Misplaced Loyalty To The Local Bike Shop?

Guest poster Jeff Hemmel liked his local bike shop — until he realized he didn’t.

 We hear a lot about doing business with the LBS, or local bike shop. For the most part, I agree. These are businesses in our community, supporting our sport. Sure, I’ll get something online if it’s truly a fantastic deal. But for the most part, I try to keep things close to home.

Lately, however, I’ve been having second thoughts about which of those community shops deserves my support.

This isn’t about calling anyone out. Suffice it to say one bike shop is where I have bought two bikes, some semi-expensive wheels, numerous parts and accessories, and a decent amount of service over the years. They’re close and convenient. The other is where I have bought a few things at best, and gotten the occasional service. They’re neither close nor convenient, especially if I have to leave my bike or get there by car.

Seemingly it would be a no-brainer to keep going to Shop #1, except for one significant detail. With a couple notable exceptions, the staff is just not that friendly. And it’s not just me who thinks so. I’ve had both neighbors and friends share similar experiences. I don’t expect them to roll out the red carpet. But as a polite, friendly customer who has spent a lot of money in that shop, I do expect to feel valued when I go in there. Heck, at one time I figured I’d probably end up friends with some of these guys. Instead, I sometimes feel like I’ve annoyed them just by coming in the door. As I said, there are a couple exceptions, including one mechanic who always has a great attitude. The overall vibe, however, is just downright weird. Friendly conversation, beyond the basics, is rare. The quickest tweak usually results in a charge. The “friendly” wrench went out of his way and taught me how to do something several months back; the next time I came in one of the others made a snide comment about how much time I had wasted.

It would be easy to dismiss these negative encounters as the occasional misunderstanding or bad day. But sadly, I’ve come to expect it as the norm.

Contrast that experience with Shop #2. On the whole, I haven’t spent much money at all there. I’ve bought no bikes, and few parts. Most of my visits have been when I’m riding by and stop in for something simple. But when I walk in their door, I’m always greeted with a friendly, sincere hello. They ask how I’m doing, how’s my riding going, etc. On the occasion that I’ve mentioned a problem, they’ve immediately thrown my bike on a stand and given it a tweak. Simple, quick adjustments are never followed with a charge (I typically respond with a tip for their generosity). The one time they did do a more extensive repair — a bottom bracket replacement — they compensated for a delayed part by temporarily putting a completely different crank and bottom bracket on my bike, just so that I could keep riding rather than be left on the sidelines for a week. They’ve never asked for my long-term business. But their actions, and their friendly nature, show they deserve it.

For some reason I’ve felt some kind of strange loyalty to Shop #1. I’ve even gone so far as to defend them when others have criticized. But finally, I’ve stopped to ask myself why. Why do I support a shop that I almost dread going into? Why do I ignore a shop that always makes me feel welcome?

I urge you to support your local bike shop. But just because a shop is local doesn’t mean it deserves your business. You’ve got to feel good about where you spend your money…and they’ve got to earn it.

—————-

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13 thoughts on “Misplaced Loyalty To The Local Bike Shop?

  1. There are two bike shops relatively close to me, and relatively easy to get to.

    The closest shop to me lost my business in one day. They were cleaning up the concrete floor and had some of that gunk on it, stuff that was slippery as all get out. There was NO notice to watch your step or anything. I walked in to head to the back and slipped and fell HARD (I was glad I still had on my helmet.) The only person that came to check on me was another customer. The bike shop guy couldn’t be bothered to come out. If they had acted like they cared whether I lived or died, I’d’ve been ok with it, just sore and bruised. But they didn’t, and I’ve never gone back. And won’t.

    The second shop is kinda like your #1 shop. They’re ok. They cater to faster recreational cyclists on nice bikes. They don’t really seem to care whether I buy anything from them or not.

    MY shop is farther away and harder to get to. But I love them to pieces. The first time I went in with my 90’s era Trek hybrid with fenders and a rack bag, one of the guys said approvingly, “Now THAT’S a commuter bike!” I was thinking I might need to change out my cables, but the mechanic looked at them and told me they were fine. When I go in and ask them a mechanical question, they treat me like an intelligent woman. They give me good advice when I ask.

    I’m not fast and I’m not fancy. A shop that treats me like a serious cyclist EVEN THOUGH I’m not fast/fancy will have my business always.

  2. I’m in a quandary here – looking at a new touring bike, but the one I like is only available locally from a shop I do not like. I know that I will need to rely on them for a lot of service issues. Any suggestions? I’m not particularly loyal to any shop at present – I’ve been following a mechanic from shop to shop, but he is not presently working at any shop.

