Rantcast #14 – The Myth of The Infallible LBS

Aug 15 2013

Well, had some people complain about censoring the profanity last time which is fine—since this edition of the Rantcast is probably going to piss the living shit out of everyone anyway it probably won’t matter. Last time around, my beef was what cycling commentators weren’t saying, this week it’s on what the industry won’t shut up about— idiotic myth of the infallibility local bike shop.

Ask rep or pro or insider bro or reviewer about a part and 98% of the time you’ll be told that “Oh yeah—just ask at your local bike shop.” “Your local shop will take care of you”.

I don’t even know where to begin. Actually, I do know where to begin—the fact that a lot of local shops are just lousy. Can we say that? Can we get that out there? It’s almost like an omerta—there are certain shops that you shouldn’t go to, that everyone knows about, but still people are like “Oh yeah, the local shop. Your local shop. Check out our nearest dealer” Not “Blah-blah-blah’s Cycles”. Not “Where do you live? Ok avoid So-and-So’s, but check out Shop X”.

Yeah, and, actually—I shouldn’t have complained about that, because by that same token, I have to talk by name about all the shops that…caused some trouble. Like the The Spoke, in Williamstown MA, that got seized by the State for nonpayment of taxes…with my bike inside! Or Paramount Cycles in Somerville, MA that “saved me some money” by re-using a section of brake housing over a shifter cable—like, bro, if I’d wanted a half-ass job, I would have done it myself.

Or Cambridge Cycles, that gave me the wrong sized track nut despite my very specific instructions or International Bicycle Center in Boston where the Trek Minion there liked to try and swap the parts I’d ordered for cheaper gear, and who vehemently objected to my team purchase of a Surly Cross-Check because it “wasn’t a race bike”—no big deal that I raced it to a Cat 3 Verge Series Top 10 4 years later, long after the Sora equipped XO he wanted me to buy would have shat the bed. Oh, and just last week, the closest bike shop to my location, Central Wheel in Farmington, CT told me that SRAM’s 1.1 cables were just regular cables with a teflon coating.

Of course, none of this is to say that these are “bad” shops, or that there aren’t good ones out there—Cambridge Cycle’s screw up lead me to Broadway Bicycle School and it’s most excellent filing system. Landry’s in Boston never made me feel like a heel when I stopped in to buy a cassette spacer, or ask for an insurance replacement quote after a crash, or any other menial little task that brought them essentially no income. And Cheshire Cycle in Hamden CT always took great care of me—though, unfortunately, they’re also 35 miles away from my house.

And really, distance is a big part of the user experience from my point of view. In Boston, I had my choice of shop, open late and at bikeable distance. But in Hartford (as I would be in much of the rest of the country) I’m fighting to get into a car and out of the city like all the other suburban drones, racing to somehow get from my late-closing office to an early closing bikeshop, burning dollars and a few kilograms of CO2 for the effort. And once I’m there, the shop’s limited supply—what sizes and brands they happen to have on the wall are my only option.

Let’s contrast this with The Internet—I have massive retailers like TreeFort, PricePoint, Nashbar and etc, ready for me to place orders or peruse their wares at anytime, from my home, or office, or even from my phone midway through a ride. And finding what I want is so easy—search by terms, sort by price, by wheel size, by brand. Navigate to a section to see what the have. Google Products search compares price across outlets, and ebay provides more or less real-time information on what an actual, open market price for a given gizmo is.  Oh, and did I mention the bevy of searchable forums covering tips, horror stories and clever compatibility tricks on everything from from fixed gear to freeride?

In a physical shop, I’m dealing with the collective knowledge of maybe five, six guys, each of whom has a financial incentive to goad me into spending as much as possible in return for as little as they can get away with giving. Chances are, if I ask a salesman highly-specific question, which I am known to do, two or three other people or going to have to weigh in, then there’s probably gonna be an upsell attempt, followed by a “well, let’s see what we can do on price”. Some people like to haggle; me, I find it exhausting, time-consuming, disingenuous, and a sure sign that I will almost certain get a better deal elsewhere.

There’s a train a of thought—and one that I don’t deny—that says the shop costs more because of all the value it adds. And for certain consumers—dentists, I believe is the industry term—the local LBS as it currently exists does provide a tremendous amount of value. Something breaks, needs to be tuned, its just kinda old and gross looking—no big deal. No need to get your hands dirty or struggle through a new skill. Just drop off the bike, the shop fixes it, the dentist saves time, gets some status bling, shop and suppliers get paid, everyone wins—no wonder dentists have been the industry’s sole focus for the past decade.

But the problem with the Dentist Model is that there aren’t that many dentists, those that are out there are getting older and/or more tech savvy, and the demographics where bike use is rising the fastest—young people and minorities—tend not to have the massive throwaway income to feed the LBS, which, at least in it’s current incarnation is allegedly infallible and should be the consumers only point of contact for anything to do with a bike.

And really, the cycling industry itself—I know, I know, a too massively amorphous and heterogeneous entity to collectively demonize—is at the heart of this mess. A few months ago, I broke a derailleur. I got it all sorted out eventually—a rant for another time—but during the
discussion a SRAM rep said the company never ships parts to customers. Ever.

Think about that—the company that makes parts for people’s bikes doesn’t ship them to people. it’s bizarre, right—”sorry, sir, I refuse your offer of monetary units for the product I produce. Please bring your monetary units to this third party instead”—and it’s because to SRAM, Trek, Lazer, and pretty much every other company in the industry, you aren’t the customer. The shop is. And to keep the shops buying their stuff, the industry needs consumer buy-in to the shop model. Thus the infallible shop myth.

Shops let industry brands sell a whole lot of their stuff all at once. Much, much easier to deal with dozens of customers instead of thousands. A lot easier to collect money and set budgets when there’s a big predictable, post-Interbike cash dump. And as stock merchandise, bicycles are really crummy. They take up a lot of space, the margins suck, there’s a non-trivial labor investment in each model after getting them in, and as I mentioned before, there’s an Internet full of outlets offering them at a better price.

And yet, the infallible shop myth lives. For the past decade and a half I’ve witnessed and endured all sorts of abuse from industry insiders for buying online and doing my own work. “Hey man, don’t you like riding? Why are you trying to hurt the thing you like?” “Oh, well, you didn’t go through the shop, you get what’s coming to you.” The latest villainy is so called “showrooming” where people research prices and find out as much as they can about a given part before making a final purchase, like, you know, an informed consumer would. Do it at a car dealership, or a computer store, or when you’re getting a loan—right on, man. Do it at a bike shop—you’re a schmuck.

I feel like this petty hypocrisy—we need to fleece consumers so we can keep making rad stuff, man—has kind of toxified the industry, and drawn thick battle lines along existing business relationships, lest the whole house of cards fall. Case in point: last week, a QBP guy who worked on the Lazer Helmets account complained vocally about CrossVegas’ registration system Twitter. Then CrossVegas got in touch to Lazer—a sponsor of the race—who made a call to QBP, which got said internet complainer fired.

Or maybe that isn’t how it happened. The Helmeteer_Chris Internet entity, who I don’t know, but who works for Lazer, and who generally surfaces pretty cool Internet bike stuff suggested there was more to it, but really, what could he possibly say? Confess his employer feel into a perfect storm of douchery between two of its business partners?  Factually and morally correct as that might actually be, he wouldn’t be very good at his job if he did that.  So, for all concerned, the message stands: don’t step out and challenge the system, even if the system sucks. It’s cool—industry bros made nice at the end. It’s the the people outside the system that fucked up. Now why does that sound so familiar?

There must be, there HAS to be, something in this status quo for the local shops—beyond, obviously, the joy of being presented as infallible. but for the LIFE of me, I cannot figure out what it is. It sure isn’t the money. The industry’s own numbers suggest an average dealer sees 25k in annual income—not exactly a retirement figure. It’s not the ease of the day-to-day work, either—I’ve seen massive urban shops, top 10 grossers for national brands, half a million into the red. I’ve seen small, efficient, brilliantly-run operations fail. Aside from the comfort of a familiar environment, I don’t really get why anyone would chose to run LBS under the model that currently exists.

So if this aura of infallibility shop sucks for the shop, and it sucks for the consumers. It would seem to me that time is ripe for a change. Despite everything I said back at the beginning of this, there are thing shops can offer consumers that the internet can’t. Quality tools, stands, a clean, well-ordered workspace. Skilled hands. In-the-moment advice when pressing a headset or trying to figure out which bottom bracket to buy. These are the things non-dentists need—real riders (actually, I’m stepping back from this a bit [see comment])—and they’re increasingly scarce at the among the salesmen and accessory racks in today’s shops.

