Friday Group Ride #50

Bike shops don’t think in years. They think in seasons. And winter is out of season. I was in my local bike shop (LBS) last night, chatting with the manager, and we were discussing all the little things that shops do in the wintertime to bring people through the door and keep cash flowing.

It was a Thursday night. Shop hours were extended, and it’s Christmas time, but during the hour-and-a-half I was there (I chat a lot), one customer came in and bought some tights and a jersey for her husband. Otherwise, it was crickets chirping.

Now, this is a nice shop with good selection in a prime location, not some hole in the wall, so I was actually surprised by how quiet it was. If there is a lot of bike-related holiday shopping going on, most of it would seem to be online.

This shop does all sorts of cycling community events. They host group rides, as most shops do. They sponsor a team. They have indoor cycling after shop hours, for anyone interested. They play race videos and invite customers in to hang out. In short, they are working hard to remain a part of the community.

After brainstorming a little, and frankly I didn’t come up with too many ideas they hadn’t already considered, I thought maybe this would make a good topic for our Friday Group Ride.

The questions are: What is the best event your LBS has put on? And, what sorts of things could your shop do to bring you through their doors in the off-season?

Bike shops are an important part of our community. I don’t think anyone believes that online retailers, as good as many of them are, can completely replace the LBS, so helping them find new ways to stay connected and relevant benefits us all.

Let’s hear your ideas.

26 comments

  1. TFT

    The shop I used to work at (and continue to be in contact with though I live 2k miles away) used to offer group plyometric sessions in fall/winter. Now they’ve invested in computrainers and offer indoor group rides. This shop also offeres something that I wish ALL LBSs should/could offer: A women’s specific program—“Chick Train.” Beyond all of that offering free bike pick-up/delivery keeps repairs coming in and boosts Xmas bike sales because the store is willing to hang onto the bike until Xmas eve.

    Other shops I’ve familiar have offered classes: Basic repair/maint. Wheel building. One even offers a class on how to ride a bike properly (think training your muscles to fire in correct order).

    —-

    I think the biggest issue that LBSs have to deal with is a lack of good customer service. Too many LBS employees seem to forget that the person that just bought a new tube or Cliff Bar will eventually need a new set of shoes, wheels or a new bike. Bad customer services does a great job of keeping away return customers.

  2. The D

    Probably maintenance/DIY clinics. A lot of them do a broad “bike maintenance 101″ class, but maybe specialized ones would draw a more enthusiastic crowd from further away.

    Eg: “Gluing tubulars on carbon rims” class strikes me as good way to a) get enthusiasts to recognize the store’s legit, b) show off some pricey product, c) sell some basic goods and d) just flat out be the authority on how to be safer, esp. for those Cat 4-5ers like me who are just learning these types of things, and would rather avoid a painfully iterative process.

    I bet the sales of tubs, cement, brushes/gizmos and yellow brake pads would be worth it, esp. in “off season.”

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  4. SinglespeedJarv

    What could they do to pull punters in:
    1. Have some manners.
    2. Not give credit notes for returning some bolts.
    3. Not owning the only bike shops in a 60mile radius
    4. Not charging SRP for everything

    Apparently they put on DVD nights when a new MTB film is released. But other than that, not a lot. No group rides, no interaction with the cycling community. They could do a lot more.

  5. Ben

    Nothing like a warm room, a stack of cycling magazines, a sofa and a coffee machine (or even mulled wine for the festive season). It’s not going to sell much, but it keeps the customers connected.

  6. Jim

    My LBS turns the weekly shop ride on the road into a weekly MTB ride, sometimes in the snow. Trainer nights Tues & Thurs if it’s real bad. Co-marketing with the local pizza shop. Free (good) coffee & espresso. Facebook blasts about weekly specials.

    That, and the customers are superior to the customers of all the other LBS’s around here.

  7. cbaehr

    A couple of years back i worked part time at a bike shop that was located a hundred or so feet from my front door. I was there almost every day to talk shop, sip coffee, buy new gear, ect. I couldn’t stay out of there it seemed. I started working in the shop particularly because the crew was so inviting towards me on my first visit, which was a different vibe than i had felt(unfortunately) in all previous LBSs that i had entered.

    I learned to wrench, wash, and talked shop/pro tour racing with customers. It was a blast. My now wife couldn’t not understand my fixation.

