What Do You Owe Your LBS?

Buy Levitra online in the Uk alt=”” src=”http://www.palmbeachbiketours.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Malcolm-on-bike-500×332.jpg” width=”500″ height=”332″ />I was supposed to meet 6-year-old Malcolm this afternoon to ride home from school with him. I was running late, so I threw my Surly Long Haul Trucker on the rack and headed 12 miles up to his school.

As I was cranking along at 65 miles per hour, I noticed in the rearview mirror that my front fender was flexing a little more than usual. I figured it was just getting buffeted by the wind coming off an 18-wheeler next to me.

Planet Bike fender had cracked

When I got to his house, I took a closer look. The front fender had cracked and was barely holding on by a thread. I guess it must have developed “plastic fatigue.”

The fender was a Planet Bike Cascadia, so I went to their website to see if they had a local dealer who might have a replacement in stock. Bingo! Not only did they have a local dealer, it was one I had done business with. I’m not going to name the dealer for reasons that will become apparent.

A call to a local bike shop

“Hi, do you have a Planet Bike Cascadia fender in stock?”

“No, but I can order you one.”

“If you’re going to have to order it, is there any financial advantage to having you order it versus me ordering it direct.”

His tone changed and he said, “If you order stuff off the Internet, where are you going to go for local service 10 years from now when all the local shops are out of business?”

“Whoa, wait a minute. I support local bike shops. I bought two bikes from you. I’ve bought accessories from you. I’ve sent friends to you.”

He just kept asking, “Does Planet Bike put back anything into the local biking community? Does Planet Bike put anything back into the local biking community? Answer me that, yes or no.”

Finally, I had to admit that, the answer was ‘no’.

Planet Bike donates 25% of profits to advocacy groups

I wish I had known this about Planet Bike while we were having our discussion:

Planet Bike helps out by donating 25% of company profits to grassroots bicycle advocacy groups. These groups of people lobby local, state and federal government to make our communities more bicycle friendly. Learn more about how these folks are Making It Happen.

Since 1996 Planet Bike has donated over $1,000,000 to grassroots bicycle advocacy. Most of our money goes to the Alliance for Biking & Walking, (formerly the Thunderhead Alliance), a coalition of 160 bicycle advocacy groups across the nation that are working together to promote safe bicycling.

May I speak with the owner?

I asked if I could speak to XXXXX, the owner, a guy I thought I knew from doing business in the shop and from seeing him at biking events.

“You’re talking to him.”

“This is Ken Steinhoff,” I said, hoping we could connect on what I believed had been a previous friendly personal relationship. “I TRIED to do business with you. You were my FIRST call.”

How many products does Planet Bike Carry?

“Do you have any idea how many products Planet Bike carries?”

I had to admit that I didn’t have a clue.

“Well, lots. I can’t afford to stock one of everything that they carry for someone who might come in once a year to buy it.”

“You won’t have to worry about ME coming into your shop in the future.”

How could I have handled this better?

Maybe the exchange would have been less testy had I said, “I was really hoping to get one right away. I’ll call some of the other bike shops to see if they have it in stock.”

I really wasn’t trying to beat him up on price. I threw out the question about price advantage to give him an opening to save the sale.

Had he said, “I can have it here in two days, at the same price,” I might have thrown him the order, even though he’s a 26-mile round trip from my house. If I order it online, a nice man in a delivery truck will drop it off at my front door.

I don’t know how Planet Bike works and/or what their price structure for dealers is. I was looking for speed more than price, all things being equal. I know that some shops won’t place an order with a distributor until they get enough together to make it worth their while. If this place is like that, I’d rather deal direct.

What IS a local bike shop, anyway?

Several years ago I considered buying a double-legged kickstand. I knew Harris Cyclery carried them, so I called Boston to ask some questions. When I started to place my order, the guy at the other end said, “I KNOW you. I’ve seen your name on some of the bike forums.”

That’s better recognition than I can get from shops that are just up the road from me.

Hubbub Bicycles

Diane Lees of Hubbub Custom Bicycles in Cleveland and I have never met, but we’ve exchanged several dozen bantering emails over the past decade.