There’s also an immediacy that shops can meet that the Internet will never be able to. Broken chains, snapped cables, cracked handlebars, stems to soothe an aching back—things that cannot wait for shipping. A bike shop should have components—tiny, easy to manage, low-overhead parts—in droves, in stock, compatible across as many brands and standards as possible, from newest models, and refurbed take-offs to be sold for a song. But in my experience, requests for this one meatspace service no online dealer could ever provide are met with the depressing response of, “sure, our QBP order arrives in on Thursday”.

Of course, this new, consumer-focused approach would require a certain openness on the part of an industry that as I said earlier, tends to be anything but. An admission that 2012 model is more or less as good as a 2013. An admission that ounces off a three pound frame underneath a hundred-fifty pound man will have an all but a negligible impact performance. An admission that 95% of repairs and installations can accomplished by anyone with patience and a $5 set of allen keys as easily as they can by a sixty-dollar-an-hour mechanic. An admission that things are cheaper somewhere else, and maybe you should
buy them there
.

Is the industry even capable of this sort of openness? it once was. I certainly wouldn’t be here reading this if the late Sheldon Brown hadn’t codified online, in detail, and for free, every skill he’d acquired and opinion he’d developed in a lifetime of turning wrenches. Back 2001, my old Iron Horse hardtail would have stayed broken, and I never would have been able to restore a decades-old hunk of dented steel from the abandoned bike pile at campus security into a fast, reliable, and dirt cheap road machine.

The de facto state of affairs, with its infallible shops and Dentist ready approach has to change. The demographics of age and income demand it. The real question is how much damage those who profit from the current system are willing to incur upon their brands—and on the newbie retail consumers who, at the end of the day, are the only ones keeping the whole machine running. If the sticker price at your local shop is any indication, plenty of places out there are ready to double-down on the infallibility myth.

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65 Responses to “Rantcast #14 – The Myth of The Infallible LBS”

  1. svante August 15, 2013 at 9:12 am #

    Wish all lbs would here this! Few things make me pity the lbs more than when they say they can have the stuff I need now, in five days. The Internet – half the price, half true time. If only they focused on what they (can) do well, they would do so much better.

  2. svante August 15, 2013 at 9:13 am #

    *hear

  3. Christopher T. Smith August 15, 2013 at 11:12 am #

    To reply, point one: You are worse than Hitler. Just wanted to start things off from a position of reason and rationality.

    Point two, you state: “Think about that—the company that makes parts for people’s bikes doesn’t ship them to people. it’s bizarre, right—”sorry, sir, I refuse your offer of monetary units for the product I produce. Please bring your monetary units to this third party instead”—and it’s because to SRAM, Trek, Lazer, and pretty much every other company in the industry, you aren’t the customer. The shop is. And to keep the shops buying their stuff, the industry needs consumer buy-in to the shop model. Thus the infallible shop myth.”

    Do you buy Cheerios directly from General Mills? Probably not. SRAM, Campagnolo, my company Lazer, these companies design and manufacture. Distribution and sales entities exist between the manufacturing company and the consumer for a reason. It allows the manufacturer to focus on their core business. Direct consumer sales is certainly possible and there are many companies that pursue this route. But it is a massive undertaking and not every company has a desire to take this on. Thus we buy breakfast cereal at a grocery store and bike parts at the bike shop or from an online dealer.

    The debate between online dealers and retail shops (which used to be the debate between mail order dealers and retail shops) has a long history. At this point it seems obvious to me that retail shops need to offer a compelling reason to bring consumers into their store versus these consumers buying what they need online. One of these compelling reasons is that the store has something in stock right now versus waiting for the part to arrive from the online dealer a day or more later. When you want to ride you want to ride and the local shop can make that happen.

    The catch in this process is assuring that the dealer actually has what you need in their store and available, otherwise you may as well order online. Via our US distributor we are pursing a “Buy Local/Buy Now” program where consumers will be able to check our website, see their local dealers that have what they want in stock and then go buy it immediately.

    There are good retail shops out there, lots of them. Those dealers will thrive and those that complain about the onslaught of online dealers without making any adjustment to their business model will wither. That’s capitalism. But I don’t think it is the role of the manufacturer to step in and cut the retail shop, or online dealer, out of the equation. I know that my company does not have the capacity nor the desire to set up direct to consumer sales. We prefer to focus on what we know and we feel we are best at.

    Point three, you state: “last week, a QBP guy who worked on the Lazer Helmets account complained vocally about CrossVegas’ registration system Twitter. Then CrossVegas got in touch to Lazer—a sponsor of the race—who made a call to QBP, which got said internet complainer fired. Or maybe that isn’t how it happened.”

    As I have stated online previously, that is not what happened. I regret that I could not and can not provide you with all the details regarding this situation but again we are dealing with a company that I do not work for and an individual that did not work for me or for Lazer. It is simply not appropriate for me to comment further regarding Quality Bicycle Products or this former employee. If you see this as some kind of grand industry conspiracy instead of a desire to eliminate the risk of a lawsuit I guess all I can do is apologize. Send me $5 million to cover legal expenses and I will tell you everything I know.

    Here is what I can say:

    - Brook Watts, the promoter of CrossVegas and just about the nicest guy on Earth, got in touch and asked “Why is this person so angry? What can I do to help him?” Brook tried to solve the problem directly with this individual and at no point ever called for any action to be taken against this individual. To this day Brook regrets that this whole situation occurred.

    - No one from Lazer called Quality Bicycle Products to complain about this individual’s online behavior.

    - This matter, from start to finish, is between Quality Bicycle Products and the individual in question. My goal last week was to defend the reputation of a race promoter who did absolutely nothing wrong and to defend the position of my company that played no role in the termination of the individual in question.

    - All major corporations, outside and inside the bicycle industry, have employee policies and procedures. There are entire departments filled with other staff that monitor compliance with these policies and procedures. If an employee falls outside of these policies and procedures it could put their employment at risk. Is that what happened here? I don’t know. I don’t work for Quality Bicycle Products and I don’t know what their policies and procedures are and it is not appropriate for me to comment on this. But the simple idea that someone would get fired for complaining on the internet about something, and that this is evidence of some grand industry conspiracy to screw consumers, is absurd. And it was especially distressing to me that individuals would make a judgment, based on hearing one side of the story, decide definitivly who was the villan and who was the hero. Hey you guys, life is a bit more complicated than that I am afraid.

    To summarize:

    - Hitler

    - Capitalism

    - $5 million

    - Absurd and Complicated

    I am at your disposal should you have any additional questions. Thanks for your post and thanks for the work you do on your site. I have been and will remain a follower and a fan.

    Christopher T. Smith
    Lazer Sport NV

    @helmeteer_chris

    • cosmo August 15, 2013 at 11:45 am #

      Hi Chris, thanks for the reply.

      Point 1: conceded.

      Point 2: I don’t buy Cheerios. I buy whatever comes in a giant bag and is cheap. While I do buy it at a retail store, it’s a retail store that is mostly convenient, that I go to a lot, and that has an enormous selection in-house.

      Click-and-mortar operations are cool, and a step in the right direction, but as you say, the awesomeness of the experience is heavily dependent on selection. Just because I, personally, would prefer to buy direct doesn’t mean it’s the best option for everyone—historically, it has not been. But I think as demographics shift, it’s becoming more and more unavoidable.

      And yes: fuck yeah capitalism.

      Point 3:

      “But the simple idea that someone would get fired for complaining on the internet about something, and that this is evidence of some grand industry conspiracy to screw consumers, is absurd.”

      It’s not a conspiracy I aim to expose—it’s a general unwillingness to discuss things publicly and openly within in the industry. I never meant to imply that you or your company or Spencer’s disemployment were part of a Grand Conspiracy. I can see why that comes across and I’m sorry I wasn’t clearer. It was one example, with limited data, included for topicality as much as anything.

      But my point is very much valid—as evidenced by the fact that a simple public response in the public medium (Twitter) that started the discussion would have avoided the whole fracas. Like the way we’re talking right now—animosity is being diffused, and any over-reaction on either of our parts is checked by the fact that the universe is there to see it.

      Unfairly, in your case, addressing a concern with something to the effect of “well, it’s a little more complicated than that” engenders tremendous suspicion in the public mind. Right or wrong, public opinion is molded by public facts. The way to avoid the hero/villain thing (it is indeed seldom that simple) is getting as much detail out there as possible. I understand that for you, in this case, it wasn’t an option. But again—open replies from the beginning would have avoided all of it.

      As for the absurdity of someone in the industry getting fired for complaining on the Internet? Why don’t you ask Neil Browne about that one.

      Also a fan of yours, glad to have this talk.

      -Cosmo

  4. Colin August 15, 2013 at 11:51 am #

    Dammit Cosmo why you gotta ruin a perfectly solid rant with a non sequitur about that idiotic cross Vegas/qbp/lazer thing.

