All the bitches bitching about bitchy bike shops on blogs and Twitter this week, brought me to sharing a story about the industry with you. Say you got some money, maybe it’s not clean or it is, don’t matter. You make a bike in a factory and order OEM parts for 3 times the bikes you’ll actually make. Then sell the rest of the kit to mail order houses at enough margin to make it worth your while. Catalogs sell that stock to roadies that want a deal and for the first few years of mail order, it was a very gray market. You’d get DuraAce (Shimano’s drivetrain) in plastic ziplock bags and below your local bike shop’s wholesale price. This went on until the Internet figured out ecommerce and it blew up even bigger cause many more roadies could Google for parts and then purchase a group below shop wholesale.
Scenarios like this and countless sleazy others killed the bike shop as we once knew it. It wasn’t just the owners being stupid. The industry also gutted itself with Asian sourcing and by allowing unchecked mail order. Shop owners were and are like military outpost rank and file. They respond to the market conditions and follow how it moves, taking orders from the big players. They’re in a theater of operations with many players and you at the front lines.
Have shops failed to adopt? Sure and even worse ignored the Internet for years before assholes with shopping apps stood in their store and compared prices.
That got their attention.
So there isn’t any of us cycling enthusiasts that haven’t thought of how to run a better shop, maybe retire and buy one, or start our own. Remember that this current generation of shop owners still in business, didn’t fit into the 80s greed-is-good mainstream. If they weren’t into the bike so much, they’d have opened a restaurant or tried another craft. Shop owners are just like the CEOs of the bike companies who had more ambition than the average stoner, got lucky, and are now corporations. Together they made an industry in the US and then the industry (pick one)
• pulled the rug out from under themselves
• kicked itself in the nuts
• let the bottom drop out
Or just say undercut it’s own market, margins, and still doesn’t work together on manufacturing standards or have a Web 2.0 plan. Comparing your LBS to restaurants, mail order is a themed chain and the shop is a hole-in-the-wall, locals-only find. The shop has a few items on the menu they do well and that keeps them in business.
So rants have been written about the economy of shops, helpful articles penned, and much thought has gone into the shop of the future.
Here’s what I know.
If you buy local and like a shop near you, help them out by getting to know the owners and employees. Buy something at full price, tip the mechanics, and appreciate their business. See the employees on a ride, at the races, or talk about what they’re into these days. Ask what gear they love or despise.
Maybe they’ll fix that creaking sound your bike makes for free, pass on some savings to you on tires, or build you a distinctive, custom handbuilt bike that you’ll keep for the rest of your life.
You’ll have to engage with them though and not just ask Google for the best deal with no tax and free shipping. Remember too the Internet confuses them, so they didn’t see the LBS hashtag about how awful they are.
Since my blog Bike Hugger launched an iOS magazine, haven’t posted to Medium in a while. This topic seemed to fit here better than elsewhere.