Ask BSG: How to Support Your Local Bike Shop While Respecting Your Budget

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Bob asked:

I’m struggling between being a good supporter of my LBS and keeping my budget/bike stuff spending in check. I know I need to support my LBS and buy stuff from them. But it’s tough to justify when they sell everything at MSRP and I can find most of the items online for 10-25% less. Is it fair to ask for a discount from the LBS? or does that make me an ass? I don’t expect them to match the prices but maybe we could meet in the middle somewhere. To be clear, I think I’m a pretty decent customer. I buy parts from them because I know I’m going to need their help when I inevitably screw up what I’m working on. I’m very comfortable paying for labor and my LBS guys are great about sharing their knowledge. My friend from the LBS even came to speak at my work when I hosted a seminar on bike commuting.

Another way to phrase this question is, “How do I support my local bike shop when they aren’t the cheapest?”

Supporting local businesses is tough in today’s market. Amazon gives you two day shipping, eBay gives you slightly used parts at a huge discount, and your local businesses pay for a lot more overhead than many eCommerce only businesses not allowing them to be the cheapest on the block (or they would go out of business quickly).

When running bike shops I respected that everyone was trying to save money and tried not to take it personally when customers that had spent 30 minutes asking a great deal of questions were in front of me asking for me to match the price they see online. The following is my recommended litmus test to deciding between buying online or buying in the store.

  • How much time did you take of the sales person? Were you treated with respect and your questions answered fully? Keep in mind most shops work at a $60-100 an hour rate. If you took 30 minutes, are you saving $30 or more by buying it online? If not, buy the product from the shop.
  • Is the reason you are buying it because the store had it for you to look at and try on / test? Buy it. They saved you a lot of time & hassle.
  • Is this shop going to be installing it for you? Buy it from them and allow them to order the specifications. Too many times customer brought in wheels, derailleurs, handlebars, etc. that weren’t compatible with their bike because they didn’t know all the small crazy nuisances and the mechanic was left spending additional time figuring it out, calling the customer and then making it work, or selling the customer a part to make it work. By the way, mechanics are typically not billing you hourly, they are billing you by job and “customer mistakes” are typically not a billable job in the system. If you are installing it yourself, or your friend is then feel free to buy it online. In fact, do you see that “Ask for Advice” button in my navigation? Ask me what you need and I’ll send you a link to Jenson. I’ll make some commission off of it if you buy it, but I’m providing you technical knowledge and you don’t pay anything extra for it.
  • Is this shop one that you want to “support”? At the end of the day I believe it comes down to building your local community. Sure we all want to save money but we don’t bulk at a $3 cup of coffee. If this bike shop is making a difference in your community, is always there for you, and keeps the product in stock please buy it. If the shop does not add value to your community, stock product you are interested in or is helpful when you go in then don’t support them.

Other tips on getting a great product at a great deal

  • If you are wanting to price match another bike shop be very upfront in the conversation, not after spending an hour with the sales guy. Possibly call or email before hand to save everyone time.
  • If you are going to ask for a discount based off what you saw online, do it discreetly and early in the conversation. Do not do it in front of other customers or at the check out counter. Again, possibly call or email before hand to save everyone time.


6 Comments on “Ask BSG: How to Support Your Local Bike Shop While Respecting Your Budget”

  1. Here’s what this advice leaves me thinking: “Wait a sec.–do you bargain at the barber? At your local bookstore? When you’re buying clothing at a retail store, do you note that you saw it online cheaper and ask them to price match something you saw online? Do you ask if the guy at the latte shop can, ‘Do a little better’ and ‘maybe throw in a croissant?’ Would you ever go into the Apple Store and say, “I’ve already bought so much here–how about a break on this machine?”

    Not sure why bike shops are pretty much singled out to be treated like something back in the middle ages, or at least before the invention of the price tag. I don’t likethe above advice and I think it’s advising customers to treat us unprofessionally and to cut our already thin margins. Bikes are so cheap compared to most other consumer goods that either fall apart (H&M, Ikea, etc. or are automatically obsoleted Apple, etc) … Bikes last years, decades even. Chiseling the local bike shop, and judging us by if we performed well enough as actors/advisors/advocates/contributors to the community and so on–then deciding if we even deserve to have a profit, i.e., pay the staff. Can’t we just try to be nice people, do good repairs when promised, and sell gear that we know work–at a fair markup? Oh, and keep good music on the stereo? Hoping that could be enough.

    mcget / philadelphia

  2. Phillytyper, I believe bikes are “haggled for” as people compare them to cars and not to all the items you listed. I left the tips for price matching / discounting at the end because I don’t think it should be done but I realize it happens and I would rather give people some advice on ways to do it a bit nicer. Do you disagree with the rest of the questions?

  3. I have a hard time with “I want to support my LBS but….”
    It’s hard not to ask why you can’t afford to pay 10 to 25% more to support the shop and people you say you value. And it sounds like you are a pretty avid rider, like it may even be your favorite thing in the world.
    But… I just had to get that new phone and expensive plan, and the new iPad and MacBook, and of course a nice car is a necessity, right? And $5 lattes and $10 sandwiches every day at work because I work hard and I deserve it! With all those life expenses there just is t money left to support my friends at the bike shop who help me do the thing I actually enjoy the most ( and who aren’t even considering a nice car or new computer because they make $14/hr)
    Making a lot of assumptions here, but I get haggled regularly by people who make double or triple my income, but couldn’t possibly live with the idea of spending $20 more than they “had” to for a part.
    Rant rant whine whine rant.

  4. I have lived in the US, but am currently in Denmark. There are good and bad shops in København, but the bad ones mostly don’t last. The focus is mainly commuter bicycles. There are road and trail bikes, but they are specialty and mostly are in speciality shops. I use an all-woman shop. It is full price, but they make sure what you buy is right for you and do a proper fit. There is a program for 1000DK a year, about $150, that gives you a tune up and a fitting once a year. They also have good classes. They have more than enough customers and have expanded to a second and then a third shop.

    You get what you pay for. It is like the Apple Store. Macs and iPhones are very popular here even though they are expensive. Danes expect service and Apple does it better. Just like the good cycling shops. People focus more on quality than cheap. It is better to not buy as much, but be careful where and what you buy. I think it is less expensive and certainly less disappointing in the long term.

    1. Jheri –

      I’m so very happy to hear that you have wonderful shops in Denmark. How does the “all-woman” shop work? Do they only cater to women or are they only staffed by women?

      “I think it is less expensive and certainly less disappointing in the long term.” This is a great point. I often compare bike shops to Apple and REI for the customer and product experience. Both of my mac computers are 6 years old. They work wonderfully still but were not cheap. I could have easily needed 2-4 basic windows PC’s (And monthly updates that are a pain) in that time period. Instead I invested in a product I knew I would use. REI has a no questions asked return policy. This takes a lot of the worry from buying a more expensive piece of equipment to try it out.


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