    • cosmo August 15, 2013 at 11:59 am #

      @colin: Yeah, that choice didn’t make things the easiest for me. But I stand by it.

      In a truncated version of what I said to Chris in Point 3: in what other industry would someone reply to a Twitter criticism by contacting a business partner and asking how they could help the critic out?

      If I’m all like “Fucking @BikeReg, I can’t make their shit work”, I’m pretty sure one of their/your employees would @-reply to me, something to the effect of “Hey, sorry you’re having trouble. Here’s the number for support.” And honestly, my experience has been that in this sport, such openness is the exception rather than the rule.

  5. chris August 15, 2013 at 11:54 am #

    I remember a bike shop that opened in southington, ct when i was in high school (~10 years ago) that i don’t think stayed open a whole year, but for me it was one of the best shops I have even been to. It was small, not much room for bicycles in stock but plenty of parts, accessories, etc, and the owner had tons of old take-offs he would always offer to use for repairs before ordering you an expensive new part. My best memories from the shop are: 1.) when I kept snapping the rear derailer hanger on my lower end mountain bike, he modified a beefier hanger to fit the frame, which lasted for years, and 2.) when I was upgrading to disc brakes he looked through the supplier’s catalog with me to find the ones I wanted, and knowing I was a high schooler without a lot of money, assumed I had already checked online (correct) and sold them to me for the same price as online (plus what was probably a very fair rate for installation). Sadly he wasn’t able to hold out long enough to build a steady base of regular customers, or there weren’t enough dentists willing to through money at him, and the shop ended up closing. I can’t even remember the name of the place now, but it was a great spot.

  6. Christopher T. Smith August 15, 2013 at 11:55 am #

    Come on dude, Cheerios is the Dura-Ace of cereals. You deserve better.

    My personal opinion: It’s way better to pick up the phone or send an email about a problem before starting a Twitter Firestorm…unless of course the Twitter Firestorm is the ultimate goal…

    Yes, absurdity on the internet is REAL.

    Thanks Cosmo.

    • Carson September 17, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

      CTS – Cheerios are a small improvement over styrofoam packing peanuts. Pick up a book called Pandora’s Lunchbox (please buy it at your LBS – Local Book Shop – not Amazon, because…well, you know why). The book will explain why Cheerios and most everything from food engineers like GM is crap. And you’ll ride faster if you don’t eat trash. Go get ‘em.

  7. NAME (REQUIRED) August 15, 2013 at 11:58 am #

    Calm down Christopher T. Smith. Taken, distribution of products is a complex system and set of models with a myriad of forms, the Lazer version being to go through s dealer. Perhaps Cosmo’s rant is a little succinct and based on poor/incomplete information regarding that aspect of bike consumerism. However, his overall argument that the LBS is often shit is spot on.

    I have 4 race bikes and maintain them myself, with a chest of tools worth maybe $200. Ergo, I’m nothing special in terms of bike maintenance. Irrespective of my clear deficiencies in this regard, I would argue that I am a significantly better mechanic than 98% of those in any LBS you care to name. Fact is, the LBS don’t know shit. Furthermore, I actually race my bikes, so understand what is important in a bike. Being regurgitated the spiel from the product website is not helpful.

    One final thing, Cosmo. This sentence, really???:- “These are the things non-dentists need—real riders…”. I race my bike, and am NOT a dentist, but your comment makes you look out of date. Whether you like it or not, the Dentist is a type of rider, your definitions need a bit of updating, mate. I take it that they may ride only on Sunny weekend afternoons and go slow for 30 miles on Pinarellos twice a month, but that is a type of rider in the modern day.

  8. Christopher T. Smith August 15, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

    Brook did reach out, and got called a “dick”. Not sure where you go from there.

    NAME (REQUIRED): Calm down? I am totally calm. Sorry if simply expressing my thoughts in this forum upsets you.

  9. ODV August 15, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

    This piece has all the ingredients that make for a perfect rant: anecdotal evidence, sweeping generalities, irrelevant points, and complaints without proposed solutions. You aren’t a customer of a local bike shop, don’t see value in what they provide, but you want them to cater to you? What incentive does a shop have to stray from the Dentist model? How would they capture your (low?) expendable income, and why would they divert time/energy/resources from all the things they need to do to get the Dentist dollar?

    You’ve forgotten what it is like to be new to this sport and you sound unfamiliar with the path that most people take from barely balancing rookie to parts upgrading intermediates; many of those paths travel through a LBS. Those are the customers that keep the shop lights on. I’m sure your LBS would love to have you as a customer, you’re just not the low hanging fruit. Rename your post “My LBS and I are equally disinterested in each other”.

    • cosmo August 15, 2013 at 9:13 pm #

      So interesting inter-comment convergence, here.

      @ODV: Shop patronage is a two-way street. You’re correct, I don’t frequent a local shop because very few of them have anything to offer me. And you’re right—in many ways, I don’t have anything to offer them. And that’s OK. If you go through the piece carefully, I do say the dentist model works, provided sufficient dentists

      But it also ignores rising practical bike use among less-well-off riders—and, for that matter, people like BoboFett3, who sounds like he’d like to learn more, but doesn’t seem to be getting a whole lot in the way of instruction and education from his LBS, despite his time/monetary investment.

      Similarly, the dentist approach seems to fail actual “dentists” like Michael Gupta, who don’t feel they get a solid enough introduction to a community through their patronage of an alleged “hub” of cycling activity. And I think a shift to shop model that’s less focused on moving parts for the industry at large, and more focused on educating and meeting the needs passionate, interested cyclists would better serve everyone and be able to keep the lights on.

      And Michael, I apologize for my implication that dentists are not “real riders”. I meant mostly to get at the notion that many less well-off riders rider bikes both out of necessity and recreation and fell into the same fleece-outsiders-reward-bros thinking I decried in my rant. My suggestion that your financial state or willingness to spend somehow made you less “real” of a cyclist is incorrect, and I regret making it.

  10. NAME (REQUIRED) August 15, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    Christoper T. Smith, calm down again…

    Just jesting. I saw your massive response and usually when someone takes the time to write a novella to some internet blogger/troll (sorry Cosmo!) it means they are emotional, to say the least.

    However, your supposition that my condescending ‘calm down’ comment equates to me being upset is somewhat nonsensical.

  11. al b-madison August 15, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

    “can i buy a chainring nut wrench”
    “and you expect *me* to have that in stock.”

    it seems that often a shop is lamenting the fact that their business model prevents them from being the shop they always wanted to be, but it comes across to the customer as “i hate you.”

  12. Quentin August 15, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

    Back in the early 1990s I called a local bike shop in Utah (I don’t remember which one) and asked if they happened to sell tubular tires. Granted, I knew that it was a long shot that they had them, but I was still surprised by the response: “All of our tires have tubes”.

    I now live in a mid-size town with basically 2 bike shops that I can get to easily. I’ve gone to one of them about 3-4 times in the last 5 years and only one of those times they actually had what I was looking for. I’ve given up on them and will continue to buy online with none of the guilt about “supporting my LBS” that the internet tells me I’m supposed to feel.

  13. SterlingMatt August 15, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

    QBP/Lazer aside….I think Cosmo brings up a common quandry…quality shops are a rare find! If I were a distributor I might consider some sort of certification or blue ribbon or “5-beer” rating for the shops I work with that have some of those coveted nuances…obscure parts, great mechanics, knowledge!, solid service and sales…that sort of stuff. Come to think of it, maybe I’ll start the “Dealer Index Certificate Keepsake” award….or maybe I’ll just keep reading facebook.

    I love my LBS’s btw…The Bicycle Outfitter and Cupertino Bike Shop (and Slough’s)…had the parts I wanted NOW, when I needed em….

    Matt

  14. Happy Bill August 15, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

    I understand where you are coming from, as a 25 year mechanic i have seen and heard my fair share of bad bike shop stories. As much as you are comfortable doing your own maintance many other people are not. My mom rides 20 miles a day at age 83 but there is no way she can exist with out a shop for her to go to.

    You state a few examples of bad customer service, but those are the easily remembered ones cause thats how we are hardwired. Try and think of all the nice things a shop has done for you. Its tougher cause you “expect” that level of treatment, so only and bad treatment stands out cause its outsid eyour expected norm.

    Running a bike shop is more a labor of love, i dont know anyone (myself included) who have gotten rich working in a shop. But where i have gained great wealth is in all the stories i have heard, experiences i have had, and great people i have met over the years. Those are some of the the things you miss not being in a shop.

    Good rant, now try and find some solutions that you can share with those trying to make a living doing this.

