The LBS experience
I'm thankful that most of the LBSs I've visited provide great service, specifically ABS in Santa Cruz. But there are a few which were... less than stellar. Additionally, whenever my SO would like to buy me anything cycling related she tells me about her trepidation with LBSs and resigns to shopping online. This is after a bad experience she had at one of the larger local LBSs, so when I read this on Engadget I just thought I'd share:
This is the Modem World: Fear and loathing in the local bike shop
"By now, Cyber Monday is probably as big as Black Friday in terms of sales and retail excitement. According to IBM's Smarter Commerce arm, Cyber Monday online sales jumped 30 percent this year. A few years ago, Cyber Monday seemed to start as a joke, e-tailers heaving a "me too" at everyone returning to work, hoping to pick up a couple extra sales from those who didn't score on Black Friday.
This was, of course, when brick-and-mortar shops still outsold their online brethren. Blockbuster Video still occupied mini-malls; Barnes & Noble sold CDs and didn't know a thing about tablets. There was a quiet respect for brick-and-mortar stores in the quaint nature of Cyber Monday: 20 percent off underwear and free shipping, but that was about it.
While some venture out to the big stores to wrestle for a 32-inch, $149 LCD TV that they'd never buy any other day, the rest of us are content to stay home and pick off the good deals as they float by in cyberspace. We watch videos of seemingly normal people pummel one another in animalistic feeding frenzies just to get their hands on phones, socks and microwaves. And we say, "Yeah, no."
I'm one of the latter set: The notion of entering a store on Black Friday is about as appealing to me as a dentist appointment in the dead of winter, but I'm quite happy to pick off some good online deals.
This year, I was in the market for a new mountain bike. My first move, of course, was to look online where I found a multitude of great deals, free shipping and, of course, no tax. I then checked online communities like mtbr.com where I was guilted into checking my local bike shop. For not much more money, it was argued, I'd establish a relationship with a local dealer who would also service my bike and hook me up with equipment and accessories over the life of the bike.
This sounded nice. I like relationships. So I set out to visit two of the most reputable bike shops in the area, money at the ready, in the dead of Black Friday.
The first shop was set up for the big day with a clearance tent out front full of last year's shoes and pedals. I sauntered past into the showroom and over to the mountain bikes. I stood, staring, waiting for help from one of the three unoccupied salespeople. After 10 minutes, not one approached me. Finally, I walked up to the counter to ask a young, Bieber-esque dude if I could get some help. Without leaving the comfort of the counter, he asked, "What are you looking at?"
"Well, I'm not sure, but I wanted to check out the Specialized and Yetis you have."
"What's your budget?"
"I'm still figuring that out."
He was still behind the counter. I told him I'd come back when he wasn't so busy.
Things felt better as I walked into the next shop. It was a smaller affair without tents, and I was immediately approached by someone who looked like he knew a thing or two about the sport. The guy was nice, but unfortunately I knew more about the equipment they were selling than they did, and this was only after maybe three hours of Googling.
I asked for model comparisons and he replied, "I mean, well, they're about the same."
This was for two bikes with a $500 price differential.
I asked to see a particular pedal and before I could ask to see another to compare, he walked to the back, returned with a box in hand, handed it to me and left me to carefully unpack it in fear of ripping the packaging before I made any purchase decisions. He gave me the feeling that he had better things to do than deal with me.
I thanked him and asked for his card, resigned to do my ordering online and without local love. Perhaps I didn't make it clear enough that I was ready to buy. A friend suggested that I probably looked like I knew what I was doing and that they didn't need to educate me. Maybe I had "Online Deal Freeloader" written all over my face and he knew I was a lost cause.
When I returned home, I dropped an email to my chosen e-tailer asking if they had any Black Friday specials running. A nice person named Mike called me within five minutes and offered a 15 percent discount and free shipping. He was able to explain the difference between various models and helped me pick the best option based on my riding style and experience. He then recommended some pedals based on his own personal experience and threw them in at a heavy discount. He created a custom shopping cart, sent me a link via email and the deal was done.
