Any consumer looking to make a purchase, whether it be a new bike, chop saw, piece of furniture, or mortgage, should be treated with care and integrity. In any retail store there are many things that can make or break your experience from the moment you step in. There are endless strong opinions about the best way to get great service and better prices. Since I own my own bike shop, I thought I would share my experience on how you can get faster and better service from your local bike shop (LBS).
Retail is a tough gig and it only seems to be getting harder. There was a time, not many years ago, when shop staff had much more freedom to grease the wheels to make a sale. Margins on bikes are getting slimmer every season, from the bike companies down to the retail stores. This may result in fewer and hungrier shops salivating for your business. As a consumer, being informed about the retail situation in your area helps give you a better understanding when searching for a shop with the ability to be flexible and accommodate your needs.
Find your fit
First, find a shop you like. Finding a bike shop that has the product you like as well as the service you desire can sometimes be a little tricky. Purchasing a specific bike from one store and getting it serviced by the technicians you want at another, doesn't always work seamlessly. I spoke with a person in my shop recently who purchased the bike he's always wanted from a store he didn't really want to deal with. With no other retailers close and his desire to shop local, he made the purchase. "I've made a huge mistake," and, "going in there is like going to the dentist," are actual quotes from his experience in dealing with this particular store, even after spending a very large sum of money there.
When checking out a store, look for a clean environment with a good selection of product, and look for friendly staff that remember your name. After you find a store you think you'd like to start a relationship with, make a small purchase to get a feel for the whole process from that store. If you leave happy and would recommend this experience, you probably just found your home shop, one you can trust with your pride-and-joy ride.
You know? The place where everybody knows your name. Bike stores can be so much more than a place to make the quick purchase. They can be a place where like-minded individuals can get together and talk about their last ride or dream bike build. At my shop, I always welcome people and try get to know more about them, aside from what bike they ride. I have made lifelong friendships through my store and have seen many friendstomers welcome new little riders into the world.
Some retail stores are set up a little better than others for spending time hanging out. On occasion, this can backfire for the store staff, with some folks feeling so comfortable that they linger a little too long and start to distract from the business that must be done. In any case, stores that have a warm and inviting feel often take the pressure off of sales, allowing you to relax, ask the questions you need to know, while building a relationship with staff members you can grow to trust.
Price, value, and loyalty
Pricing and margin continue to slide south in the industry. Companies choosing to go direct to consumers via online sales are cutting out distribution and retail stores to help improve their profitability and adapt to the changing global market. Your local bike shop is very aware of the pricing battle and most are doing everything possible to make it worthwhile to customers to continue to support their businesses.
I've found that being transparent on pricing when it comes to price matching has been very helpful, but with some reservation. If you've established a solid relationship with your LBS, they will give you a break when they can. But if you're a total stranger, a shop may hesistate to offer a discount, especially price match ones that severely trim or eliminate profit. Shops are more inclined to reward loyalty with price breaks rather than give discounts as bait, hoping to catch fleeting new customers.
Making a majority of your purchases at one store will always give get you some priority when it comes to service times. Being a regular also means staff will know more about you and keep you in the loop about new product arrivals. Usually, you are able to get a bit of a break on price when you buy and install new parts from you local shop. This is something to consider when you compare online prices - there is never a drop down menu explaining what it might cost to have an item installed by a professional.
Besides discounts, there can be a lot of added value for a customer when buying at a local bike shop. Most shops sponsor local events, rides, donate repair time and older repaired bikes to local non-profits, and give back to their local trail networks. All these beneifits add indirect value to your purchases and should be considered.
Turnaround times for repair can vary depending on the time of the year; communicate your timelines clearly and never say, "whenever you get to it," because those bikes tend to get lost in the mix.
Whether looking to purchase a new bike, get an old one repaired, or just needing advice, it's a great idea to express your expectations out front. At peak season in my shop, I will often have a customer walk in with a case of beer and ask for a service to be done to their bike ASAP. While this can't always be accommodated, a person who goes a little out of their way and then asks us to do the same gets our best efforts to squeeze them in. This usually means the owner is staying late to enjoy his new gift - and service that customer's bike. Maybe not in that order, but who's keeping track?
Even minor repairs take time and push other services back if they're "squeezed in," so if your shop can't help right away, consider that there are many repairs you can tackle at home if you have a bit of a home bike shop set up as I went over in my last article. On the other hand, there can be services you may not be comfortable with or just should not try to perform on your own; items still under warranty or services requiring special/expensive tools are best left to the professionals.
Cleaning your bike before you bring it in for a service can go a long way. A mechanic may leave your dirty bike until last or group it with other dirty ones that need to be brought outside and washed off before servicing. Either way, it delays getting to your bike for service. If you do a little wash before you bring it, you might get it attended to sooner and give the shop more time to actually spend servicing it. And if you turned in a clean bike, you can expect most bike shops will go the extra mile to have it cleaned up so it looks as good or better when you return to pick it up - time permitting, of course.
It is usually best to leave the bike and its parts intact when bringing them in. Most bike techs are trained to service every part of the bike while still attached, and with everything together they can evaluate your bike as a whole system. While it can be more convenient transporting your bike without the front wheel or seat post, bring the bike in as a whole, with all the pieces for the mechanic's sake; bikes are usually mounted to service stands by the seat post - without a post, service becomes more difficult. If you're sure a part needs to come off and can be serviced on its own, you can disassemble and bring it in, assuming you're comfortable with the task.
There aren't really any more 'secrets' to having a good experience or receiving great service from your local bike shop: a cup of coffee or a case of beer will be accepted with big smiles, but are in no way expected by any store. Be friendly, respectful, and open with your expectations, and you should receive the same treatment in kind and likely be rewarded with better, faster service.