    Bill

  15. Michael Gupta August 15, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    Hi, so I figured this comment thread may need a response from a “dentist.” I’m not actually a dentist, but have a fair amount of disposable income through a busy job that provides health care and have a wife who is a dentist. I have been cycling pretty much all my life but not to the degree that most people posting on this site have been. I like riding my bike up and down hills on the weekend and my days off. I can tell every LBS is always trying to upsell me. I buy the majority of my gear online. I don’t have the technical know how to fix a lot of things myself. I’m never gonna pull an old frame out of a dumpster and turn it into some hipster fixie.

    I’m sure I could learn a lot of stuff through the internet and forums like this but I have two kids under two and work at least 55 hours a week. So I need to rely on the LBS to help with even simple stuff.

    What bugs me about the LBS’s that I’ve dealt with is that while they will take my money they don’t have much interest in directing me to biking groups, directing me to good rides, or really having anything to do with me save lightening my wallet. I don’t need friends but if the LBS is going to try to be the hub (brutal) of the the local biking community maybe they should try to be more committed to their customers and less committed to their wallets.

    There, now you have the poseur dentist view on the LBS.

  16. gob August 15, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    If a shop’s only focus is USAC licensed/experienced riders who mostly can do their own repairs, then they aren’t going to be able to keep the lights on for longer than a month or two. LBS’s make the bulk of their money on selling bikes in the $300-800 range, and on the consumers who buy them, who need their flats fixed and bells and mirrors and cup holders and dog baskets.

    Yes, it’s a pain in the ass for YOU when you need a 34.9 top pull XO front derailleur and they have to order it. For most shops, particularly those that don’t sell a lot of MTB stuff in the first place, stocking that $80 front mech that they’re making a 15% margin on means they can’t stock three or four comfort saddles that they’ll make 50% on. And it’s not just stocking that one front mech, it’s stocking at least six of them, to be certain that they have all the sizes and cable pull options covered. And this is just one model of FDER from one manufacturer. You see where this is going. Remember those 50% margin comfort saddles? Not only are they higher margin, they also sell three or four times as fast. As a business owner, I know where I’m going to keep my inventory dollars.

    So customers like you are really a pain in the ass for them, because you want to pay cost for the item, because that’s what the internet charges. You want them to have it in stock at all times, and you want them to know everything about every item you ask about the second the final syllable of what you’re describing leaves your mouth. Yes, you’re the consumer, yes, you’re always right, except in the current LBS model, you’re not their customer. Mommy McRailtrail is their customer. She’s paying their rent.

    You’ve said already that you know how to fix your own bike- that’s great! You should be buying your parts off the internet! Save a lot of money, time, and aggravation for yourself AND your LBS. It’s when guys who only have a hammer and a rusty Phillips-head screwdriver in their tool box start buying off the internet and then can’t install it themselves that the problems start. It’s when people “showroom” and take an hour of a shop employee’s time and then buy the same item online, that’s a problem. A shop isn’t a library or a reference department, it’s a business.

    The one argument against buying online is that if/when a warranty situation arises, you’re probably going to have to handle it yourself. What incentive does the LBS have to warranty your borked Garmin that you bought from cheapgarmin.com?

    The new model shop that you mention is not without it’s merits, however. It is feasible, but it’s also going to take the changes in the industry that you mentioned, and even some more, to make it work.

    • cosmo August 15, 2013 at 9:24 pm #

      @gob, when I talked about stocking bits “compatible across as many brands and standards as possible”, I didn’t mean an XO at every size. Front mech’s actually a good example—a bolt-on in the midrange will work with just about any shifter. Buy bunch of clamps to accommodate different sizes and you’ve attained a massive cost savings. Sure, you still need top/bottom, mountain/road, but the shelf space isn’t going to squeeze out any cushy saddles—which I happen to think are a fine thing to stock as well.

  17. Hulkster August 15, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

    Thanks for that one, Cosmo. You nailed it.

    There are only two bike shops I have been to I that I actually respect. One is down in Decatur, AL, and spent 30 minutes digging out the snapped Shimano shifter cable that I had been using in my Campy shifters–all this, one hour before my race, and they didn’t charge a thing. The other was a bike shop that I frequented in Chicago. The great thing about that shop was, beside having beer on hand at all times, that they listened to what I wanted and respected my opinions. I had spent more time on road bikes, on more brands and components, than everyone in that shop combined. They knew they couldn’t bullshit me, and we had a great relationship. I asked for something, and they’d get it for me. Likewise, when it came to my wanting to buy a mountain bike, I listened to what they had to say and trusted their opinions.

    Too often, bike shop workers are misinformed and don’t truly know about the products they are trying to sell. “You really need to replace your chain AND cassette after 1000 miles.” “You can’t use a Shimano cassette with a Campy drivetrain.” “Dura Ace shifters won’t work with an Ultegra derailleur.” That’s just a handful of the crap that I’ve heard. I feel bad for the consumer who is just starting in the sport, because most shops are just trying to push their own fictional agendas.

    I could go on, but I think I’ll stop. By the way, the last LBS I was in was a Performance Bike. I bought something online and had it shipped to the store. Somehow I don’t think that counts.

  18. Joe August 15, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

    I’ll quibble with some of the points, but agree with the underlying thesis. Most shops suck, mainly for the lack of 1) quality service and 2) the variety of small parts for when shit, inevitably, hits the fan.

    I’m fine with them marketing and keeping the lights on with Mommy McRailTrail, and I get not stocking a Campy Super Record FD to replace mine when it craps the bed means I’ll be on the rain bike for a couple days. Yet so many shops fail to offer even a base level of competency, combined with needless up-sell BS.

    I once walked into a shop looking for Look Delta cleats. Not exactly hard to get, even in this Keo era. I’ve used the same pair of Look pedals for over a decade now. Bearings are perfect, spindles are fine. Who cares if they’re heavy. I ask the sales person there if they have Delta cleats. He gives me this giant spiel about maybe having one or two in the back, and then warns me I should buy some Keo pedals because “those steel ones are prone to breaking.”

    Really? The pedal is older than you, and I’ll trust it more than the Keo creak-a-thon. I never went back.

    But again, would stocking 4-5 pairs of Delta cleats ruin that shop? Heck no. Are they like finding hen’s teeth? God yes.

    Most shops suck.

  19. BoboFett3 August 15, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

    Just to throw my 2 cents in. I am still relatively new to cycling (about 3 years) and have gotten into in on my own. My parents don’t bike, I don’t have any friends who have rode for 15 years giving me advice on how to do things. Even with the internets, things as simple as adjusting a derailleur have given me hell. There is no one to say hey turn this screw, now that one. And it really sucks when I give it hell trying to fix things and just eff it up more. So for me, it is very helpful to have an LBS to take my bike to, no matter how embarrassing my problem might be. That being said, I am getting better at minor bike maintenance. I even rewrapped my handlebars the other day.

    • Richard F. Stewart March 4, 2014 at 11:31 am #

      BF3, if you cannot get to a reliable mechanics-are-savvy shop (like the one I went to in Baltimore and the precious few mentioned here), you can find very detailed and informative youtube, et al vids on how-to for non-mechanically trained or experienced riders who have to fix it on their own. Some shops offer mechanic how-to sessions, but those are becoming rare too. Like most, I am more inclined to frequent a shop that also doesn’t BS me, insult my intelligence, or upsell to me (road riding since 1986 in Italy and Deutschland, and mtb and ‘cross since 1988 in Germany, US, Belgium, Korea (talk about trying to find parts and mechanics there!). I know what works for me, what is out there (do my homework and research) and am pointed about getting the products and services because I’ll be back and support the shops who deserve it. Best shop I went to wasn’t the uber store in Frankfurt, but the old fella outside of Mons, Belgium who offered me a Kasteel bierre while he built up my Euro rig – and tuned it as needed – for the four months I’d be in the Benelux. Enjoy the process of getting more savvvy and the cycling.

  20. Souleur August 15, 2013 at 3:44 pm #

    Thanks a mil Cosmo, this is why I read your stuff. You tell it the way it is, without hesitation of pissing someone off, losing a ‘supporter/advertiser’ and have no conflicts in interests. Your interest is simply whats best for cycling and the cyclist.

    I have not had good experience from the very first bike I bought as a college freshman, when they sold me a ‘unisex’ peugeot..that my buddies enlightened me on was a…well, not mens bike. Fact was, he had the bike, and I trusted the LBS to sell a poor freshman a bike. Mistake one.