Maybe it's me -- it probably is -- but I'm pretty sure that I'm of a generation of shoppers who prefer to do their dealing digitally. Pricing, features and customer service appear to be on the up-and-up when it comes to online retailers. The brick-and-mortar versions, however, come off as survival games that, to this path-of-least-resistance shopper, aren't worth the trip."
I'll say it
The LBS is a flawed business model and the support-the-LBS-at-any-cost culture of more serious riders and their e-communities has become misguided.
This is not some pissy screed because I am 5 min ride from Annadel SP and it's too wet to ride, or a narcissisitic I-do-all-my-own-maintenance-cos-I'm-so-smart-F-you, it's just the way I see the industry.
There are too many parts for too many years of too many bikes. Even in the emerging "concept store" model, where one brand dominates, it doesn't translate to having all the derailer hangers in stock, or all the pivot hardware, or loaner shocks, or even the size and model and color of helmet you might want. The LBS has to order it. This is one of the fundamental issues: if the LBS has to order it from somebody, why shouldn't the consumer order it from somebody? Often in less time. Often for less money. Don't jump ahead to the "LBS-as-center-of-local-riding-community part, we'll get there. Just ask that question like a loan officer looking at a business plan. It's a problem.
There is often something amiss with the salespeople. I won't pretend to have all the answers here. But my guess, after shopping in LBSs across several states for many years, is that it is in part driven by low pay and the LBS being a coveted job for social reasons rather than economic, which can take the emphasis off professionalism and expertise, and lead to shops that have an attitude (real or imagined) where customers feel unvalued. Have you read the ridiculous things people write on Yelp about LBSs and their employees? I think their expectations are way off, but they are the market...
There are tons of threads in which a shop owner or manager will smack down some poster who claims that they must have a huge markup and the LBS must be making money hand over fist. The margins suck. The major manufacturers of 'serious' brands often have in-store-only policies, and this should be a huge advantage to the LBS, but even with that in play, they are barely solvent. There must be something wrong with the model.
The LBS should have trained service personel who can fix the stuff you don't know how to fix. The turnaround time should _not_ be super fast. If you need it done today, do it yourself or hire a race mechanic, princess. I think most are doing this right. I think riders' expectations are often wrong.
The LBS should sell all the basic, generic gear a new rider might need. Someone who isn't interested in tons of choices, but wants the one best choice for them, and the help of someone experienced and who cares enough to help make it. Some shops are good here and some are not.
The LBS should not be your gateway to a high-performance frame or complete bike. If the big store-only companies feel that part of their brand's value is that you can only touch it under the supervision of a store employee, then maybe there could be regional concept stores, or maybe pro fitters and a bunch of stock available at traveling demo days, or maybe they could just give up and let people who know what they are doing buy online and save some money in an already astoundingly expensive sport.
Lastly, I realize that there are shops that really have lived up to all the best that is said in the perennial Support the LBS discussions. There is a laundry list of rad things they do. But many (most) shops don't do this stuff. Let's be honest. And more to the point, all of this important work--rider organzation, trail work, advocacy, event sponsorship, etc--can now all be done by specialty groups with more members, more power, and more focus than the after-hours efforts of an LBS that exists to sell stuff. The little human details--bike advice, amatuer fitting, ride sharing, stoke, etc--all of that is better delivered by a group of friends, or by something like mtbr.
To close, I appreciate everything that cycling has brought into my life, and much of the material part of it went through the hands of LBSs. I just think that all the thought, effort, money, could go to something new rather than keep alive something so imperfect for the time we live in. And P.S., if you get a pro deal from the shop you frequent good for you, but take a second to think before you argue that an entire arm of an industry should hobble on so that you can save a few bucks, patting yourself on the back that you don't shop on line. Thanks.
I do my own maintenance because it is cheaper, faster and I can also do that on a trail head if needed. It ain't rocket science.
Originally Posted by Snfoilhat
I tried to save time a few times with some fork rebuilds and brake bleeds when I did not have a kit, but it takes a few days for them, and I have to drive there twice, and it costs a large fraction of the actual item being serviced. Not worth the time not saved. Never again. But I would certainly pay for a good wheelbuild, and there are a couple shops and a couple guys around that I would gladly pay money for their help.
