Guest poster Jeff Hemmel liked his local bike shop — until he realized he didn’t.
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.
By the way, here’s a special offer for Bike Noob readers. The concoction called Secret Drink Mix, which Jeff profiled awhile ago, now has a new name. It’s called Skratch Labs. And they’re offering a 15% discount. Visit their website, go to Products, and place your order. Enter Bike Noob in the discount spot.