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The changing job description of the local bike shop

Posted Feb 08 2011 9:07pm
I have been thinking a lot about this issue in the last few days. It was partly prompted by the fuss Gerry Harvey has been making about offshore shopping, partly prompted by Wade’s post on getting sponsorship, partly by Lisa’s mum’s commentary on what constitutes a cyclist, but the real trigger was the story relayed to me about an abusive visitor to a LBS. (I say visitor as I am not convinced he can be referred to as a customer.)

First up, the disclaimer- Yes I am sponsored by a LBS- OnyaBike Belco & Civic. They have provided invaluable support to me over the years and ask little in return. I will always try my best to do the right thing by them- I plug them on here as often as I can (you can see their logo to the left- click it, it will take you to their webpage), I train in the kit almost exclusively and when I can I race in it- if I can’t race in it I will pull a jersey or vest on for podium visits, and I send anyone who will listen to them for all their bike needs. However, I am under no obligation to write this post for them and in fact it applies to all LBS, I will do my best to be objective.

I am not going to go into a lot of detail about the merits or oversights of Gerry Harvey’s carry on about off-shore purchasing. The big thing that he has been harping on about is the GST exemption for purchases up to $1000. The situation is a lot more complicated than that. For the LBS one of the key issues is the distributor and the demands that they make on the stockists in Australia, which doesn’t seem to apply overseas. For example if my LBS wants to stock a particular bike computer the distributor demands that they sell them for no less than a certain price, buy a certain number of units up front, and in each 12 month period they are required to sell a certain $ amount of stock! This same computer is available online for far less than the required Australian price and is usually accompanied by free postage. It doesn’t take an accountant to realise that it doesn’t make a lot of business sense for the LBS to stock this computer. The price difference is considerably more than just the GST and the free or heavily discounted postage is often thanks to government incentives in the country where the web company is based.

As cyclists we know that this is an expensive hobby, recreation or sport, depending on your goals. Consequently we are all on the lookout for ways to make things more affordable; the plethora of online bike stores is fantastic for that. But there is a catch. Most people know what they need for their bike, but they may not have the tools to do it, or more commonly the ability to do it themselves. I am lucky in that respect, for things I don’t know how to do myself, I have an engineer with a fascination with bikes. But if you don’t have your own trunk monkey you will probably need your LBS. (I don’t really think of the engineer, or bike mechanics, as a monkey, I just wanted to use this clip!!)

The dilemma then arises- you didn’t by the components from the shop but you want them to do the work. Most LBS recognise that on a lot of things they cannot compete with what is available online and will accept the work. However, as the customer you cannot expect them to make you a priority nor can you expect them to do it for free. Make your appointment and pay for the work- you would have to do that with your car or anything else, bikes are not that different!

Loyalty is like karma, the more you show of it, the more you will get out of it. If you get good service from the LBS, go back. If you keep going back the staff will get to know you and before you know it you will probably get discounts and other added bonuses.

Of course it is not just the customer that needs to be considerate here, the LBS is finding themselves in unchartered waters. Increasingly they are finding that their priority is not just in moving stock but in providing good service, useful and accurate advice and mechanical expertise. Some stores are doing this better than others and it will take a little while for people to adapt.

There is no right or wrong in all of this. The situation with distributors and importation adds an extra dimension to the changing landscape, along with the rapidly increasing popularity of cycling in the community. Both sides need to be mindful of what is happening here if the LBS is to continue to thrive. Here are my top 5 tips/observations from the whole debate
1. If you didn’t buy the component etc from the LBS, be prepared to wait your turn in the service diary and be prepared to pay for the work that the LBS does for you.
2. If the job is only small and the labour cost won’t be much, think about buying something else while you are in the store, especially if you are not a regular- everyone needs tubes, puncture repair kits etc.
3. Show some loyalty to your LBS. You will reap the rewards in time.
4. Put a bit of thought into what you are buying online and why. Ask yourself, will I need to get someone else to install it? If yes, call the LBS and compare.
5. If the LBS aren’t supported, your kids will have to work at a supermarket swiping or stacking instead getting a cool job tinkering with bikes.

What I have put down here is my opinion and assessment of the situation and I appreciate that others will have differing views. Feel free to comment and debate amongst yourselves!
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