10 Ways Bike Shops Can Out-Do The Internet
Mail-order doesn’t have to kill the local shop
The retailer is under fire. Companies like Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Zappos have redefined the way we buy things. People seem more likely than ever to turn to their computer screens than to get in their cars and drive to a store to make a purchase. For a while we believed that the local bike shop would be immune to this. The process of buying the right bike was simply too complex to be replaced by a computer-buying experience. We thought people would want to see the bikes in person to feel how they rode and how they fit. We thought they would want to feel how powerful the brakes were and how much plusher that extra inch of travel was. Well, we were wrong. There’s an onslaught of companies that are coming to market with some pretty impressive technology that makes buying even a top-end model online a viable option.
Lately, we’ve seen a slew of negative articles in our competitions’ publications, presumably written by ex-bike-shop employees, that warned about the adverse effects of not supporting your local bike shop. They basically said that the bike shops do more for you than simply take your money and deliver you a bike. We completely agree. Local bike shops provide an invaluable education for all riders, from beginners to experts, on what equipment to use and how to use it. Unfortunately, most of the negative articles were merely rants detailing why bike- shop customers are “jerks” for using bike shops as showrooms and then making their purchases online rather than with the shop. Sorry to say, but the days of the successful but grumpybike-shop owner are over.
Don’t try to win on price: Shops must accept the reality of their new brand of retail. Online stores may win on price, but that doesn’t have to mean squeezing out the local bike shop.
Serve them better: The service department is more important to the success of a shop now than ever before.
The new bike-shop retailers must be as sharp as the ground-down spokes that the curmudgeon bike-shop mechanics use to open up shifter housing in order to survive. They must understand that the way we buy bikes has fundamentally changed. We’re not advocating that everyone go out and buy a mail-order bike simply because you can find better components for a fraction of the price. What we are saying is that shops that fail to acknowledge that there is a change afoot will probably fall by the wayside. We interviewed three bike-shop owners, all of whom have serious chops when it comes to running a successful shop. These are guys we know and trust who have the knowledge it takes to be successful running a shop in today’s cutthroat environment. These were the 10 elements they agreed were crucial to running a solid retail shop.
Hire the best: It sounds cliché, but excellent employees are one of the key ingredients to having a successful shop.
1. HIRE GREAT PEOPLE.
Most bike people are not personable, and that’s the reality of things. If you’ve been to a failing bike shop, you’ve probably been greeted by a grumpy owner, one who’s more likely to attend to his pastrami on rye than to give you the time of day, despite the fact that your wallet is full and you want a new bike. The best bike-shop sales people are extroverts and able to talk to anybody. The best mechanics may be introverted but should still be able to communicate so that they can solve that ghost shifting with a simple cable swap and not make the customer feel like he or she is being ripped off. In any case, it’s better to be served by someone who’s knowledgeable and passionate about the sport. It may be a college kid who is a racer, or it may be a 40-something-year-old who gave up the rat race to chase a career in cycling. In any case, passionate cyclists always make better bike-shop employees.
2. EMBRACE THE INTERNET, OR AT LEAST COME TO TERMS WITH ITS IMPACT ON YOUR BUSINESS.
The most successful shop owners realize there are some riders who will buy their parts online. Those deal-seekers will, no matter what, always need service on those parts. Whether it’s a fork, a chain or a derailleur, that rider may not know how to install it. The local shop that turns this person away because he didn’t buy it there is missing out. The shop who welcomes him and develops a relationship with him will win in the long run.
3. OWN THE REAL ESTATE.
One of the biggest mistakes shops make is renting the building. Then, when the lease expires, the jig is up and the shop must make room for a new noodle restaurant. Owning the real estate is the most financially sound way to secure the business.
Invest in your riding spots: The best shops work to keep trails open. Shopping with them is like investing in the future of your favorite local riding spots.
4. DON’T NEGLECT THE SERVICE DEPARTMENT.
We’ve heard time and time again from shop owners that if they could run a retail store without a service department they would; however, the service department is what delivers repeat customers. It may not make you great margins, but it’s like a second engine on a jet plane. You might be able to stay in the air without it, but it’s a lot easier to stay afloat with it running. Something as small as a repair that goes slightly over the original estimate can make a customer feel as if he or she is being ripped off. A quick phone call to explain how a new shifter cable will make the derailleur feel like new again will not only be appreciated but will also keep a customer coming back.