    • I would be extremely reluctant to buy a bike from a shop I neither liked nor trusted. But, if you have your heart set on a particular model, and it’s not practical to obtain it elsewhere, you could always buy it at that shop and take it elsewhere for any service you need. By the way, you shouldn’t need all that much service on a bike, short of perhaps adjusting the derailleurs and brakes after some initial cable stretch, which is easy enough to learn and do yourself. Plus, components are common to all bikes, so it’s not like you’d be taking your Beamer to the Chevy dealer.
      I just started riding a recumbent and love it! Bought it from a shop 1500 miles away and had my LBS assemble it after shipping– no problem!

    • Find another shop a little farther away that carries the bike you want… Buy it there and then take it to the close one for servicing (or have a little chat with the owner about why you have a problem with the shop in the first place).

  3. I’m lucky enough to have 2 bike shops in walking distance to my apartment. When I first decided to get a bike, I wandered into both. At the closer shop, they completely ignored me. The owner at the farther shop welcomed me in and asked about what I wanted to do on the bike now and in the future.

    Fast forward a few months and I’ve interacted with the first shop at several community events and for some small purchases and they’ve been absolutely great. Meanwhile the shop that sold me the bike, kinda lukewarm. I figure I’ll probably bounce back and forth between the two and hopefully build relationships with individual mechanics/sales people rather than rely on the moods of whoever is on the floor that day. I keep hoping to run into the owner of either shop to let them know their customer service is inconsistent.

  4. I absolutely love my close LBS… There’s another, owned by the same guy, that caters more to the guy that doesn’t want to be bugged so I always go to the closer store.

  5. I used to feel more this way – but more recently I’ve spent a little more time in the shop closest to me, and I’ve experience pretty friendly service all around. There are a couple of guys who are better than others, but overall they’re good.

    The shop 2nd-closest to me is more of a mixed bag – I’ve had very good experiences but also many so-so experiences.

    I understand all the great things a local shop can do that an online store can’t, but at the same time I want to support people who offer good service and are genuinely interested in the community – it goes both ways.

  6. My favorite shop is across town from me, we’ve bought many bikes and most of our accessories from them. It’s a old fashion “Family Bike Shop”, which I prefer to the, new, wiz-bang, Bike Boutiques and bikeshop/coffeehouses, that seem to be the “hip” thing going here in Colorado Springs lately.

    Due to living on a fixed income, there have been times I had to ride, (GASP!!) Wal-Mart junkers, my favorite shop, NEVER gave me a single problem, they just made sure that my POS bikes “ran like a top” and when things got better for me, we bought new bikes from the shop and we are treated more like FAMILY!

    You walk into some of these new age shops and yea, their pretty but I swear, they have a built in “scanner”, that figures out the “credit limit” on your credit card as you enter the store. SNOBBY, that’s the word, unless your buying a carbon race or time trial bike, they just treat you like CARP!

    I do admit that I buy my “bike clothing” from Performance Bicycle, they have a line of “inexpensive”, classic clothes, that I buy WHEN it’s on sale. I wouldn’t ask my favorite LBS to match the price cause the LBS sales “higher end” clothes and that wouldn’t be fair to them. They know that and understand. I’ve bailed on many shops due to a “very bad vibe”, why put up with that, keep looking and find the shop that you enjoy doing business with, weither their local or not, jmho, ymmv.

  7. I enjoyed reading these perspectives on LBS’es. As I am in the process of purchasing my first road bike, I have been getting to know all my shops. And in a town of 150,000, we have over a dozen and that doesn’t include the speciality bike manufacturers. That means alot of getting to know and chatting. For someone who didn’t know ANYTHING beyond hopping on my ’72 Schwinn Varisty in January, I’ve had quite the education. I so want to give my dollars to local businesses. I want to be listened to as to my goals and budget. I don’t want to be upsold. I want the LBS to care about me as a rider. All in all, I’ve found as many different personalities in the shops as there are models of bikes. I am getting closer each week to my decision, but for now…it’s me out there pedaling the 43 pound proudly made in Chicago Schwinn.

  8. People, just name names. There is no sense in protecting shops with with aliases and numbers. Help out your fellow cyclists and names names. It’s impossible to follow all the round-about references.
    For my money, Music City Cycles and Nelo’s are the best shops in town.

    • Andrew, just a reminder that the comments come from riders across the United States. I’m not sure how much help it would be to someone in Oregon to know that Nelo’s in Austin is a good shop. Or that xxx in D.C. isn’t.

      • Oops, yeah, I thought about that too late. I still am curious about why people think they need to shield their LBSs. If they are good give them kudos, if they aren’t, call ‘em out.

  9. All of em are jerks where i live, bikes are sold at full msrp and parts are much higher than online. and dont even get me started on service charges. its just easier to learn to fix it yourself

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