She’s my regular supplier for helmet-mounted Chuck Harris mirrors and she’s an active phred. Is SHE my LBS?

Peter White Cycles

I’ve never seen Peter White, but I’ve bought a two generator hubs and a bunch of lighting equipment from Peter White Cycles of New Hampshire. His bedside manner is a bit rough, but he knows about as much about lighting as any guy in the country. Is HE my LBS?

Will my local bike shop be extinct?

To go back to the question the owner of my former LBS asked, “What will you do if all the local bike shops go out of business?

The answer is, I’ll learn to do more of my own wrenching, and I’ll spend my money where people don’t cop an attitude.

15 Replies to “What Do You Owe Your LBS?”

  1. Maybe I just hit him at a bad time on a bad day, but I don’t have to put up with a lecture from any person who wants my business in the future.

    You might win the debate, but you won’t win my business.

  2. If all the LBS’s disappeared I would hardly notice, My nearest LBS is a 300 mile round trip. Nashbar, for example is “closer”. Sometimes ordering one day and getting it the next, dropped on my desk. My “favorites” on IE is a mile long and includes places in England, France, Germany and Israel. I LOVE mail order. I can understand why Sears and Montgomery Ward were so popular in rural America Back in the “good old days”.

  3. Hi Ken

    An interesting experience but not an unusual one I suspect.

    Generally my view is if the LBS can order it so can I and frequently I can get it quicker and far cheaper.

    So to win my business what I am looking for is good old fashion service from my LBS, don’t have to be cheaper, just provide good service. Value me as a customer rather than treating me like I owe them something. Give me that and I will support them and pay more for it …


  4. Store of ALL types have to be feeling the pressure from the Internet, and I can’t blame them for resenting it. I’ve even read recommendations to go to a store and try on the clothes or check out the product, then go home and order it online. How rude is that?

    But if the locals hope to compete, it’ll be on service and arguing with would-be customers is NOT good customer service.

  5. George,

    If it’s a something I need to touch and feel, then I’ll buy it locally. I wouldn’t try on a helmet, for example, then order it from someone else. That’s just not right.

    I have bought at least two pair of Shimano Sandals from Hubbub online. That was, admittedly, less convenient, because I had to return my first pair for a smaller size. Still, they had them and nobody in the local market did.

    Bicyclery, a local shop, started carrying them, so my last pair came from there, as did my last pair of bike shoes.

  6. Don’t get me started on LBS. I couldn’t get the nearest LBS to me to even wait on me when I was going to buy my Trek Madone. They were too busy talking “shop” to club riders to even notice me.

    Too bad. I dropped $4,000 at one of their competitor’s store 18 miles away. The store is out of my way (45 minute drive) but I am loyal to them despite the inconvenience.

    I agree with Andrew.

    It’s about customer service. I want the same attention if I come in to buy $400 shoes or an inner tube.

  7. This seems like one of those issues that people often take polarized views on. Most of us would be quite happy to go to the “corner store” and buy what we need at a reasonable price. But the corner store (bike/grocery/other) cannot possibly carry everything we might want, so most of us end up going to a larger store, and/or buying online.

    If you can’t fix everything on your bike (most cyclists can’t), you need to rely on your LBS for repairs (shipping a bike for repairs isn’t too likely, although some folks may not have a bike shop nearby). Can your LBS survive with just repairs? Not likely, so if we want it around, we’d better buy other stuff there too.

    Are some business owners bad business people? Yes, clearly. If the only LBS has a bad attitude (I would say Ken ran into one with a BAD attitude), this is a bad thing. Shoppers will be turned off, and the shop may close. Then we get fewer people on bikes because when their bike needs service at some point, and they don’t know how to fix it, the bike ends up just taking up space in the garage :-(

    I do find that most of my local bike shops (I am lucky enough to live in a college town with about ten LBSs) don’t carry much of the more specialized parts I want. I bought my lights and hub generator from Peter White because I didn’t want to call all my local shops to see if any of them could buy the specialized items I want.

    I would caution us, however, that if we want more people to ride bicycles, I suspect that the first bike someone buys is going to be from a LBS (or Costco?), not online. If we let our LBSs go out of business, we will probably have fewer new cyclists.