It's all based upon your perceived value of the entity providing the service. You might pay for a plumber, carpenter, painter, roofer, electrician or a bike mechanic. Or you could do those yourself, if you wanted to acquire the skills to do so. I probably could have learned to sand, stain and polyurethane the hardwood floors in my house, however, I saw more value in paying someone to do it, rather than learning to do it myself. Prune a large oak? Sure you could buy a tall ladder and a chainsaw and do it yourself, or you could pay an arborist to do it for you for $100.
I agree with the posters here though. There's LBSs around me for which I see very little value, others I see value in certain areas. I bought my current ride from one LBS because of the extensive fitting they do and the amount of parts onsite they have to swap in/out during the fitment (3 stems, 2 handlebars and 2 sets of grips). However, I wouldn't take my bike there for maintenance, or buy individual upgrades (like a new wheel set).
An LBS is very close to what BestBuy or other electronics/computer stores are. For certain consumers, they provide the right service, for others, like myself who architect data centers, getting networking advice from BestBuy isn't worth it to me and so I hunt online for the best price as I already know what I want and just need someone to fulfill the order. However, if I need the service (could even be as simple as a return policy), the service better be good otherwise, they won't get my business no matter how cheap their prices are.
Value of time. I would gladly pay LBS some extra for, say a derailleur that I just bought from Germany. But it will take them longer to get it, and I will have to drive there to pick it up, and probably to order as well. It is like a lose-lose. Major repairs at house, sure, you pay a professional. But waiting half a day for a plumber to show up to do a 15 minute job and charge you a $100 for a half day wasted. Easier to just own some tools and figure it out.
Originally Posted by sjhiker
Engaging the general public as it walks in off of the street is a very sophisticated skill. Accessing the client skill level, the level of the development of their understanding of their needs, finding a fit for service, budget...the list is huge. Add to that the confusion between service and sales and you have huge mess.
The customer experience of "place this in your basket" is infinitely simpler. Further, especially with bike purchase and adjunctive parts and equipment, the relative information level of purchasers from this forum is pretty high. Customer skills, on the other hand...
I only go to the LBS near closing time because they give me a beer once in a while...............
I used a LBS to order my last frame from. It was out of stock everywhere so had to be ordered. I could never get any updates on status from the LBS and instead ended up contacting the frame mfg. directly. Once I heard the frames were in the US (Miami, FL) I contact the LBS and asked when it would be in. They told me in a week or so and I asked if we could ship one from Miami. I was told it would only save a day or two doing that. 5 weeks later, the frames finally made it to the west coast warehouse (in SoCal) then took another week to get to the LBS. When it got in it was late on a Friday and was told that I would have to wait until next week as their mechanic was booked up and would be unable to "inspect" the frame. So went in the following week and was given the unopened box. Was then told that there would be a charge for checking the frame for defects and would take even more time. I just grabbed the box and left, never been back. It just seemed like they already had my money for the frame and wanted to do as little work after the sale to get the frame to me.
Ended up taking 4-1/2 months or so from the time I ordered the frame until I got it and this is not for a custom built frame, just a p/n in a catalog. Part of the issue was with the frame mfg. and the US distributor taking their time getting these frame shipped. I guess they sit and wait for half empty trucks heading in the direction of a given warehouse then load up bike parts on that truck to save money. I guess they have to do this because things like wheels and frames are bulky and get hit with oversize shipping charges if sent via UPS or FedEx. Makes sense for normal restocking of inventory in a warehouse, but when you have customers waiting 4+ months for parts, a good business would expedite (or at least offer to expedite) the shipments for those customers. But all the distributor and LBS were interested in was doing as little as possible at the lowest cost to get the frame to me.
Now on the other hand, there is another LBS closer to me that is actually quite good. I pick up all sorts of smaller parts there. Only thing is they did not carry the brand frame I wanted or I would have bought it through them.
I agree - not all LBS' are alike. This can be easily seen at MTBR bike shop reviews (Bay Area Bike Shop Reviews Products Listing for Bay Area, Local Mountain Bike and Road Bike Store Reviews at MTBR.com for global listing). Be interesting for those who had comments related to shops to cross reference those shops on the review site and see how they are reviewed...