    Then there are more, smaller mistakes, like the size of the frame…no biggie as an aspiring racer in cat 5 looking for a cannodale 2.8, who sized me up like you would a cheap pair of blue jeans, hold’m up, and there you go.

    and after this, I have become fairly skeptical, to my own benefit I will say though. Through knowledge comes power. I got hooked up with a friend who had a LBS, and he truly embodied the best in all things a LBS should have (a) master craftsman in their trade (b) who are willing to share and build relationships in service to those who grace their business/doors. Literally, I went in and learned to build hoops from the master mechanic. My friend and I still ride together now, 15 years later. The mechanic however left the shop, the owner and friend moved, and sold the shop. On the door, its named the same, but the new owner is a douche who has inherited clientele. In 1999 I bought a Bianchi Boron steel ride, Dura ace 7700 equiped, custom wheels and at that time dropped ~$3500 which was alot for a steel bike, but as Pantani inspired me, I bought. The story ended about 2 mo ago, as I was riding sophia to work as I had for thousands of miles, and a hurried mommy pulls out in front of me and I buried my sophia into her driver side door, I went over the car and luckly unscathed. It fractured the welds to the headtube and I say that to say this. I went in to get an insurance quote from the aforementioned new owner, and she wouldn’t even acknowledge a single thing.

    Which doesn’t really garner much confidence in my going back, ever, since its over an hour drive away.

    And competitive cyclist is 9 digits away, and offer perhaps more professional service in a 30 second call than the LBS would in 30 min.

    I do my own work now, install and build and take nothing to the LBS.

    The LBS does serve, but it does so to those who know no better. Perhaps they are like I were, and growing in the sport. If not, then they will pay the price.

    Your right though, it is a prime market for someone to do something really big

  21. cosmic osmo August 15, 2013 at 6:46 pm #

    having worked at several LBS and known hundreds of LBS and chain-store mechanics ive learned one thing:

    NEVER ASSUME THE LBS KNOWS WHAT THEYRE DOING OR THAT THEY CARE ABOUT YOU!

    fix/install it yourself and buy as close to the manufacturer as you can

    • RED August 29, 2013 at 1:52 am #

      Agreed… my shop destroyed an expensive crank by pulling off the wrong arm, and then made things “right” by *loaning* me an inferior crank… AND then installed the bottom bracket required for this crank BACKWARDS. Hmmm, the side of the BB labelled “Drive-side”… I think that goes on the side WITH THE CRANKSET YOU MUPPETS. (Italian BB thank goodness)

      And all the time I had to keep phoning them…
      Dude where’s my bike? you’ve had it over a week
      Dude you said you’d call on Monday and it’s Wednesday
      Dude what are these new scratches on my $4K frame?! WTF!

      Did I mention it takes 2 hours out of my life each time I have to drive there? Which I ended up doing 3 times.

      I have like 6 shops closer to me, but think that I’m done with all of them. No one takes better care of your stuff that you do…

      PS. I’m not a dentist, just figured it wasn’t worth buying the tools (WRONG)

  22. Guy August 15, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    I’m generally in agreement with this article, but I don’t understand why the author doesn’t get why “showrooming” is a bad thing.

    First, the analogies are not quite apt. Yes, for lots of things like the cable modem I just bought on Amazon, the Internet tells me everything I need to know about a product–how the modem looks, what services its compatible with, the speed, price, etc. There are some things, like “how it feels in my hands” Amazon can’t do, but for a cable modem, that’s fine. For other products, however, it’s not. Like a bike.

    Or a car for that matter (the analogy with cars is wrong because no, you cannot buy a car from outside a dealership or say, on the Internet, the model is just like that of LBSes).

    LBSes can only compete on a handful of ways compared to the internet, and one of those is the value of getting to feel the bike in person. The LBS is more expensive, as it has floorspace and rent to pay, employees to pay, etc. The internet competes on price, but the consumer (ought to) accept the cost of the risk that the product doesn’t feel/fit as good as intended. By showrooming, the consumer is having their cake and eating it too, externalizing the cost onto the local shop.

    If you force internet companies to not externalize the costs/risks of product feel to local stores of all types, then they will adapt to compete correspondingly, but then this usually means some of their price advantage is diminished… which it should be. Zappos has free return shipping on any of its shoes and great customer service… and they tend to charge more for shoes than other online shoe retailers. Amazon for clothing and some other products where feel/fit/size is important, they have free returns as well, which means they have to absorb that cost into the product and charge more for it… which they should.

    Showrooming just cannibalizes local stores in an unsustainable and unfair way.

    • cosmo August 15, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

      @Guy: I see what you’re getting at. But what if I take a car for a test drive at a local dealership, then buy from a non-local dealership, using the Internet to find a better price? Is that appreciably different from showrooming?

      Also, I think it’s an obvious failure of the free market that car brands can’t sell direct to consumers. I believe Tesla has recently won a few lawsuits correcting this very wrong.

      Finally, there are a lot of shoulds and ought-tos in your reply. I’m with you on this at a personal level—I don’t showroom, but as a proponent of informed consumerism, I can’t wholly condemn it, either. I think it was @efacc who said that the root problem is shops give away consultation and experience of the product for free—is there any way for the shop to protect that investment in a way that doesn’t penalize a customer who genuinely wants more information, but then decides they’re not interested?

  23. Marc August 15, 2013 at 11:33 pm #

    $60 per hour mechanic? Where? I’ve been a wrench in CA for a long time and I wish that was true. Most mechanics make 1/4 of that, at best. While I admit that there are a lot of lousy bike shops there are also good ones. And while they are trying to make a profit (Gasp! But I’m sure you work for free…) they do provide a very real value.

  24. Christopher T. Smith August 16, 2013 at 12:17 am #

    Quick question for Gob whilst I am claming down. I can’t find the Garmin I want on cheapgarmin.com. Can I come to your shop so you can help me find it on your shop computer? Then I will order it.

    Kthxbai.

  25. Dontcoast August 16, 2013 at 1:48 am #

    There are many things both positive and negative i’d like to say in reply to this rant.

    But since i dont feel lik typing much i’ll just say this:

    There is a type of entity that provides what you describe (tool use, classes and mentoring, used bikes, basic replacement parts, used parts, basic essential accessories) to varying extents:

    The bike tool co-op.
    Bike kichens, bike church, bikus, and many other community and college coops

    However even the best tool co-ops i have encountered are volunteer run and often struggle to find qualified volunteers and have regular hours, and sometimes struggling to keep going.

    Something in the same vein but run as a business or community funded could fill a gap in communities as more people cycle for transportation. I would love to see something like a bike tool share/ transportation center with slightly higher membership rates but tools in better shape, better advice and more structured classes, wider selection of new parts for on the spot repairs…
    However much i like the vision, I think it in no way replaces the quality LBS that listens to its customers and actually keeps their best interest in mind (for people who have no time or interest for DIY repairs, for newcomers, for high end completes, for people who want latest and greatest, for people who need fitting, for that tube you need right now etc…)
    I also think that even if subsidized or run with great business skill, such a venture would struggle in all but a very few markets that are ready for it. Still, i do think such community tool centers will emerge and become more and more common as city infrastructure evolves to include bicycles as a key mode of transportation.

    Hm. And thats just responding to a fraction of the rant :)

  26. John August 16, 2013 at 3:31 am #

    Thank you for this. As a rider, this is something I obviously deal with on the regular. But furthermore, as a guy who runs a collegiate team, and sets up sponsor agreements with the LBS: I have a hard time sending racers to the LBS (though I should and do, as they’re the sponsor shop) when basically all of the downsides you describe are present, and when managers of the LBS refuse to talk openly about the current “state of affairs.”

    The one thing that was not touched on during the rant was “does a shop actually give back to the local race community.” It’s a common enough industry bro response, and I think its a potentially interesting pro-shop argument if true. Though, idk if the actual cost-benefit analysis would be compelling. I’d be very interested to look at a per-racer basis for event “subsidy” through sponsorship, and compare that to how much each racer spends extra in buying local instead of online. Furthermore, if the “subsidy” of sponsorship were removed, how that would affect the race economy (how different markets would react to paying more for races in place of LBS sponsoring)

  27. ringcycles August 16, 2013 at 8:19 am #

    when I was 11-12 I went from riding bikes to being fascinated with cycling because I lived near a good bike shop. When I was 28, I came back to cycling & began racing because again I lived near a good (perhaps great) bike shop. I do not think I am unique. For many people the good local bike shop is the hub of the cycling community (pun intended).

    The relationship I have with my good local bike shop I see as a partnership. I do not waste their time with repairs that I can do myself or asking about parts that I will buy elsewhere (such as gluing tubular tires). I do rely on them for complicated repairs & ordering bikes. I am happy to wear their logo on group rides, they are happy to give me a break on cost. It’s a good relationship for both of us.

    I’ve also been in plenty of bad bike shops. I think the real complaint for Cosmo & those who agree with him here is that there aren’t enough good shops, & the industry suppliers aren’t doing enough to help the good ones. My question is what as a cyclist are you able to do to support the hub of many cycling communities, & what do you expect the industry to do?

