A couple months back I found myself sitting around a tall table in a sports bar sharing beers with other bike shop owner/managers. I was in California at a retail management course specially tailored to the needs of bike shops. We were out after a full eight hour day of classes. No riding, not much moving around, lots of book work. We needed to unwind and let things air out. If you know what I mean.
As it goes with these types of events, there was a lot of shop talk. The bull shit was getting so deep our server had to put on rubber boots to make it to the table. Most of the evening consisted of what do you do about this? and how are you doing with X brand? Stuff that would bore even the most passionate industry insider. However, there was one guy at the table that had a pattern to his stories.
One story would be about how hard it is to make any money owning a bike shop and how he was struggling just to make ends meet. Then he would tell stories about "dumb" customers who he had to throw out or just didn't get that he was trying to "help" them.
One of the latter stories was about a customer who had brought in a wheel he wanted trued. Instead of doing the labor and collecting the payment, he told the customer the wheel wasn't worth fixing and that he should bring his whole bike in so he could make sure it got fixed right. The customer (only God knows why) returned with the bike and the wheel and asked him for an estimate on what was needed and how much it would cost. The owner then proceeded to tell the customer that his bike wasn't worth fixing and he should save the money and buy a new bike.
The customer told him he wasn't interested in a new bike and that he would like to fix this one. Somehow this exchange exploded into the customer being thrown out of the shop and no money be transferred.
These stories plague the bike industry, but let's analyze what just happened.
1. Customer came into the shop. This is a good thing. It means that either your marketing is working, your location is good or just sheer luck. Any way you look at it, customers coming into the shop is a good thing.
2. The customer wanted to spend money. The only thing better than a customer walking in your front door is one that is ready and willing to spend money.
3. The shop offers the service that the customer wanted. Again a good thing, you don't have to order, stock or do anything out of the ordinary, just do what you do and what the customer wants.
This is where things go horribly wrong. Instead of taking the wheel, truing it up and taking the customers money who would be happy to pay you...
4. Shop tells customer wheel is not worth fixing. So what you are telling the customer is that even though they have the money to pay what you charge to fix what they want fixed, you won't fix it?
5. Shop tells customer to bring entire bike back for an estimate. Now at this point I am blown away that the customer returned, but it goes to show how stacked the deck is in favor of bike shop service.
6. Customer returns. See numbers 1 and 2.
7. Once again shop tells customer to blow off and either buy a new "real" bike or get lost. Customer is then thrown out of the shop.
Now I am leaving out some details. The wheel wasn't destroyed, just cheap. The bike was a department store bike that needed some work, but again the customer was willing to pay to have the bike fixed.
What really struck me about this story was its juxtaposition to the other stories coming out of this guy's mouth. I'm broke. I can't make any money doing this. I throw paying customers out of my shop. Boo Hoo.
Would you like to know why you are broke? You throw customers out of your shop.
There is this huge misnomer in the biking industry that there are "real" bikes and then shit. Shit of course, not being worth fixing and we are doing the customer a favor by refusing to fix it. Look at that from the customer's view. I have a bike. I want it fixed. I am willing to pay to have it fixed. Why won't you fix my bike?
Why do bike shop employees think they are financial advisers to the world?
My policy, Shop employees are not financial advisers. They are not allowed to tell a customer that the bike is not worth fixing unless the customer specifically asks their opinion. And when that happens, they can specify the pros and cons of having service done or not having it done. This isn't originally my idea. I stole it from Brett Flemming who has been preaching it for years. I still struggle with it in my shop on occasion but we do what the customer wants, as long as that is possible.
I can't count the amount of times we have taken a piece of shit bike and made it work as good as it possibly could. The customer paid us for our time and happily rode their bike. They then returned and being stoked on cycling because they had been riding their POS, had lost 25 pounds and now wanted to take it to the next level, bought a bike from us and continued on their happy, cycling trail.
Remember kids, 80% of all bikes sold are not sold through independent bike shops. Rather they come from big box stores. If you chose to berate customers about their buying choices you are refusing to service 80% of all bikes out there.
That is a market I am not willing to turn my back on.
This rant was partially inspired by this http://forums.mtbr.com/passion/merry-christmas-your-local-mechanic-758571.html.
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