Originally Posted by 4Crawler
I do my best to shop locally at shops that invest in having a knowledgeable staff and fully stocked inventories of bikes, parts and apparel. There are times I shop online but I've developed a good enough relationship with the shops I do frequent that most will price match if they can. Because these shops are willing to try and they have invested in the things I previously stated, if they are within a few percent I'll throw then the business anyway.
As for maintenance, I do most of it myself but there are things that shops are better equipped to address than I am. When I do need to bring my bikes in for service, I bring my bikes to shops that are staffed by veteran mechanics with a proven track record that I have come to know personally.
Both shops I dealt with are rated 4 or higher, the one closer to 5 is the better shop.
Originally Posted by singlespeed.org
I see both sides. Online can be cheaper, LBSes can be a pain in the butt.
On the converse, LBSes can be awesome and staffed with a ton of knowledgable and insanely helpful people.
I'm usually in the same boat, as a few mentioned - I might be able to get it a little cheaper (1-2%) online but that 1-2% is also going to help me form a relationship with the LBS. If I get into a situation where I cannot fix something myself, then they'll be more willing to help me.
Unfortunately, the thing about reviews is: most people only do them to complain. And, they're usually the loudest.
So far, most LBSes have been great to me. I had one unfortunate experience where someone wanted me to wait 3 days and drive 40 miles (which I had already driven on the advice of a coworker) for a 15 minute job I didn't trust myself to do. Looking back, and even as I told them, I should have called beforehand. So ultimately it's my fault and I shouldn't expect them to be THAT flexible. They have other customers to service too.
I don't think 1-2% is the problem. If the margin was that small, LBS business would be very good. Around here anyways, it's really much more. I've seen people save thousands online.
Originally Posted by chris.george
One time when I was traveling, I went into a shop to buy a mountain tire for a friend.
I asked the grom for a Nevegal. He said he never heard of it. I mentioned it was Mountain Bike Action's tire of the year. He said he had never seen that tire before. Then I pointed out he was standing next to one, mounted on a new mountain bike in the rack.
What does that tell me? This shop sucks? All bike shops suck? Or that a 17 year old is not the most knowledgeable salesperson?
In comparison, one time I sold bicycles to a deaf couple with very different needs. They came in several times and eventually they bought $3500 worth of bikes.
Mail order exists because they have the best prices, virtually everything in stock, and you can order from the comfort of your home or office.
But when the internet can determine you want Bike X in what size with a single glance, explain how to adjust a derailleur by pointing, invite you to a group ride, and of course, fix your bicycle, then the LBS will continue to thrive.
The market that a bike shop serves is much broader than a bunch of mountain bikers. Some can manage such mountain bikers. Some individual shop workers are out of their depth with them.
It's simple, LBSs can't compete in component/bike price. The industry is set up against them with jenson and others buying bulk OEM leftovers from manufacturers and others.
So what does an LBS have to do?
Everything but complain about the internet retailers.
The only constant in business is change, if you want to stay successful.
The bike shops should sponsor local events, get engaged in the community, sponsor/host local rides for trail info and orientation, skills clinics and rides, basic maintenance and adjustment classes-at highschools-colleges-the shop-etc, get involved with races, sponsor or organize just good ole "fun" events and gatherings, get a webpage, update and list your inventory and capabilities, scour BTI and QBP for the sales they have from time to time for components you may be able to move, and so on...
This is a very small list, but this is what a business owner has to be willing to do. Someone will always come along and do something cheaper or better, so you have to continually change and offer things that they can not. A local store in AZ where I used to live petitioned the city and got involved to build a pump track behind the store in a park! They are also a combination REI-esque/bike shop, doing a pretty good job in both regards. It's also right next to Chipotle. In this city, there are now 5 bike shops in a 2 mile radius! This isn't a big city, and one or two of these shops will drop out in the next year or so (one is looking very bad already). I'd place bets on the ones that will be still standing though, it's a no brainer because they are the ones that WANT to still be there, based on their actions and efforts to remain vital to the community.
Unfortunately, I see many shop owners that are old and mad at the big E-tailers and just sit there and wish they could move $500 XTR cranks. They make little to no effort to survive. I'm going to coin a new term here, "zombie-businesses". These are ones that can only survive, never expand, never generate more profit (revenue maybe, but never profit), never do anything new. I see lots of bike shops as "zombie businesses".