  28. Molly Cameron August 16, 2013 at 10:53 am #

    Everything I loathe about the bicycle industry/bike shops; I set out to do differently in my business.

    Glad you wrote this.

  29. Mitchell August 16, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

    When, oh when, oh when, will BOSTON STFU? Enough! My God man, it’s a dump. A cycling trashy dump, laden with losers, drunks, and peeps in spandex whose finishing times on races would lead you to believe they have little to say.

    I bet the author is just another proud representative of Boston’s finest: a city with no cycling spirit, offering retarded arrogance, and weak legs.

    Toast to that! Get yah beerah here-ah!

  30. Ghostship Matt August 16, 2013 at 1:29 pm #

    Interesting article. I agree with some things written here, and not sure about others. I really have to reread to digest everything. Some great comments left here as well.

    One thing that jumped out at me was the comment about show-rooming. If this point has been addressed & I’m simply regurgitating, please forgive me. I can speak from the retailer point of view, being a bicycle shop manager. Show-rooming is not simply, “where people research prices and find out as much as they can about a given part before making a final purchase, like, you know, an informed consumer would.” That, to me, is simply research.

    Show-rooming is coming into our shop, using our expertise to answer questions about a product for your bicycle (because you don’t want to do your own research, or don’t know what’s compatible with your bike), then taking that information and using it to find a part online that’s cheaper than our price & leveraging that cost against us.

    Isn’t our expertise worth something to that person who doesn’t know what they need and doesn’t want to do the research? If not, then why are they here asking questions in the first place? I won’t argue against someone who does all the work/research/labor themselves to find what they need online. The value of a shop may not be there for them. I guess that all I can ask of people is if you need me to help you figure out what to purchase, buy it from me. If you don’t need any help, I’d love you to get it from me, but I can’t really be mad if you buy it elsewhere.

    Good shops are really hard to find, I completely agree. I hear horror stories from my customers on a weekly basis. I’m sure that the shop I work for has blown it a few times as well, we’re not perfect. I like to think that when our customer lets us know that we screwed up, we’ve been able to fix it, and make our customer satisfied with the results. We’re always trying to find ways that we can better our business for our customers, and we’re always open to suggestions. Please, let your LBS know when they’ve screwed up, but also when they’ve knocked it out of the park for you.

  31. Ghostship Matt August 16, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    I forgot to add, thank you for writing this. Any discussion we can have that will make bike shops strive to work harder and produce more positive results for our customers is worth it.

  32. Skippy August 16, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

    With 16 seasons of riding the Routes of the Grand Tours and other Pro World events , you will agree that i have seen the inside of a few LBS ? The attitudes of these people throughout Europe range from ” Polite interest ” to ” YOU WANT TO USE MY TOOLS “? Yes it is a bit of an ” ask “, to find in Spain that there is a problem , that the Pro World Team Mechanic , does not have a part , to help solve the situation !

    Can remember arriving from Palermo on the Sunday Morn at the Vuelta start , after crashing and snapping one of the bolts on the Stem , luckily for me i spotted Perry , who kindly rooted through his Tool Box , found the necessary bolt and then was kind enough to help out by fitting . Bear in mind that this Guy was there to ensure that his Team were well placed to win that day’s Etappe , so the ACT of Kindness , was truly appreciated .

    Having been run off the road in Corsica and breaking the RHS 9 speed SDI Lever , it took countless LBS , to find even one shop stocking a 9 speed lever . Being able to get from 11 speed down to 25 had proved difficult , but starting down a slope fidgetting for a higher gear could reach the point that yopu were spinning at 120rpm on the flat , getting no where .

    Bought a Sora 9 speed after weeks of frustration and that look down the nose from M.LBS . Did they really think i was about to buy a 10 speed STI set and Casette , to go on the ” Shopping Bike ” that i took to the 100th ” Le Tour because it was Yellow & Black and had survived the 100th Edition in 2003?

    Living in the Inntal of Tirol Austria , lacking the Language Skills , i do ALL my own maintainance , even building Bikes & Wheels . Occasionally i need to borrow a special Tool and the village has a real Gent that obliges with the Loan . An exception to some , in other countries , who want to see the money before they condescend to getting off the phone , to enquire as to how they can earn their living ?

    Whilst in Rovereto , for the start of the Tour of Poland , i found a shop , that had the 9 speed STI Lever , for $30 i was able to set the bike back to rights . In addition i found a few other used parts that have eluded me for years .

    Being the touchy , feely type , i prefer to see the item that i am considering buying , however those Ebay purchases made in March , are still in the post arrival point in the UK, unseen and thus hopefully as described by the vendor . A set of wheels seems to be missing , the vendor does not reply to the emails sent and EBAY , why should they care , they have their fees !

    Thanks for this Blog Post , provides a useful view of Others difficulties and thoughts ! Guess i have been luckier than most ?

  33. Caleb August 16, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

    Great article and follow-up comments. Folks are already articulating anything I might say about the article, and doing a much better job of it than I can. But I do have one thing to add:

    Regardless of your level of experience, you expect something like a relationship out of your LBS. For example, Hulkster has been going to his LBS for years. From my experience working in the shop, people like him are one of the best things about the job. The shop guys know him, he knows them, and an hour of free (and VERY frustrating) service is not out of the question. It personally matters to the mechanic that Hulkster be able to race. I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of such a service.

    But the bike shop is also a business. The simple fact is that the oh-crap-my-bike-is-busted-and-I-race-today crowd hits the shop at the same time as the it’s-the-weekend-now-let’s-buy-that-bike crowd. Devoting an hour to pro bono labor may very well cost Hulkster’s shop several hundred dollars (assuming the guy fishing that cable head out of the shifter is really scheduled to work the sales floor).

    This isn’t a big deal long-term, as long as Hulkster honors his end of the relationship. Let’s say the weekend sales were less than projected (possibly because of the guy taking care of the broken cable), and the next week’s replenishment order is skimpy. Now they don’t have the latex tubes with 80mm valve stems that Hulkster prefers. He could go all business and be like, “Hey, I have a need. You aren’t meeting it. I’ll spend my money down the street (or more likely online). That’s just business.” Or he could be like, “Won’t kill me to run butyl for a week. I like you guys. You take care of me. Gimme a call when the latex shows up.” And when Hulkster’s coworker wants to get into biking and has a few hundred dollars to throw at it, Hulkster sends him to his friends at the LBS.

    So anyway, expect all you like from the shop, and be prepared to reciprocate.

  34. Barry August 16, 2013 at 8:56 pm #

    I just deleted a five paragraph rant about how bad my area shops are. Let’s just say I am sad that I can not support my area LBS’s do to how little they stock and how little knowledge they have. Thanks to the internet, to Amazon and to the words of Sheldon that live on as a invaluble resource. All LBS’s today are just outlets for QBP. That’s not a bad thing it’s just reality.

  35. Matt August 17, 2013 at 1:40 am #

    So there’s no money in running a bike shop. What with rational consumers finally behaving rationally (“showrooming”). This is the golden era of the consumer that Milton Friedman promised all along. Sometimes capitalism steps on you.

    A possible solution? Offer me something that Amazon can’t – like a cafe or a club space for local clubs to rent out. Consider a remix of the traditional bike shop. Oh, and stop trying to sell me a new bike when I walk in and ask for a new tread or tube.

    The niche is small as are the margins. Branch out, give me a reason to hang out and I’ll give you my money.

    If Amazon is killing your sales, then maybe it’s a market signal to go out of business. Maybe SRAM will throw some money at you to save a node in their distribution network.

  36. Daniel August 17, 2013 at 8:53 am #

    I’m curious as to what you all think about the performance model. I’m young and had trouble getting hired at a LBS because of my lack of experience as a mechanic, but Performance has been a great learning experience for me, personally.

    I also see it as a potential future for bike shops, as horrible as I know everyone thinks that would be. We get huge amounts of customers simply because we can do quick and easy repairs and sell lower-priced equipment. The people we target and sell to aren’t racers, but are mostly commuters/fitness riders and we are able to meet their needs quite well.

    The thing that we can’t provide and the service that I go to other shops for is the community. I race for a different shop and when I need very technical information or new routes, I’ll ask a different shop.

    What do you all think about Performance and Performance-style stores?

  37. Anonymous Industry Dude August 17, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    What most consumers don’t realize (as well as many from within the industry), is that the bike industry itself is heavily flawed (just a few examples):

    1) Margins are generally too low (at best 30% – 40% on a bike or frame is a cruel joke). Without healthy margins, the incentive to invest in quality staff, inventory, and infrastructure is limited.

    2) The technology changes too frequently. This creates a disincentive to holding substantial inventory (at all levels of the industry), and there is a limit to the amount of legacy knowledge that can be retained by staff.

