I wrote this article before the pandemic and I belive when we emerge from our current state that much of this will still be true.
I was setting up a stand at a bike show, and it struck me how small and slightly insular the bike trade is. We all know each other. It also struck me whilst talking to people how badly the bike trade does retail.
Most local bike shops are family-run, or by an old ex-pro, this is great as it is a traditional way to own a bike shop. The problem is these people generally have no business sense or acumen.
Now I am not saying that everyone should be like Gordon Gekko, but you need a little bit of his thought process.
Singletrack magazine ran an article called “10 Ways to be a Dick in Your Local Bike Shop“ and they like to re-run it often. Most of the things it lists are annoying if you work in a shop, but it happens in all aspects of retail just now. By writing and publishing an article, all you are doing is antagonising people. The people who may be guilty of these behaviours will not stop because of an online report. However, you are convincing people that niche shops are staffed by people who will look down on you and be patronising, why then would you give them your money?
This article may be an attempt at humour, but it does put new people to the sport off visiting shops, and they then turn to use the net. If someone is in your shop, use your customer service to turn them into a customer, do not expect a person to be a customer, you have to create one.
If someone is price sensitive, it is up to the shop and its staff to prove that this is a false economy. Offer advice, be friendly, and most of all, do not complain about the internet stealing your customers. There is nothing wrong with looking after your money, and I can bet most bike shop staff will engage in being price-sensitive when they are looking at their own purchases.
Since I stopped working in retail, I have been dropping into various Scottish shops and buying small bits and pieces, and all I can say is that the overwhelming majority of shops do not deserve my money. You walk in, and there will be a member of staff glowering behind a till asking them a question about something and it seems like you have disturbed their necessary glowering time.
I can then see why people disappear off to the internet, it just seems a nicer place, and you do not have to go out of your way to buy something. You click on your purchase, and it turns up at your door. You didn’t need to walk/cycle/drive to shop, find out they don’t the part in stock, order it for you, repeat in a few days.
As we turn into an area of new “standards”, no shop can expect to keep them all in stock, as such glowering at people, telling them the full retail and “I can have it in 2 to 3 days”, is not good enough. The staff need to engage the customer, ask what bike they have, check the part will fit correctly and be appropriate for what they want and that you can fit it or even show them how to fit it themselves. Now you can tell them it might be a wait and guess what as you have offered a service and been human and helpful. You are now way more likely to have made the sale. If you do not make this sale when the customer needs help, they will be back and over time you will have a loyal customer.
The customer owes a bike shop nothing, it is their money, and they can spend it as they see fit. It is up to the bike shop to prove that they deserve that customer’s money. By being unapproachable, writing articles calling a customer a dick and not offering a service, it is no wonder that the local bike shop is disappearing.
The other one I always hear shops complain about is the shop along the road that discounts everything. Fine, let them. Do not engage in a race to the bottom because both shops will lose in the end. You will buy no customer loyalty by taking 15% off of everything. You will just lower your margin, making it harder to pay staff, electricity, rent…
The way around this is to go back to what I have said, offer a service. Be the most knowledgeable, be the most friendly; make sure every bike that goes through the workshop has cable ends fitted and leaves clean. The small things will make shops successful, leaving the small things out is what kills shops.
As a shop, you have to buy your customer loyalty.
When I originally posted this online, I gained flak for having the audacity to tell people not to support their local shop. A few people seemed to miss my main point that if you have a great local shop, with excellent customer service skills by all accounts, support them. The shops who feel they deserve your support without any customer service deserve to be destroyed by the internet. You no longer deserve to have customers just because you are the only shop in the locale.
Every shop has something that internet retailers do not. They have hands. They can use them to fix a bike, show how to fix a bike, make a coffee, or even just gesticulate wildly but after all just make sure you use them, correctly. Everyone can work together as we all have strengths and weaknesses, a shop that just tells you about their liability to the internet but not their strengths against it are failing both you and themselves.