I haven't seen a difference bigger than a few hundred personally.
Originally Posted by redmr2_man
Jenson and Chain Reaction are often selling parts for retail CHEAPER than what the bike shops can get them for WHOLESALE from BTI and QBP.
Originally Posted by chris.george
There are a few reasons for this:
Volume sales. Buy more units, get a bigger discount on the parts. They can move far more volume than a bike shop that may sell 20-40 high end derailers a year.
Buying OEM leftovers. The big bike manufacturers get even bigger discounts on parts buying them in bulk, hence why you can get an entire bike with XT for almost the same as it costs to buy all of the components separately. In other words, frame+fork+xt stuff=2000. Buying just the parts through normal retail may = 1800 WITHOUT the frame and fork. If there are any leftovers, the big e-retailers can buy these OEM leftovers for much cheaper than BTI or QBP sell them.
Promotional sales. Got a cool new part or advancement? They can "blow it out" for cost for the first 100-200 units and make a bunch of people happy, then raise the price to a reasonable amount, still often cheaper than what a bike shop would charge due to the volume sales aspect. This attracts business.
They can also get you your stuff much quicker because they have it in stock. It's not "hmm, well we'll put together a QBP order next week and if they have it we'll maybe get it late the following week...". You know right away if it's in stock with a big e-retailer and you aren't left wondering if it has shipped or when it will show up. Bike shops don't have the ability to eat the cost of the shipping every day a customer wants a part, unless the customer pays the shipping, which raises that already higher price.
Often times, these big E-retailers aren't as big as you'd think either. Their business is big, but they realize they can't pay way too much for floor space, so they run it like a business, not a wal-mart or costco. They have a warehouse, but you can't shop there. The bottom line is volume, and a local shop can't compete with the volume.
Bottom line is that the local shop has to pay rent, utilities, employees, have stock on hand, and all sorts of things. They can't get by dropping prices 10% or 20%, they don't do enough volume, and there aren't enough people that will buy at that price because you can STILL get it cheaper online, faster, and be able to compare stuff/go through a catalog, etc. Some people just don't get this and think that the bike shops should drop their prices 5% or give them the "bro-deal", but as someone that has worked in a shop for a good amount if time I know the realities. We aren't going home and swimming in our swimming pool of cash, driving our aventador to Micky Ds for a milkshake, it's a hard business and many of the owners work tirelessly to do the best they can. Some of them don't do this as smartly as they should (see post above), but they can not compete on cost. It's just not realistic.
BTW, I found it interesting on "cyber monday" that the TV I ordered on Thursday night was $100 more expensive :)
Youtube is awesome for some very detailed explanations for every possible maintenance procedure you may need. This very site is better for everything else you mentioned than any LBS.
Originally Posted by sanjuro
Where can you get such deal?
Originally Posted by Jayem
I usually buy on line however, I just picked up two bikes from a local LBS and had Phenomenal service. I had never even set foot in the store before. They had the brands and models of bikes that my wife wanted to test ride. We walked in got greeted almost immediately, one of the impressive things was that the sales guy addressed both of us instead of making a gender biased assumption as to who was the buyer.
They did a really nice job of setting the bike up for my wifes test rides. The sales guy took the bikes back to the shop guys who adjusted the fork, brakes, tire pressure and shifters then handed her the bikes and said have fun. About that time I spied a few full suspension rigs in my price range and ride criteria so they took them back and did the same adjustments setting up the suspension for my weight and riding style.
The bikes were already on sale and were comparable to online pricing. I asked what the best deal was that they could offer me and they took off another 5%. The end result was that I got a bike for less money and a bit more travel, properly set up and in my hands than I had been able to find on line and my wife got a screaming deal on her ride too.
fwiw it was Livermore Cyclery on 1st street in Livermore
I'm OK with paying full retail for a part, component, chain, shifter, whatever, if One Of The Many LBS's around San Jose has it in stock and for sale. Because if I'm at that point, its because i want to ride soon and don't want to deal with shipping on something, so if a shop has it and I can get it and get going that day, I'm very happy.