  8. Depends upon the LBS. I won’t go back to the LBS where I initially purchased my bike because I realized (after I dropped the cash) that it was only about selling me a product. I then found On Your Mark and had a completely different experience. Beyond simply selling me stuff, they also showed in interest in helping me become a better rider/cyclist. I will go a little out of my way and perhaps even spend a little more, because of the service and attention that Matt and Julie provide. (sorry about the LBS plug)

  9. This is a thought-provoking article. There are no clear answers, but you make a good point that many of the smaller online retailers (eg Peter White, Harris, etc) provide customer service that is as good as or better than one’s LBS. My approach is to patronize the businesses that would cause me the most pain if they disappeared. Many of these not physically local.

  10. I would say that if LBS want to be compete with online stores they need to find a way to provide you with the same product at the same price, and add service at the same time.
    One way could be to order the part for the customer at their discounted prices, and have it shipped directly to the customer. They could also translate a fraction of the discount they receive from the manufacturer to the customer, making the part even cheaper than the price the customer would pay if buying directly online.
    It is probably not the perfect solution, but I guess that in doing so they would keep local customers coming back and not make them regret the phone call/visit.
    There are probably better solutions, but nobody (it seems) is trying to find them, so busy trying to demonstrate why you should/should not keep going to your LBS…

  11. Hi Alejous

    I am not sure I would agree with your comment about no one suggesting better solutions. A read of the comments suggests otherwise.

    For me as I previously indicated, customer service would count for heaps. Being rude to customers is not a good way to get business IMO.

    My “LBS” (which is not so close but has been good in the past) has disappointed me in the past week … booked my bike in for some repairs and agreed to take it in Tuesday and pick it Thursday. All good, dropped the bike in on Tuesday as agreed. No phone call to say it was ready etc, rang Thursday and they hadn’t been near it. No apology forthcoming. So why would I bother with them again unless I really need too? I won’t. I can get the same level of the “service” locally without the extra driving. In the past I went to them because they where good … treat me like dirt and I will brush them off.


    1. Andrew,
      My suggestion was not an excuse for bad attitude or poor service. It was, in fact, an addition to a good standard of service. And no business would benefit from the lack of people skills from anybody representing a shop, be it an employee or the owner.
      i just think that, given good service and the proper attitude, ordering a part for a customer and having it shipped to customer’s address could be a way to not create an adverse feeling.
      I can see your point though, and I suffer from the same downward look every time I buy a part in my LBS, even though they’ve been in business for over 35 years. They make me feel like they are doing me a big favor instead of appreciate the fact that I make my purchases at their store.

  12. Andrew,

    I had a similar experience at another LBS several years ago. I had a flat while rolling through their town, then pinched my spare tube while changing the flat. A guy with a bike rack stopped by and offered to take me to the shop, which wasn’t far away.

    They took care of me right away and I got back on the road.

    A few months later, I was getting ready to go out of town and decided to take my bike in for a tuneup as a way to thank them for my service. I told them specifically when I was leaving, what I wanted checked and asked them to let me know if anything else needed attention.

    I showed up on the day I was supposed to pick it up to discover that it not only been serviced, it hadn’t even been moved from the place where I had left it.

    I appreciate the fact that they helped me out with the flat, but I haven’t been back in the shop since.

  13. The local bike shop is the place I can go to and expect them to solve my problems. Although I have some very basic bike mechanic knowledge I simply don’t want to do my own work. I enjoy riding, not wrenching and behave accordingly. I need the LBS. They are friendly and generally willing to give advice about whatever I am interested in whether or not I am buying that day. If I come bring the bike in with a simple adjustment problem they will often adjust it and charge nothing. If I am thinking about buying an item they will either have it there or will be willing to discuss the pros and cons of ordering it. Finally I know that if I chose to order the item on line it will probably be very close to the LBS price by the time I pay the shipping charges. Speaking of which, why are we paying shipping charges to a company that is not maintaing a bricks and mortar location and paying a sales force? I thought that was the beauty of the internet? Maybe if we used the LBS more shipping charges would disappear.

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