    3) There are too many so called “standards”.

    4) Many things have become commoditized and over distributed. This brings down prices, margins, and bottom line profits.

    5) The industry creates conflict between its sales channels. It is very difficult to sell to OEMs, distributors, small manufacturers globally without creating grey market opportunities, and price inequities. Add dealer direct, and/or consumer direct, and you’ve created a mudbog.

    6) New products are announced or introduced too frequently, often to the detriment of sales of in-stock goods.

    While many of these things are healthy for the consumer, it may not be for the various other levels of the sales channel. However, it is the world we live in, is not exclusive to the bike industry, and truly is an example of Darwinism; evolve or die… Overtime there will be periods of expansion and periods of contraction, but the strong and smart will survive.

  38. art allen August 17, 2013 at 11:22 pm #

    look the LBS is trying to keep up with the people who read Bicycling Mag. I for one am a tinkerer that will keep one of my many bikes running some parts are interchangeable most are not but I have spares. My bikes look like they are parked out doors most of the time (probably because they are parked outside most of the time,) and no self respecting thief would bother, except one who likes to take a light or two. I have never had to wait for more than a week to get a generic part that would do the job.
    I have not missed one day of commuting in over three years but had to limp (push one of my bikes home)home only once.

    Never had to wait more than a week for parts from a shop that actually mainly is driven by the locksmith business that shares space.

    Cycling is a marketing driven business driven by people who buy/sell $300 helmets made of Styrofoam. I believe that anybody who will pay that much for a helmet has nothing to protect, and those who sell such equipment idolize Mr barnam, (or was it Bailey) of the circus industry.

    My advice never trade in or sell a bike keep it as a spare, fix them your self buy bikes as needed at auctions, pawn shops, or thrift shops, love them and they will be of service.

    My

  39. Billn' August 18, 2013 at 10:44 am #

    This is not that complicated. Just add up the dollars involved. The reality is that the bike industry or any industry that’s largely dependent on peoples’ disposable income. These days, incomes are highly skewed. Period. The bike shop boys identify with you, the ‘everyman’ blue collar joe racer, but you come in, suck up all their time and end up buying dribs and drabs. The dentist comes in and spends 10 times what you spend in a tenth of the number of visits. Hence, the industry learns, wisely, that they HAVE to put the new shinys in the shop and stake their livelihood on someone other than you. Don’t begrudge them for the economics that are out of any one person’s control. All you have to do is recognize where you sit in the world. You are not valued by a retail shop. That’s not the place for you. Enjoy shopping online.

  40. Ann J. August 18, 2013 at 11:36 am #

    I am one of the lucky ones who has a wonderful LBS (Summit Bikes in Los Gatos, CA) to visit – talented mechanics, salespeople who actually talked me out of more expensive parts, etc. I was a “Mommy McRailTrail” (I love that!) when I first walked in, and now I’m a roadie – along the way, their level of service and expertise has remained top-notch.

    Sure, there are things I’ve had to wait for because they weren’t in stock – but I would’ve had to wait if I ordered it off the web, anyway, and I would’ve missed out on the advice that helped me pick the right option for me. And I am not confident in doing anything beyond fixing a flat (yet I did walk my wounded rig a mile to my LBS when I flatted on the way back from a ride), so I am one of those riders who turns my bike over to the guys for tire changes, drivetrain cleaning, etc along with a 6-pack of soda to top off the minimal labor charge that I am happy to pay.

    I also can’t call the Internet when I’m out of wifi range and get directions when I am lost on a ride in the Santa Cruz mountains. Summit is the reason I didn’t end up on the local news as a missing person.

    I am happy to pay a bit of markup for the added value I get in advice from these guys. I realize not all LBS’ are like this, but I felt it was important to give kudos to one that consistently does right by my cycling community.

  41. Pickles312 August 18, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    I agree. i have no local shops that know anything about racing bikes at all.

  42. Carn Soaks August 19, 2013 at 5:12 am #

    Cosmo, great emotional insightful content as ever.
    I have daydreamed about starting myown garage shop for about a year. In my suburb, I see 20 wrecks a month sitting on the roadside waiting for council pickup. I have reconditioned 1 Reid into a fixie, thanks for coming Bondi.
    I know I could go and start up a small cottage industry shop doing the same for Old Style Racers & MtBikes.
    In my mind, for the average street rider/commuter, I reckon the Higher-End “ProGear” accessories would suffice, look nice and are, priceVquality, value. I could never just start-up selling the, forever widening, Shimano gear on a frame without getting complaints, confused, or discovering that the components are worse than the Taiwanese offering.

    I agree that the INET offer a new world to bike enthusiasts. I hope to oneday be a local resource to a non racing frternity of bike nuts.
    Any advice or mentors worth looking into would be appreciated as I develop my bike setting skills.

    Soaks

  43. GeeTee August 20, 2013 at 12:27 am #

    I buy parts on the interweb.
    I look up videos on the interweb to learn how to do things.
    I like to tinker with my bikes.
    Then I like to ride ‘em.
    Then I buy more parts and tinker some more.

  44. cosmic osmo August 20, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    @Billn’

    despite your comment, shops are experiencing record lows and ridership among young people is at an all time low. If it was so “wise” to cater to the dentist crowd…why is not working? Have fun being pretentious :)

  45. Billn' August 21, 2013 at 9:52 am #

    @Cosmic osmo,

    Perhaps you misinterpret me. Income disparity and its hard for anyone to wrap their head around it. Incomes are highly skewed, more so than people realize. The ‘dentist’ customer really is worth that much more and the economics are hard to deal with. Luxury items like race bikes aren’t for the everyman.

    I do agree that its difficult to know if the LBS/industry strategy of going only for the upper incomes is a wise one. It *seems* like they are sawing off the branch they’re sitting on, but perhaps not—those dentists may really be worth 10 college students, probably a lot more, actually.

    And I’m not sure about your comment that young people have record low ridership. I think its rising, but its just not worth that much to a specialty shop selling luxury items. How many commuter rigs/fixed gears can you buy for that dentist-bought yearly purchase of carbon fiber?

  46. Josh August 21, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

    I’m completely backing Billn’s story here, and I’m wondering where the evidence is that the “dentist model” is failing? What Billn describes is the scenario I’ve witnessed for years working at local bike shops, where demand for high-margin, high-dollar bikes is still enormous, and businesspeople, doctors, lawyers, etc., keep lining up for the chance to buy their $5-15k dream bike.

    Every year, Trek does more Project One bikes than they did the year before. It’s so popular that this year, they’re expanding it down to their four-series Madones. Specialized comes out with sometimes five or six versions of the same bike, in different paint schemes, and sells the frames alone for the cost of a late-model economy car. The list goes on. Who is buying these bikes if the traditional retail channel is dying and the “dentists” aren’t shopping like they used to? It’s can’t all be racer-bro-dudes with a shop hookup.

  47. Billn' August 21, 2013 at 9:48 pm #

    As Josh put it, the dentist business model is alive and kicking. It may be evolving still. I have knowledge of things in the industry, peripherally, that the LBS may morph further into specialty concierge-style services. Its a direct marketing channel right to the dentists: spec their bike from the factory with all those team paint schemes and have a mechanic/shop guy *come to their house* to set it up, do a fitting, try wheels, stems, whatev. They call to make sure everything is all right. Even set up house calls for routine and emergency maintenance (someone’s got to glue those tubies!). This service is not advertised through the magazines and online media. This type of thing is sales guys working an account on commission doing direct business.

    Now when you go into one of those nice looking race bike shops—”studios”, actually—and you feel a *little* out of place…. that’s their way of being polite. You are way way way out of place.

  48. Another Insider Dbag August 21, 2013 at 9:52 pm #

    Sorry I’m a week late, but something about this has been nagging at me. I don’t even know where to begin. Actually, I do know where to begin—the fact that a lot of people are just stupid. Can we say that? Can we get that out there?

    Work any customer service job, and you watch your sales margin evaporate with every ring of the phone. It’s been mentioned before, but bikes and parts companies are in this as a business, and god forbid they might actually make any money at it. SRAM may not sell to consumers, but they have a dealer service phone line, and you can be damned sure they track how much each call costs them. Every time some high school kid at his first shop job can’t figure out how to install an Apex front derailleur, he’s calling in to be walked through it, spending their time and therefore money. Factor in the cuts at each step of the supply chain, and the only way to make anything is to insulate yourself as much as you can from the stupid questions that can be answered by anyone who can read an instruction sheet.

    (OK, maybe SRAM is a bad example for that one.)