More often than not, I walk into a shop, ask if they have something in stock and get the reply "well, we can order that for you..." which falls into the qpb purgatory of restless waiting for your thing to get into the shop, then for you to get time to get to the shop, and then to get it. I'd rather call/drive around to 10 shops, find out no one has something and then order it online anyways. But if one of those shops has what I'm looking for, I'll get it right then and there. The downside is the time it takes to do that, but the upside is I don't wait longer than I feel I need to.
A good example of this is when I decided to switch to a 2x9 set up, and get a 36 front ring, bashguard and a chain guide... called three mostly MTB shops, shop one was the closest and had the ring and the bash, Shop two had ring and the bash but was the furthest away.. shop three is one I often don't even set foot in because of past experiences with them, bu called them anyways to see if they had a chain guide I was looking for in stock and they did after shops one and two didn't have it.
Stayed local, got my stuff that day and proceeded to spend a day getting stuff dialed on the bike because we are blessed to have understanding and well stocked bike shops around here.
I figure it would have been a 7 day wait for parts from me ordering from an online shop. This would have been acceptable if none of the local shops had the components I was looking for in stock.... Of course this is far preferable to waiting on a week to two weeks for a bike shop to order it and for their order to go in on the end of the week and then it to get shipped there the following week....
My local shops sponsor Bike Rodeos, PAL events, Bike to Work sites, Kaiser workshops, School Bike Maintenance days, and Community rides. Police department training supplies. They donate bikes and other products for school, YMCA, and NorCal raffles.
They lead numerous shop rides, not just for the hammers and their buddies, but for families and kids, both on the road and dirt. They provide special training workshops for riders and mechanical demos which are far superior to anything you can find on Yoo-Toob. They literally guide people and communities through their cycling lives.
They sponsor any number of adult racing teams for men and women and juniors. They sponsored both of my High School teams for 10 years, and I know of 6 other teams sponsored by bike shops in our two counties. They perform annual bike checks at the begining of the season totalling 40 bikes which cost them not just what they pay their staff and for supplies but give a remarkable amount of cables/housings, pads and such into the bargain.They provide teams of race mechanics at the NorCal High School Races. I have had two serpeate shop owners come out into our local canyon for urgencies during a practice.
When I needed raffle prizes for our Bicycle Trails Council of the East Bay Fundraiser last year they didn't bat an eye; 17 local shops came up with $4500 in prizes, not just from thier own stock but using their industry relationships to bring in goodies. They provide supplies for our Trails Council events where we tune bikes in challenged neighborhoods. One shop donated all the fees from the Bike Swap to us and another is setting side a percentage of certain sales to donate to us.
They bring their skilled staff riders to support our monthly rides. They have provided us meeting places with pizza and beer. They support trails advocacy. They support the East Bay Bicycle Coalition.
Solano Cyclery, Wheels of Justice, The Pedaler, Devil Mountain, Sharp Bikes, Alameda Bicycles, Stone Cyclery, CycleSport, Montano Velo, Robinson Wheelworks, Hank & Frank, Danville Bike, Livermore Cyclery, CyclePros, Endless Cycles, Passion Trail Bikes, Eden Bikes. I'll let Marin and the Penninsula speak for themselves but you ought to get the idea by now.
Online guys; ZIP. They do nothing to build the cycling community; they just harvest the easy money.
I would rather save money and donate myself.
Originally Posted by Berkeley Mike
I think it would really suck if the LBSs went away. If everything had to be ordered, it may take days to weeks or months to get certain problems fixed. Lots of good LBSs exist that have small parts, either because they bother to stock them, or they kept them from past service jobs. Those items are golden or DYIers like me. I think we underestimate how much we value the LBS; think of getting a tube, tools, fluids, etc same day to finish up a job.
Also, consider giving your LBS good constructive feedback (not like a prick, but a symbiotic partner as a part of a valued community). If they're prices are too high, let them know. They may not like it, but they may think about issuing incentives or sales programs in the future. Lot's of LBSs give their valued customers 10+% off. I know LBSs around me are not shy about offering 10-20% off on full bikes, since I have purchased bikes from them in the past.
Let them know if they are carrying the right stuff/parts/bikes, prices are high/low, service is good/bad.