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Tips on opening a bike shop?(13 posts)

Tips on opening a bike shop?JoeKlein
Sep 4, 2001 5:13 PM
I'm looking to open a cycle shop or road oriented mail-order business. I've worked in a shop for years, but I want to see if any long time owners have any suggestions.
Sell every bike at a loss, but ...Humma Hah
Sep 4, 2001 5:50 PM
... make it up in volume? I knew a guy who did that in the motorcycle business.

The most reliable way to make a small fortune in the bicycle business is to start with a large fortune.

Seriously, you need to ask yourself what special thing you offer than is not common. You're up against big, cut-rate monstrosities that will wipe you out if you go head to head with them. You need a niche they won't bother with, in which you can build a loyal clientelle. For me, that would be cruiser parts (I've been buying from keithsbikes.com, which started out as a garage operation).

Advertising is good, but they need to be able to find you with a search engine if you're selling oddball stuff. It is presently taking months for the "spiders" to find sites and index them, unless you pay a fee to get it done fast. Learn a bit about "meta tags" and site adders, and get a head start on your website.
Why would I want to buy from you.MB1
Sep 5, 2001 6:12 AM
I don't know you.

Do you have what I want? Is your price, delivery or quality better than everyone else?

Can you convince me that what you are selling will make my life better?

Will I even notice you? How can I find you? How will you find me?

If you can answer yes to these questions from enough potential customers you might have a chance of making a go of it. A small chance. A very small chance.

That is what makes America great!
Will you...will
Sep 5, 2001 6:31 AM
Will you know my name even though I've been in only once before? Will you do emergency repairs will a smile on your face and oogle my new bike even though you don't have time or care? Will you sell me expensive parts for mailorder prices? Will you give me a discount that I am not entitled to and give me a free loan until I can pay you back? Will you not charge me for labor or allow me to do my own repairs in your shop using your expensive tools? Will you not try to sell me parts that I don't think I need, yet butter me up so that I will buy other parts that I may not need from you in the future? Will you not care that I am a laywer and crusty old cheapskate and make me feel warm and fuzzy inside?
You don't work in a service industry, do you? Withoutbill
Sep 5, 2001 6:49 AM
commenting on the straw man of, obviously, me, you've set up, just as bike shops are not a charity for me, I'm not a charity for bike shops. If you provide a service, you do it competently and you do it with a smile, or you don't get repeat business. If you are really that good, great, but you're probably not.
And when a guy comes in to show you his new Huffy, justbill
Sep 5, 2001 6:41 AM
because he wants to make friends, even if you didn't sell it to him, you gulp, you smile, and you say, nice bike. It's cheap, it's civil, but you do it mostly because then he'll buy his next bike from you. Allright, maybe I'm a little jazzed up about the "nice bike" thing because of my own recent personal problem, but cycling is a hobby or a pastime or a diversion (you know, not a necessity) such that, when people come into your shop, the proprietor should make them feel as if they've entered an exclusive world under the shop proprietor's control where they are welcome. With skills and a little bit of basic inventory as a given, that to me makes a good shop that sucks in people who are willing to spend money. Make them feel part of your club and you'll build loyalty.
re: Tips on opening a bike shop?ACH
Sep 5, 2001 7:13 AM
I know a guy that has done exactly what you are talking about. He worked for other shops as a mechanic before deciding to do it on his own. He opened a little shop in an industrial park next door to where I worked. At first he just carried tires, and misc accessories and he'd special order bikes at really good prices. After awhile he got a Litespeed dealership and then Voodoo and he was able to move into a bigger shop. Eventually he started a website and his business instantly doubled, within a year he had 3 employees. And he did all this just down the street from a multi store chain shop that carried 200 bikes.