    Or, price it so high you can afford to staff the phones to talk to consumers. Anyone want to bet how accurate the knowledge is on your beloved Internet forums? Good lord, they’re horrible. I’m betting every rep around the world spends a good portion of their year explaining how this or that piece of information is completely inaccurate, and it’s really this over here, which no one even sees, but which is fairly represented on the manufacturer’s web site. But here’s the thing: the manufacturers can’t price fairly enough to cover the costs associated with consumer support. That’s where the bike shop is supposed to come in.

    Cosmo, you’re absolutely right. The system is f*ed up. It will change — it has to. Consumers are smarter than ever, and the old-line shops have their heads in the sand. And yeah, a good portion of them kinda’ suck. And yes, there are more than a few folks eating their own lunch right now, and trying to keep that gravy train going. But thankfully there are others who are trying to figure it out, and who don’t underestimate the investment it will take to support a new model — the next few years will not be all wine and roses on the supply side.

  49. cosmo August 21, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

    Hey guys—sorry I checked out the discussion on this. Managed to crash on my head last Friday. More or less better, now, in no small part because I always wear a helmet.

    @Josh: I’ll concede a big weak spot on evidence for failing of dentist model. Outside general demographic trends on incomes and on bike use—which I still think are very relevant—I don’t have much. Certainly @gob’s assertion that shops make most income off $300-$800 models seems to counter the notion that it can be all high-end. I’m willing to bet it varies by geography.

    But this rant isn’t really opposed to the notion that shops could *just* service high-end customers. Its target is the blank dictum that everything for everyone should be done through the shop. For the high-end, sure—money is no object, time usually is, shop makes sense. But necessarily (anyone here dropping $15k on a bike?) as more shops scale up, that will increase demand on the other end for used parts, mid-range bikes and cheap service.

    It costs a shop almost nothing to have an extra stand and charge people to use it and occasionally ask for help from a real mechanic. Shop could make money renting at $15 an hour vs. the $60 they’d bill if a wrench did the service (re:@marc—$60 was billing, not income) and still have more free work hours to cover other projects.

    Maybe the co-ops that @dontcoast mentioned get better at breaking even and fill in the void. Or we meet somewhere in the middle.

  50. cosmo August 21, 2013 at 11:11 pm #

    @Caleb: I’m just really wary of any business model that relies on honor. Relationships have real value, no question,and I’ve taken some hits on parts and price to “honor” my relationship with a few shops. And I’d say about half the time, it’s come back to benefit me as a consumer, outside any notion of honor.

    But can you rely on enough consumers to have this long-term, relationship-focused view when there’s so much competition online? From my POV it feels safer to build a model where what the Internet can’t readily provide is your bread and butter.

    @Anonymous Industry Dude: On points 2 and 3, one of my absolute favorite things about most Internet-order bikes and house(ish) brands like Sette and Surly and Pake is that everything makes an effort to play nice. 68mm English BB shell. 1 1/8th head tube. 132.5mm dropout. They aim for peak compatibility, you might say. If you want a part, almost any will fit. If something breaks, it’s easy to replace. Sure, it’s not the stiffest or the lightest or whatever it is shop salesman use. But it’s damned flexible for the long haul. That’s a huge value to me as a consumer.

    @Another Insider Dbag: One of my favorite parts about the Internet is that anyone can say pretty much anything. Thus, the consumer is left largely to their own opinion on what to trust and whom to believe. As a result, one becomes very good at telling the difference between Yahoo! Answers and SheldonBrown.com very quickly. Take a look at what’s out there, and you’ll see what I mean.

    In my day job, I do web stuff, and one of the many things I love about it is that when other web people find a new trick, or run into a problem, they write a blog post about it so that knowledge is out there for others. If SRAM or whoever blogged about their issues, cool repair tricks, workarounds, common mistakes, etc., they’d easily bury bad forum posts (which still tend to be pretty good) in Google results, make consumers happy, and save a ton of service calls. But for the most part, they don’t. They say “Take it to the shop. Oh you didn’t take it to the shop? Well, whose fault is that?”

    And that just makes me sad. As a brand, you want consumers to be psyched about and engaged in your product. How can you foster this level of stoke by placing your parts in metaphorical glass jar and saying “don’t touch.”

  51. cosmo August 21, 2013 at 11:24 pm #

    @Ann J: Thanks for commenting! I’m really glad someone who likes the current setup weighed in. I don’t think there’s anything wrong doing things the way you do them as a consumer, and it sounds like you have a pretty good local shop to help you out. If it’s worth the mark-up (which, as many have commented, isn’t much) to you, they’re doing a good job.

    That said, I think the fact that you’re the only one who commented in favor of the current setup (from a consumer POV) shows the trouble it can cause for others. The real question for me is how to appease this cranky base of riders without alienating newer, less-knowledgable—we need more of you! Do you think a shop that focused more on teaching riders how to repair vs. taking care of everything for them could ever appeal to you?

  52. Ari Davidow August 22, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

    For what it’s worth, since you mention the Boston branch by name, I have been using International Bike Shop in Needham for over a decade and love them. They have gone out of their way to keep me riding with very little return–I don’t buy much. I’m a sometime commuter rider (500-1k miles/year?), not someone with fancy gear or aspirations to same. Nor do I have a dentist’s income.

    Local bike shops are like local book shops. Good ones are incredible. Bad ones? To paraphrase Billy Joel, even a peanut butter sandwich is better than a bad lbs.

    • cosmo August 22, 2013 at 2:02 pm #

      @Ari Davidow: I rode for IBC’s team back in 2007. There were ups and downs, but I met some cool people and generally had a good time. Most of my issues as relate to this rant came from one person at the Boston shop. The Newton shop (maybe it’s in Needham?) was always great. I even had the cops drive me there after I and my bike got run over in Newton Center that summer.

  53. Dave April 19, 2014 at 2:02 pm #

    Having read the recent articles regarding wages in American bike shops, how do you expect LBS’s to retain quality staff? Talented and knowledgeable staff are simply going to leave and find a job that pays a living wage somewhere else, taking their talents into another industry.
    Why are wages so low? Since it would seem that bike shop owners are only making $25K per year on average how can they afford to pay a sales person more than that.

    I see a pattern here. Customers get low prices online, bike shop starts matching those prices to keep existing customers happy, bike shop owner has to cut overheads (wages are always the first place to look). So the store looses professional sales people and gets a collection of part time staff (be it college or high school students for example) and people willing to work for subsistence wages. Customer gets poor service and looks online where prices are cheaper and information is plentiful.

    I work in the bike industry in Australia. The cost of living is higher here but as a Senior Salesperson (not even a store manager) I earn over $50k. I have almost 10 years experience, I am good at my job, I know a lot and if I don’t know it I’ll tell you so and go find out the relevant information. The store I work at is a small family owned business in a fairly affluent inner city suburb. We don’t stock everything, all the time (we don’t have a square mile warehouse on an industrial estate outside Belfast to store everything) but people don’t seem to mind if it only takes a few days to get the product air-bagged from the distributor at no extra cost to them. We battle against internet pricing all the time but our levels of knowledge, professionalism and service keep customers coming back and generally paying above ‘Wiggle’ prices (within reason of course).

    Pay people what they are worth, invest in their training (sales as well as product knowledge) and they will make the business money in return. This is the business model that competes successfully against internet price pressure. Perhaps someone can explain to me why wages are so low for US LBS employees.

  54. Graeme May 26, 2014 at 10:51 pm #

    I don’t know if anyone is still seeing this thread, but I’ve got two things to say:

    Showrooming has not been adequately described. It’s not when someone asks a bit of advice. I don’t mind that at all. Showrooming is that person who comes in to try on a pair of shoes that he clearly wants, fit well, and are in stock, then gives some bs line like, “ok, I know they’re here now” (which you knew before you tried them on), or, “I just need to check with the boss”. You’re not fooling anyone. Trying shoes on in the shop with the intention of buying them online is low. In fact, there are a few shops around that have started charging to try shoes on because this has become a problem. Sounds ridiculous, but it’s come to that.

    Some of you seem to be under the impression that the local shop should be a registered charity. You want everything at internet pricing, free labour, free advice, support for races and events, and whatever else you think a shop should be responsible for. Then some have the balls to say that if it can’t do this and survive, then it’s just not a very good shop. When did it become a crime to make an income (even a poor one)? Someone has already said it, but do you work for free? People have this impression that because you can buy things online cheaper, that shops are gouging. Giant overseas online stores can sell you product cheaper than shops pay for it themselves. That’s certainly not the shops fault. Blame the supplier if you need to blame someone.

    There are plenty of bad shops out there, without a doubt, but do not suggest that all LBSs are a waste of time, as does the collective whinging above. The shop I am at never “up sells” (in fact, half the time we down sell because the internet tells people they need something they don’t), fix things before replacing them, give good customers a break, and has nearly 65 years of experience between our two mechanics.

    As big as the myth of the infallible LBS is the one about the infallible customer.

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