Building loyalty: The best shops have a way of building their customers’ loyalty so they refuse to shop anywhere else, including online. You simply can’t get everything, including service, on Amazon.com
5. MAKE YOUR CUSTOMERS LOYAL BY OFFERING EXCEPTIONAL CUSTOMER SERVICE.
This may sound like something out of a corporate handbook, but it holds true for any retail business. This is the mantra that Nordstrom has embraced. Nordstrom is so adamant about customer satisfaction that the store will take anything back with a smile—no matter what the issue is. The sales people also take the time to walk your shopping bag around the counter to deliver it to you. This creates an experience that simply can’t be replicated by the online guys, no matter how fast their overnight shipping may be. For shop owners who doubt the merits of this, try “warrantying” a $75 tire for a customer who ran it into a sharp rock on the first ride. You may say “it’s under warranty,” but you know the shop is going to eat the cost. Chances are, though, that customer is not only going to refuse to go to any other shop because of that experience, but he will also tell his friends to go there for everything. That tire that cost $37.50 just may make you a handful of lifelong customers.
6. REALIZE THAT THE BIKE BUSINESS IS FUN BUT ALSO EXTREMELY COMPETITIVE.
Most bike-shop owners are either very good riders or very good mechanics. Most of them are also terrible business owners. They lack the ability to motivate a team towards a common goal, which is ultimately to sell more bikes. Sorry to say, downhill bikes sell in suburbia about as well as beef does in a Buddhist butcher shop. Successful shop owners understand their markets and dial their shops to cater to them. They also understand that if they don’t, someone else will come and do it in their place.
“I need it right now”: Bike shops will always have the essentials in stock, like tubes, tires and small parts. Not having these can quickly derail a ride, and the online guys simply can’t deliver as fast as a quick trip to the local shop.
7. DON’T TRY TO WIN ON PRICE ALONE.
Successful shops approach the market with a value-added proposition, one that’s not in a race to the bottom dollar. No doubt, the mail-order and direct-to-the-rider brands will be better deals when you compare them dollar to dollar, derailleur to derailleur; however, the relationships that can be built between a shop and its clients can keep a bike shop successful in the long run.
Shop teams: Bike shops frequently help their most loyal advocates—like Fullerton Bikes’ Matt Foreman (shown here)—with “team” or “ambassador” discounts.
8. EMBRACE SOCIAL MEDIA AND PAY THE RIGHT PERSON WHO UNDERSTANDS HOW TO USE IT.
Most shop owners probably don’t know what Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram are; however, those owners are missing out on a huge opportunity to connect their shops to their communities. There’s no faster way we know of to build a weekly group ride—something that nearly every good shop we know does—than to use social media platforms to get the word out.
9. EMBRACE THE COMMUNITY.
The best bike shops are social hubs. They’re the places healthy-minded people come together on Saturday morning for coffee before a group ride. They’re the place with a spot on the couch to watch the World Cup downhill races on Red Bull TV. They’re where we go to tell the “I hit a drop this big” story to people who won’t simply roll their eyes. Shops that are involved in their communities are stronger than those that are not. Great shops are advocates for trail access; they organize group rides and encourage riders to come and hang out in the shop, even if they’re only getting a $10 tube change. The best shops take it one step further and attend city hall meetings that concern cycling, and may even provide bikes and service to law enforcement. There’s no better way to keep trails open than to butter up the ones who can shut them down.
Don’t be that guy: For the riders who frequent bike shops, it should be noted that it’s poor form to shop in the store and then go purchase online. If you want to see a product before you buy it, do the right thing and buy it from the shop that took the cost and effort to stock it.
10. DON’T JUST DO THINGS THE WAY YOU’VE ALWAYS DONE THEM.
Shop owners must set themselves up for success by appealing to the new ways riders do business with shops. They need to keep their customers coming back by enticing them with the right mix of bikes, parts, accessories and service.
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