left alone. One of my biggest turn-offs is a huge sign requiring me to check my bag at the counter. I’m not a thief and never have been, but I do commute to work. This means a work pannier filled with confidential medical charts that I must keep with me at all times. Even if I don’t have charts with me, that sign is a big turn-off–no one should have to hand over their personal belongings for the “right” to shop. If I see that sign, I don’t enter the store. Big loss for the owner because I love to spend money in bike shops.

  13. Krazy MEDIC says:

    You and I talked about this one many moons ago in your Charlotte days. The question was posed to in the same manner. The answer is still the same…

    The personality of the people who work in the store. You may remember how much time I spent in the store. How I got to know not just how I felt about my cycling experience but of the experiences of those who worked in the store. There were the semi-experienced and the experts. I heard of the daily commuters like yourself and the racers both road and off road. The hospitality set the tone of the store.

    I could have walked in there with only 5 bikes in the entire store but would still have kept returning. A store is not all about the amount or variety of bicycles it is about the resource and knowledge. Can you educate your customer and not force down the latest hot ticket item. Can you truly find the product and right price for them. If you can not can you find someone who could help them. (Kinda like Miracle on 34th Street when Santa started to recommend other stores to find the exact item a customer was looking for… not a fear of losing a sale but establishing a long term customer who will become loyal to a store).

    You know me… Old fashion.. Just me and that old Green 520
    Always Remember “Steel is the Real Deal”!

  14. Jheri says:

    I live in København, DK and there are a LOT of cycle shops here. Most cycling is for basic transportation. A small part of the population also does cycling as recreation and a few shops cater to them. Other shops specialize in transport bikes that carry heavy loads.

    I did live in Manhattan before this and saw some shops there which are completely different!

    Here it is important to give people value. A sturdy bike that is reliable and efficient service. You can usually get or rent another bike if yours is in queue or waiting for parts. The better shops run classes so you can fix your own bike.

    More than half of riders are women (and Danish women have the best butts and legs in the world from all of the biking!) and many shops are women-run and have women mechanics.

    I have a bike for recreation as well as my work bike. I don’t race, but she is a bespoke frame “fixie” made to my measure because I am very long. Some of the specialist shops that do this were mostly friendly to men and to racers and treated me poorly. I specifically found one who listened to me and gave expert guidance. They ended up telling me the best person to make the frame was a different guy, but I used them for measuring me and buying everything else for the finished bike as well as assembling it even though this was more expensive. As part of the deal they gave me free tune ups twice a year for four years. I *love* this place and have sent several other people there.

    In the end it is listening to someone carefully and not treating them as they were stupid. The shops in Manhattan were so full of testosterone that I was completely turned off.

    Oh – they send me chocolates when they get a good referral customer;)

  15. 2wheeler says:

    I have worked in 7 shops over the years ranging from small to large, both wrenching and sales. I don’t work in the biz now but am a daily bike commuter year-round with no missed days in 3 years. And captain of a bike to work contingent that ranges from 10 to 50 per day in my downtown building. I frequent several shops because none can stock every conceivable accessory that is out there. The best shops have practical stuff in stock, are willing to special order an item if it’s not in my size on the shelf, and have consistently good product selection of bikes (vs. changing brands every year or two). My favorite shops to work at let me do sales and not just repairs/assembly. Best customers liked to talk and be heard about their needs… and walked out happy with everything they needed to be successful at their bike riding goals. It isn’t rocket science, but it is community building work. I am sad that shops seem to come and go so often, as they are a potential bulwark and beachhead for fostering sustainable living in our towns and cities.

    As a commuter cyclist I continue to appreciate little things like lights, riding clothes (not racing kit), mirrors, cork grips, oil, leather seats, fenders, bells, and shop parties. A good shop thows a party sometimes! :-)

  16. Eric says:

    I used to wrench at a well known outdoor retailer. I left and opened my own small shop. Got sick of hearing all the lies and BS coming out of the sales staff. Truth and competence makes a good shop.

  17. Veloise says:

    A staff that does not play the “keep the conversation moving” ploy, and actually thinks about what’s being said.
    Recently I lost a seat post and saddle. Found a good seat at the cool local shop, and rang up a chain branch to ask about the post. Mentioned that I was on Alpine, about 5 miles away. Five minutes later I walk in the door, and the wrench inquires, “did you ride here?”
    Um, I don’t have a seat post.
    “Some people ride without one.”
    Really.
    He then explained to me how a seat post Q-R lever works. Yeah, sonny, I know, I was teaching Effective Cycling before you were a glint.

  18. Cynthia says:

    Service, Knowledge, A great smile.

  19. Chris says:

    I frequent a few bike shops for various reasons. In one shop, I’m responsible for getting a class set of bikes from them. Few people know me there. At another, nearly every staff member knows me by first name. If I’m ordering something special, where do you think I’ll end up?

  20. Barb Chamberlain says:

    Go read the article in The Atlantic and the comments on it–great timing for your question! http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2012/10/we-wont-get-more-women-bikes-until-we-have-stores-cater-them

  21. Jordan says:

    More brands and longer hours. We ride early and late and need shops that support that. Opening at 10 on a Saturday doesn’t help morning rides and closing at 6 doesn’t help after work rides.

    I’d also love to see more custom parts in stock. I hate going into shops that have nothing on the wall. I understand not wanting a huge inventory but there needs to be some examples for customers to choose from.

    There should be water at every bike shop. Seriously. They should welcome riders looking for a ride break. I’m shocked when I visit shops that don’t offer it.

  22. Mike Kirkham says:

    It’s easier to tell you what makes a bad bike shop. I’ve had a few experiences in which I walked in and no one knew I was there. It wasn’t like I was forgotten (which is bad). It was that I was never noticed. I recognize that stores get busy and I allow for that. What bothers me is that not only am I looking for answers to my questions, I now have a sub-quest to find a pulse on to which I can make my query.

  23. Libby says:

    Great topic! It’s something I think a lot about. Here are some biggies, in my opinion:

    Employees who don’t assume anything about me–my interests, my skill level, my knowledge. Instead, they ask questions.

    No one in the shop says “plush”–unless they’re referring to carpet, I guess. :)

    The shop offers something better than a “shrink it and pink it” approach to women in cycling.

    Please don’t throw shade at me if I’m “just” buying parts to service my own bike (on that note–stock parts!)–or if I end up going to another shop to get what I need.

  24. Will Mahler says:

    Being an open ended question, I’m going to gather that you mean what makes a good shop from the consumer end of things and not a good shop from payables and invoicing perspective.

    Short and sweet–
    http://bianchilifemidatlantic.blogspot.com/2010/02/he-has-great-prices.html

  25. Scott Lundgren says:

    Oddly although most of my long term money is spent at the mechanic/repair side on regular maintenance it’s the sales side that convinces me that a bike shop is one I want to return to long term. That sales side is where I feel I’m being listened to about the product type I’m looking for and I’m looking to the sales side for having the product knowledge when trying to determine between two similar products with different price points.

  26. Most grand rapids bicycle shops take a lot of pride in customer service, and endeavor to have the good customer service possible.

  27. These are the best mean by which you can make your child perfect in two or three wheeler riding. Mostly children are always passionate about these type of tasks, you need not to convince them to try out scooter.

  28. Lisa says:

    Thank you Libby for the phrase “[don’t] shrink it and pink it.”

  29. Josh says:

    I think people want faster turnaround on their bicycle repairs, people want bike shops close by and convenient. I think the bike shop is going the way of blockbuster (overtaken by Netflix and made obsolete by technology) I think the 21st century innovation in technology has yet to come to the bicycle shop…but it’s coming.

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