The reasons I kept going back:
He gave me a discount because I worked next door-even though I was never going to return the favor.
He talked to me like we'd been friends forever.
He knew what he was talking about and wouldn't bs you-probably the most important!
He worked on anything and did a good job even though he made very little on labor.
His prices were good even w/o the discount.
He sold consignment parts and bikes.
re: Tips on opening a bike shop?tony
Sep 5, 2001 7:13 AM
I am not a bike shop owner, but have been a road cyclist for the last 25 years, and have a few suggestions on what NOT to do. I raced back then, and naturally went to the LBS that gave me the most support (advice re bikes, racing), and they also gave me the best prices. I therefore had little reason to mail-order.
I quit racing about 20 years ago when I got into medical school, but never gave up training or riding to keep fit. Since my last race, the attitude of the stores have changed to the point where I buy very little, if at all from the LBS.
What drove this "lifer" away from the LBS, and what should you avoid in your store?
1. A racer elitist attitude. If you're judged just by the results of your last race, and are treated with a condescending attitude because you don't race anymore, your customers will not come back.
2. "Used car salesman" tactics. Several years after my last race, the shop I used to be sponsored by got in their first pair of disk wheels. Having read about and seen pictures of them, I was naturally curious enough to have a look. A salesman then comes up to me with the opening line, "Just what a young doctor needs".
3. Inflating prices based on the perceived ability of the customer to pay. My former sponser once told me that all of his prices were above the MRSP, so that he could lower the price to the MRSP, and create the illusion that the customer was getting a deal! As the owner, he will still give me a deal, but his employees will not lower the price by a dime, as they "make no money on this anyway".
4. Respect your customers' time. The 2nd last bike I bought at the LBS was promised for a specific time. After phoning to confirm it was ready, the getting a ride to the store (about 20 min drive from home), I arrived to find the bike in a box. I was told that they were too busy, and that they knew I would want to do the assembly myself anyway to ensure that it was done properly. It was not fun riding a new bike home in the dark without lights!
5. Having no stock, and giving the run around about delivery times. Last year, I placed an order for a new bike for my 6 year old daughter. They didn't have the right size in stock, but it could be delivered in 1-2 weeks. I ordered 6 weeks before her birthday, and never got the bike. They did not need a deposit since they knew me, then later claimed that they have no record of my placing the order.
For these reasons, I now shop almost exclusively via mail-order. I'm sure there are many other reasons why others have resorted to mail-order, rather than buying from the LBS.

Good luck with your shop!
Also, drop the "not bought here attitude"! nmjagiger
Sep 5, 2001 8:45 AM
more what not to do and doDog
Sep 5, 2001 9:36 AM
I agree with the above, and can generally add:

1. Do what you say you are going to do (applies to all businesses). I hate it when I special order something, they promise it in 2 day; I return in 2 days, and they have not even ordered it yet. Pisses me off, and makes me want to do mail order.

2. Don't rip us off. Why should a Campy chainring cost $99 at the store and $59 mail order? That's a huge difference. Ten bucks, I could see.

3. Wait on the fricken customers. There are some shops in which you can wander around for 30 minutes and no one asks you if you need help. I walk out. Worse yet, some will leave me standing at the checkout counter with piles of stuff to buy, and no one comes out from the back to ring me up. Several times I've left the piles of stuff on the counter and walked out. Idiots.

4. Carry a decent stock. No reason not to have a stupid chain in stock. I've resorted to stocking my own "replacement" parts, as even those so-called "racer" type shops don't even carry a damn Campy chain (and the link thingie). What are you thinking?

5. Don't chain all my bike setup when I take it in for something. One shop did a warranty replacement of my fork, and someone decided they didn't like my cables setup. They changed them all around, added several inches of housing, etc. Had to change it all back around when I got home. I know what I'm doing (usually), so leave the bike the .... alone, unless you get my approval to change something!

6. Get involved in the cycling community. Sponsor some events. Take out ads in the local club newsletter. Send a mechanic to help out at a local century or something. Good stuff. Sell some cheap but attractive jerseys with your shop logo on them. The one I'm loyal to I'd wear their jersey, if they had a decent looking one.

7. Don't undersell (talk me into cheaper things), as well as oversell. Sometimes I want the nice stuff. Don't talk me into something inferior just because you think that's what I "need" or because it's easier for you to get. Paying more later for upgrades is costly. I think this is just as bad as overselling. One shop nearly refused to sell me a Campy setup, arguing that Dura Ace is lighter and cheaper (it is). But, I wanted the damn Campy. Finally just went and got the Campy mail order, and the shop acted indignant when they found out. I told them they nearly refused to sell it to me, and at least discouraged it. I asked why, and they said something about being able to pay for Shimano products after they sell, but they have to pay for Campy up front. Not my problem, I thought. Since then, I've bought a few Campy products from them, but they are expensive and take forever to get stuff, like 2 weeks to get a chainring. What's a guy to do?

Dog
Location, location, locationBrian C.
Sep 5, 2001 7:51 AM
Close to a trail or well-used commuter bike route.
My $0.02SamDC
Sep 5, 2001 12:37 PM
If you just want to do mail order than you should check out GVHBikes. I think he's got it down to an art. If I read your post correctly, and you only want to do mail order, then I think having a unique and well stocked inventory is slightly more important than customer service (since you'll probably NEVER see your customers... although that doesn't excuse one from poor customer service).

PICTURES!!! Have pictures of your wares. I hate it when big conglomerates have something I'm interested in, but no picture.

Take the extra step in your business. For example, have weights of each part in a grouppo or be more detailed in your description of an item. Little things like that. I think what makes GVHBikes so popular is that he provides competive prices and unique/exotic brands for a small garage operation.

Anyway, good luck. If you do decide to carry-out this endeavor make sure to post your website for us to checkout.
free waterbottles!!!nm
Sep 5, 2001 12:42 PM
nm