    One of the greatest things we did was have a weekly bike clinic. We went over all the basics of quick tunes and most importantly fixing a flat on the road. Any person was welcome and was made to feel welcome. After the clinic those that had question ranging from correct weather attire to lacing wheels were all addressed. I really needed something like that when i fist started riding. I must give praise to Competitive Cyclist. When they were located across the street from me years ago, they would kindly fix my entry level road bike and let me slober on the 15K road bikes while i was waiting. Heck they even took the time to explain to me what made a Liteweight wheel so great. They would make less money on me than any other customer for sure….But when I got further along financially I bought my first high end machine from who else but CC.

  8. hitto

    An LBS near my work does maintenance evenings where they spend a few hours showing you how to solve common problems you might encounter on the road/trail. These are good to give new riders or those technically challenged a bit of confidence and self sufficiency. Nice way to promote tool and parts sales as well.

    Another version of this is a bit more full on but basically you learn how to do a full bike build, using second hand/salvaged parts. The bikes then get donated to underpriveleged kids/local charities. All tools etc are provided and you get to have a hands on lesson from the experts. Not 100% sure but I think you pay + have to then do another day where you help someone else learn. This is a bit further from my place so I haven’t done it but has generated some pretty big exposure for the shop.

  9. Dan O

    A few off-season ideas to keep people walking though the LBS doors….

    Keep a weekly ride going all year. Advertise the ride in the shop with a poster or other method. Most shops seem to keep the ride a semi-secret. You want regulars for sure, but new people as well.

    Indoor roller or trainer events – if possible, make a race out of it.

    Pizza and movie night. Flat screen TV on shop wall, some folding chairs, a deal with local pizza place, “A Sunday in Hell”, “The Tour Baby!”, “Race Across the Sky” – or plenty of other choices to pick. Do it after hours, 8:00 PM or so. I’d bet riders would even pop $5 for something like this, just to mingle and enjoy the show with other bike freaks.

    If possible, have bike celebrity give a talk – frame builder, racer, local legend or race promoter.

    Temporary mini-store in the local (gasp) mall – like other vendors do. Helmets, jerseys, smaller stuff – and a few bikes as well. Plenty of info about the real shop displayed. Crazy idea? Maybe not.

    From the customer database (you are keeping one, I hope). Email past customers about holiday and winter specials. Offer a discount coupon with the email.

    Look into the option of giving a “how to” bike commuting seminar at local large companies.

    Look into the possibility of grabbing a large repair account from a local large company. The groundwork laid out now, may pay off in the spring. Microsoft offers onsite bike repairs on a set schedule – that kind of thing.

    Try a “Ladies Night” pre-holiday event, geared towards non-riding spouses to select items for their bike crazed husbands. If experienced female cyclist show up as well – bonus. I’ve seen motorcycle shops pull this off.

    Anyway – a few quick ideas off the top of my head.

  10. Doug P

    Roller Races! These are a great way to get folks out on those long evenings. In Sacramento Steve Rex (plug) put them on to benefit our velodrome project.

  11. randomactsofcycling

    My LBS and my club are intertwined. It’s a brilliant set-up for both local cyclists/Club members and the LBS. There is a ride nearly everyday of the week, ‘special’ rides a few times a year with full support, a couple of weekends away (organised at great prices and with full tech support) and then a full two week trip to Italy each year for those that can afford it.
    When they renovated the shop, they even installed an Espresso bar where we can hang out on the weekends.
    BUT: the best thing about my LBS are the staff and the Owner. They know their customers by name and treat them like friends. If I drop in after the Saturday ride with a creaky bottom bracket (on my bike!) they take a look, generally free of charge. It’s proper, old fashioned customer service.

  12. Phil

    If bike store owners could get the customer service portion of it correct, then people would want to come back and put their dollars into the bricks and mortar stores rather than the online ones. There’s quite a few stores I frequent in my spare time, but none of them can serve, or even interact with customers politely. Most of the guys and girls working there seem to have no knowledge of cycling at all.

    I don’t care if they are fans of mountain bikes, road bikes, track bikes – whatever. Just be friendly and be able to at least trade war stories. Get the customer feeling comfortable about parting with hard earned cash.

    The other thing is that people working in bike shops have a “holier than thou” attitude, which permeates through the cycling community as a whole. If somehow people could drop the attitude and just have respect for each other, then there might be more people passing through the stores. That’s a whole other story though.

