Happy places… Everyone has them. Some people like to go for a walk in the park (probably for an illicit hook up), some like to hit one of those American style ice cream tubs and some red wine (epic vomit combo), whilst some prefer to frequent the Spearmint Rhino to escape their troubles. Nothing wrong with any of these options, all healthy in their own unique way. But there is one place that stands above all others when it comes to having that warm all over fuzzy feeling… No, not porn hub:
The Bike Shop
I know this proclamation will have non-cycling audience members tuning out, but its not often that ranting bandwidth gets devoted to this topic, so I thought it worthwhile of some focus.
I openly love bike shops… I’ve devoted thousands of hours to worshipping in them over the years, idly walking the isles looking at things I’ve looked at dozens of times. Trying on things I probably won’t buy… Asking inane questions about availability and price… Sweet talking as I hope the mechanic will fix my bike on the spot and even trying to pretend I am part of the staff to close a customer who may be umming and ahhhing on a deal. Spending time in bike shops has its own form of dog years, if I say “Just be 10 minutes, promise“, it actually means it could be anywhere from 1.5 to 3.4 hours in total elapsed time that I will be on-site (travel time NOT included). They are indeed a place of unbridled happiness, especially if you’re getting a new pair of forks it seems:
Of course, hand in hand with this time devotion and homage is the inevitable investment that goes along with it. I have been on road trips where we’ve sat down and tried to estimate the annual spend on cycling, but invariably we give the fuck up when people start to come face to face with the sickening reality of the likely actual figure and some nerd then calculates what that could translate into in terms of mortgage payments or investment returns – We don’t need no fucking opportunity cost calc here thanks mofo.
So, given the time and funds lovingly allocated to these establishments, I’ve had a fair amount of time to work out some of the quirks with Bike Shops. “Hater” I hear you say, not at all, these rantings are said out of love, everyone wants bike shops to be better and indeed in a lot of cases they NEED to be in order to fend off the evil internet bike shops that are getting mad busy on cutting their lunch to pieces. Here are some reflections on the bike shops that I felt compelled to get out as hey, what the fuck else am I going to do with a broken chassis?
1. The “All road lead to…” conundrum
Ever been in a shop and asked about a discount, or when the new Santa Cruz anything will be in, or a mildly difficult question about suspension? Or perhaps if your bike can be serviced by tomorrow (usually asked nervously with a cheeky smile, unless your’e a cunt). Did you notice how invariably, heads turn slowly to ONE person in the establishment… And like Marsellus Wallace he makes the call on what is going the fuck down in that shop…
Yes, welcome to the single point of failure concept… Bike shops LOVE to rely on a single person (usually the owner) to channel everything through. Some times this is awesome, like when they become your buddy and give you maaaaad deals, or when they’re an on to it unit and give you the scoop on sweet new products, happen to be a set up guru and are excellent at getting back to you on enquiries.
Where it becomes tricky is when they are overloaded, like any good bottleneck comms then grind to a halt, tempers fray quicker than a G20 summit (you may note these Bike Shop Kings can become MEGA grumpy when you catch them on the wrong day) and satisfactions levels plummet like a bank that just made another record profit. I get that most of these business are sole trader scenarios, but beware the single point of contact conundrum. If you see one of these in a store, buy them beer and build that relationship if thats the shop you want to deal with, as when you need it the most, that’s the person that will get shit done.
2. Pitching the perfect game
This disease is even more widespread with Bike shops. You go in, find an awesome range of gear and bikes… Pumped you start to ask questions and guess what: No one has a fucking clue. They can’t talk to you about how to use the 4 different settings on a CCDB Air shock, nor can they bike fit you to your aero road bike in a way that will make you both, well, aero, but also not so fucking uncomfortable that you seize up after 10kms.
At the other end of the spectrum, best mechanic in town, a wizard… You marvel at how he makes sweet mechanical love to your steed and every time you go out after its tune up it feels like making out with a legally aged Lindsay Lohan before she got NASTY. However, every time you need a part, or a cool new product, guess what: Nudity. Yes, the Einstein of bikes also has a total inability to provide for your gear junkie habits in a timely manner, instead offering you some obscure/shit brand that won’t give you that transacting high you’re looking for.
This story goes on and on, great shop, 50 minutes out of town… Awesome set up, dick staff. So on and so forth. What I’m getting at is very few shops manage to pitch the perfect game. Getting all the elements together to produce an awesome Bike Shop isn’t easy, no doubt, but someone needs to take a holistic approach to cover all the bases. Some come close (Burkes Cycles in Wellington a good example), but few hit the holy grail nail on the head.
3. Why don’t you want ALL my money?
This is an interesting conundrum, but one that still intrigues. Say you spend $100k per annum on cycling in total. You’re therefore either the Wolf or the manager of a Pro Conti team. You spread this spend across 5 different stores. Does any store put any concerted effort or take a targeted approach into securing ALL of your custom?
This has always fascinated me from a business perspective… Most of the shops that I deal with just want to eat the piece of pie right in front of them. Its very seldom that they devote time or effort into securing the rest of your illicit cycling cash pie that you have carefully laundered through an elaborate scheme which would put even Walter White to shame. Usually this is because Store A is more focused on MTB or Road, typically not thinking across the whole ‘Share of Wallet’ as we would say in semi consultant speak.
Word up bike shops – We don’t come in for logical purchases, its emotional… We are a captive and vulnerable. Whilst we may appear to be in our mid 30’s we’re really operating like teenagers just wanting to blow that wad we have carefully saved up. So, think about our holistic needs… Bike, parts, bike fit, nutrition, clothing, coaching, new wheels, MTB and Road… We are not from Venus and you’re not from fucking Mars, do treat us like a piece of meat, treat us like the whole fucking cow man and attend to our ENTIRE set-up and not just a portion of it. First bike shop to take an end-to-end approach to customers in an authentic way, wins…
4. We’re waaaaay too cool for you
Bet you’ve struck this one… Waltz into a shop for a nose around. Usually no meet and greet, maybe a nod if you’re lucky. You’re then generally viewed as more of an interruption than what you really are: A walking cauldron of cycling passion armed with a credit card and potentially an ATM card linked to your floating mortgage overdraft.
You ask a purchasing related question… Do you get a genitalia tickling and unconditional love usually reserved for a Pharaoh bestowed on you? No, you get a dose of being treated like you’re walking around with a selfie stick or worse, putting your meal on Instagram… Yes, you’re about as welcome as a Mad Cow with Ebola on the side.
The dudes in there are waaaay to cool to be hanging out with customers man. You initially confuse these guys with F1 drivers, but then you see no sign of Jessica Michibata around, so surmise they must be dicks instead. Hold your line on this one and don’t part with any money in stores like this, even if they’re well equipped. Shops that continue to be too cool to serve customers are worse than those with mechanics who can’t bleed brakes. Vote with your feet accordingly.
By now you think I’m a moaning cunt sitting around hating on bike shops… 90% of that may be true, but I still love bike shops, think of this as tough love. I just want them to be ALL they can be. Given how insane some of the on-line prices are now, I also suspect that they’ll need to evolve to focus more and more on service and take an end to end approach to consumer needs. I want them to evolve and improve, hell, I need them to… We still need our happy places to be there, where else would we go to waste our hours instead?!
I’m heading back to the porch to sit around with my shotgun while I think of new ways to ruin Christmas…