LBS – how to do it / how not to do it.

Last saturday was a day of two very different experiences in local bike shops. One was great, the other was typical.

It starts with a gravel ride. The gravel bike was the only bike I had ride ready (says a lot for someone who has 6 bikes) so headed out to try out some new to me trails on a route to Ringwood. I needed some tubeless rim tape to get the mountain bike and the winter road bike back on the go, (I’ve now converted all my tubeless compatible bikes to tubeless, you really should do it btw), and the best combination of bike shop visit and bike ride was the Forge Cycle Works in Ringwood.

The ride was gorgeous. I love these early mornings in autumn, clear crisp skies that get near balmy by the time you get home. Just warm enough to wear summer gear as well. There was a lovely haze floating a foot above the purple blooming heather and a light coating of dew that the tyres picked up and sprayed all over the bike and legs. Everything felt fresh.

About two thirds in my confidence/enjoyment was peaking and thought I’d tackle a short but punishing off-road climb (read steep singletrack footpath). Gearing slammed to the 42t I started to pedal out of the saddle, wheel spinning as I went so dropped onto the saddle for grip and hunched forward to aid balance. It was no good. It was too steep. I couldn’t turn the pedals, or clip out fast enough. I ended up rolled onto my side in a bed of perfumed heather, accompanied by a clatter of bike noises. Oh well I thought, just another one of those falls! I hike a biked up to the top of the climb.

Something didn’t feel right though, the rear wheel was dragging occasionally. It was quite heavily buckled, checked it over and I had snapped a spoke nipple. I disconnected the rear brake hoping that was all that was catching, nope the tyre was rubbing on the frame. Bollocks, I was about 12 miles from home.

Reluctant to kick or bend the wheel straight and trash the rim I needed to find a bike shop. I didn’t have the tools or spares to repair on the spot. I had to get to the forge in the shortest route possible, and complete my rim tape collection mission. I saddled up and pedalled, mostly downhill, to the sound of a tyre trying to buzz through my frame.

This is where my first LBS experience of the day happened. Arriving at the Forge I quickly hunted out what I wanted (these guys are blessed with a tidy and open, well organised showroom) with a spoke key and rim tape. Headed to the till, explained my issue, and ordered a spoke nipple. I was going to have to try and replace it in the car park. Immediately they offered to fix it there and then for me whilst I wait, despite there being some rather furious bike building going on in the background, they offered to down tools to help me out. Now this immediately appealed weighing up the costs, and on their recommendations I headed to cafe velo in Ringwood for coffee and cake.

Coffee and cake downed, about 20 mins, I headed back to the forge. My bitsa bike was out of the stand and ready to roll. A few jokes about building bikes out of any old crap you have in your garage were passed in good humour, and some of those who do being their best customers (probably quite the opposite!), I was paid and on my way.

Half an hour later I was home and taping up my winter bike wheel. Reassembled and pumped up I heard a dreaded hissing, it was the valve. It didn’t pay to reuse an old one with the new tape. Damn I should have picked some up from the forge at the same time. to get a fix in today I’d have to nip to another shop mid family shopping duties.

The first shop I tried was decathlon (as was slap bang next door to John Lewis where I was being turned inside out for a kettle and toaster) but alas they were out of stock. Pretty much like anything cycling in their stores! Onward to another shop on the way home to Highcliffe.

This is where the other example comes in, and where the store will remain nameless. Lucky enough to get a parking spot right outside the shop I was straight in looking for the valves. There were a couple of walls of parts and accessories but couldn’t find any, so though I’d ask. Moving to the counter I could see two guys busy on a bike, too busy to acknowledge me stood there unfortunately. Offering up a polite “hello” I was greeted with a “yes” (immediate customer service 101 fail in my book), attention gained I asked for the valves. After a little confusion over what I was asking for I was offered up a selection on Muc Off items and not wanting to be too lairy I opted for black. Knowing the going rate online for tubeless valves, depending on brand choice, is between £5 and £15 delivered to your door I was expecting the Muc Off items to be at the higher end of the price range. “That’s £25” I was told (note the lack of please), to which I immediately baulked at, apologised and said that was more than I was willing to pay and noting that I didn’t see the price. “It’s on there” I was told as a greasy finger pointed at a had written scrawl in black marker pen on a black background. At this point I said I would leave it and thanked him, an “ok” was all I received. I left.

Let’s leave the customer service issues aside here, they are clear to see and understand for all. Just acknowledge your customers and talk to them like they pay your salary, because they do. Without them a shop is nothing. It’s the clear business sense missing here that is one of the main contributors for LBS failure. Quickly, for my profession I manage margin retention, pricing, provide best case solutions for sales, and consult on company sales approach in the company I work for. I also have cycle retail experience from my youth having worked in big chains and independent stores, so I would say I have relevant comparable knowledge on this subject.

How could the store have done better? At the point I turned down the sale there should have been an immediate response to try and save or close a sale. There is no way the shop could regain or replace the £ notes margin they have lost by me walking out the door. Even by selling them at full price to the next punter they would still only be at one sale. There’s a phrase that suits this situation “Discount what you aren’t selling, not what you are selling”. In retail this is clear to see, that’s why stores have sales, but in non seasonal stock you need to think on your feet and be prepare to do the deal there and then (This is why sales staff are employed, to sell. Not take orders).

A little bit of basic maths and looking into the going rate for those Muc off valves shows they could have discounted up to ten pounds off the asking price and still broken even. The stock wouldn’t have gone back to gathering dust, and the cash would have been back in their till. Yes there’s other things to factor in like stocking overheads and minimum order points from suppliers but all of those fall flat on their face with lack of sales, and sales come from engagement with your customers.

You can really see some LBS engaging with their customers and with great awareness of the marketplaces they are competing in. The best ones look at the overall picture of profitability factoring in discounting the buy business, to push to encourage labour spend to maximise profits, and grow their customer bases by engagement.

I really don’t want this to come across as a rant, but I really want local bike shops to survive. Some just need to learn how to drive margin gains and maximise sales opportunity, especially when a customer is stood in front of them with money to spend.

Thanks again to the forge in Ringwood!

BC

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