  13. j

    I’m surprised that nobody has mentioned the local schools.

    I worked at a skateboard/snowboard/rollerblade shop years ago (when rollerblades were the rage) and one thin we made sure to do was to contact local schools and invite their P.E. classes in for discounted rentals, maintenance classes, sizing/fitting etc…

    I know of a lot of running stores that have school contact through their track programs and without fail, those kids become customers, their parents become customers, siblings and relatives too…

    Keeping business alive is about more than low prices or facebook emails. It’s about your customers and what they’ll do for you. In my family business we don’t advertise and haven’t over the past 35 years. We’re still growing and thriving because of the power of word-of-mouth. When our customers vouch for us to a friend or relative that’s more valuable than any twitter post or email blast ever could be.

    Here’s a few ideas that my team presented to one of our shops (we left them after the relationship went bad and FWIW, they rejected all of our ideas)

    – Partner with a lube company that makes “green” products to do a lube exchange- people can bring in their old chemicals and get a small free sample of a green lube. They can also drop off 5 ruined tubes for one or two new ones… those tubes can be recycled…etc… This all serves to get people in the door.

    – Offer bike building classes where the project bikes are donated to schools or park districts or needy children. It can be tax deductible and if done right a great local media blitz can be gained.

    – Host plenty of rides out of the shop- certainly nobody will buy a Madone but tubes, bottles and other accessories still earn $

    -Ensure that the shop is integrated in the community. Seriously. Being an island is no way to do business.

    – Partner with other businesses- the running store down the street, the coffee shop, anyone… come up with creative cross-promotions; buy 20 coffees get 20% off something, buy a bike get 20 free coffees…etc…

  14. Marco Placero

    This little ToC passthrough is graced with 3 shops. I patronize two but like the other as well.
    One offers camaraderie always and a beer occasionally, but I enjoy their live race coverage streamed, plus vids when school’s not in session. This shop also attracts wicked summer evening world championship race rides where you gotta leave your threshold numbers at home.
    The other– in December– hosts great Christmas parties and a nighttime MTB ride, and I mean fully hosted. Plus, summer group rides from this shop include a TdF-time benefit and a wow women’s club. The mechanics here rock and roll.
    Owners of all three shops work hard to bring Pro to town.

  15. fausto

    Fortunate to visit the Rapha pop up shop in NYC this summer a few times. It was not about the clothes, that made up a tiny % of the small space towards the back. It was the coffee for the locals, the live TDF or Vuelta on the TV, movie night, book signing, fastest mechanic competition, art gallery, weekly ride. Yes it is NYC and rapha but it can work in your community too. Not into TRI but have the shop invite the local running/swim club in or go to them to talk/present/teach our portion of the sport. Work with local community colleges/adult school, my shop does thier repair classes through the schools. There is lots of cool classes at those places. Local HS, start a bike club. Local club, do they invite the shop owners to their picnics and award dinners? Make the network bigger. Every town has that club guy who is amatuer photographer, travel guru, have him do a talk and hang his pix up in the shop. He will bring in his family, club mates, coworkers. Face it, most suburban club guys have money but are cheap, market to them some late night discount. Get the members who are business owners have a networking night in the shop. Vendor night, it is amazing how long people will hang in a shop and talk to sales reps to try and win that last raffle of the night. Target the hipsters with beer night and roller racing, euro tourers with wine and cheese. Book club night, everyone reads “the rider” and brings beer and talks about it.

  16. Katherine

    I’m probably repeating people here, but my main suggestion echoes Phil: Cut the “cooler-than-thou” crap. I’d shop locally more often if I felt at all welcome once inside the door. I don’t get warm fuzzies supporting the LBS if they look down their noses at me for spending less than $30 at a time.

    Other ideas: 1. Stock more gift-y items during the holidays and try to be creative about the product ordered (seek out unique companies). A lot of times I shop online because I know there is no way I will find this or that T-shirt in a shop. Also, non-cyclists shopping for their cycling friends and family members might be scared away by the prices on clothing and components. But hats, shop socks and Ts, bike-related jewelry, recycled tube products, funky commuter accessories, etc. are cheaper and make great stocking stuffers.

    2. Sponsor swap meets for people to sell their used gear. Hold the event in the shop parking lot, provide some entertainment/food options, and maybe have a little sale going on to shuttle people in the door where they can spend the money they just made.

