The face of cycling retailing has changed massively over the past 10 years. There’s been a substantial rise in the number of chain stores and the number shops they are operating. Then there are the internet retailers who have changed the expectations of customers; free next day delivery and heavily discounted prices are considered the norm. And let’s not forget the impact Halfords is having with its introduction of the Boardman and Pendleton cycle brands, and its Cycle Republic stand-alone shops…
All of these changes have had a significant impact on the traditional, independent local bicycle shop, otherwise known as the LBS. For a while, it seemed that every week I was hearing about another LBS closing down, unable to compete on price with the multiples and internet retailers.
The future might be looking brighter for the LBS today, partly because of the ever increasing number of people getting into cycling and partly because the more switched on shop owners are realising that they have to set themselves apart to stay in business. One example of how this is happening is the number of LBSs that are now, no longer just a shop that sells bikes, parts and does repairs; rather they are part bike shop, part coffee shop/social hangout.
However, trying to compete with the local Costa Coffee on the high street isn’t the only way an LBS can stay the course in the face of competition from the big players and internet specialists. No, the answer is that they can provide that most old-fashioned of values – good customer service. Here’s what I mean. A couple of weeks ago I was building a bike up with a new Campagnolo groupset. At the time, I didn’t realise I would need a 14mm Allen key to fit the cranks. Once I discovered the need for one, my first thought was to head to the computer and see which online retailer had one at the cheapest price. Then I remembered that 10 minutes down the road I’ve got an LBS…
Unfortunately, the shop didn’t have the Allen key in stock, but the guy that served me was able to order one for delivery the next day. He even took the time to call me to tell me it had arrived. Now, had I gone online and tried to get one mail order, there would have been no guarantee that it would have arrived next day, or that I would be around when the postman tried to deliver it. Also, because I picked up a few other bits and pieces, some spare inner tubes, energy bars and powders at the same time as I collected the Allen key, I was given a discount. I didn‘t even ask for it, it was simply offered. Now that’s something that you only get with an LBS.
So it’s worth building up a good relationship with the staff at your local shop, not just because you might get unexpected discounts but because it could just save you the day before you’re due to race or head off for a cycling holiday. Just imagine that your bike develops a problem or a part breaks and you’ve only got hours to get it sorted. How much use is an internet retailer going to be in that situation? What about that chain store that only accepts repairs booked in weeks in advance?
That’s where an LBS has the advantage and if you’ve supported them, then they’ll look after you in return. Oh, and speaking from experience of being a customer needing a part in a hurry and the guy in the shop ready to close up and go home when a customer rushes in with an emergency repair, I can confirm that offers of doughnuts, chocolate biscuits or cans of beer will all help the wheels of commerce turn smoothly. It will also mean that next time you need help at short notice it will be offered freely.
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