    3. Put on classes not normally offered. Many LBS have fix-a-flat classes, but few, if any, teach more advanced mechanical skills. A lot of people use the winter to build up new bikes or put their rigs out of commission for extensive work. Teach us how to do it ourselves (and sell us the necessary tools).

    4. Weather too bad for a shop ride? Focus on the advocacy side of cycling. Organize “town hall” meetings to educate area cyclists on local issues, get peoples’ ideas for local improvements and energize potential advocates toward action. These kinds of events can bring in people other than the typical shop riders who feel uncomfortable surrounded by shaved legs and Spandex.

  17. todd k

    One thing I could use is some kind of frequent service type of program for basic mechanical service. Something that discounts me for servicing bikes I don’t often have time to service on my own. This would be particularly helpful during the time of year when we have nasty weather… I’m thinking rain bikes and cross season. Yeah, I could be enticed into taking my cross bike in a bit more frequently if promised a quick turn around that included a good once over, relubing the drive train, a nice cleaning and keeping those brakes on the up and up…. I love doing this work myself, but with two kids under 4 I just don’t have the time. (Race and train vs wrenching… wrenching always seems to lose!) But I also don’t have endless funds, so working it into some type of frequency discount could be a tipping point for me….

  18. Waffles and Steel

    It’s easy. Say “hello” to me when I come in the store. I went into the best LBS in my town (Ann Arbor) a couple weeks ago. Two people were on duty. I was the only customer. They never bothered to greet me. They looked up, saw me, then went back to discussing invoices. I was shopping for a new pair of heavy-duty winter tights. They had some decent Specialized tights that fit the bill for me. But I thought, “Screw it,” I’ll just order the Pearls online from REI. It really blows my mind when a bricks-and-mortar store decides to sacrifice its most important asset (service delivered by a human being) when facing online competitors.

  19. ben

    i like the idea of trainer-races or even classes. there’s a LBS in Denver that has a trainer room where people pay $ to ride in a class. we all hate the trainer…misery loves company (and then the “company” buys tubes, lube, replaces a bottom bracket, builds wheels…etc.).

    The coffee and sofa idea w/ bike porn is nice too though.

    1. Padraig

      Everyone: You’ve put forward a great many wonderful ideas. Sure, some of them are tried and true, but it may be that the big lesson is making the effort. I think we all know that if we’re not riding much we’re not walking in bike shops much—unless they give us a compelling draw. Speaker nights kill. Want to get people to flood a bike shop? Bring in someone who’s been on TV, say, Bob Roll or Phil Liggett. Ultimately, the connection one feels or doesn’t feel with a shop could make or break it. Being part of a club that gets special pricing is huge as well; I’m on the board of my team and we keep telling our shop sponsor that our guys don’t come in because their prices aren’t competitive even after the discount. Follow-through on special orders is another that can really help. Call the customer to let them know the item has arrived. Boom, you’ve just given them a reason to visit.

      One of the 800-lb. gorillas of bicycle retailing, Helen’s Cycles, has special member-only nights a few times a year for one of the clubs they sponsor. On those nights members get deep discounts. In three hours the members consume a couple dozen pizzas, some wine and bottled water and spend tens of thousands of dollars.

  20. Matt

    My favorite LBS in Orange County hosts Saturday morning group rides from the shop up PCH. A few times they offered free tune-ups after the ride. Got lots of folks out.

  21. Thom

    Thesd are all great ideas on how to improve bike shops, not just in winter, but year round as well. Remember though, that it also takes good customers to make a good bike shop. Ask for what you want. Communicate with the staff. Too many customers do the “I’m just looking” and actively avoid the sales staff. Spend your money there. Don’t use it as a place to try on clothes and shoes so that you can order it somewhere else. Most importantly, if your team or club is sponsored by the shop, be as loyal as possible to that shop. No shop makes money on team sponsorship. It’s almost always done out of a sense of love for the community and sport. Sorry if this sounds preachy, but I just wanted to remind all of us that commerce is a two way street that requires both sides to communicate with more than just their wallets.

  22. Brett

    How about customers not asking for a discount on everything?

    Bike shops get treated like a charity, always a “what’s your best price?” or “can you chuck in a …” Do you do that at the supermarket, or the petrol station?

  23. trev

    my favorite part about one of my locals stores is when they close early because its slow. I love that when I drive to them to get a new trainer tire and they close early because didn’t sell any bikes that day. Makes me look for a new store.

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