Local Bike Shops - Are they really doing OK?

by Shades   March 7, 2014  

To my shock the other day, my LBS, which I have a great rapport with, just closed. It might reopen but I fear the worst. Standing forlornly outside wailing, "I'm sorry I bought that seatpost from Wiggle", the daunting task of building a similar relationship with another shop seems like a daunting task; and there's some bad LBSs out there. This isn't an 'agony aunt' article (Therapist: What do you want to talk about?.....Me: My LBS closed down!) but got me thinking in these days of struggling high streets (council rates and internet), albeit with a booming cycling industry, just how well are LBSs doing? What drives profits? Are the chain stores taking the lions share with economy of scale? Most of the bikes you see parked up in town look like they've never seen a bike shop in years. Are the keen cyclists who spend lots of money actually a small minority? Does a LBS need a strong on-line presence, but it must be impossible to compete with the likes of Wiggle? LBS's sometimes don't help themselves when they haven't got spares etc and I hate not being able to talk to a mechanic about what work is needed, so perhaps good business sense and knowing what the customer wants is key to success just like any shop?

55 user comments

Latest 30 commentsNewest firstBest ratedAll

Nice one Neil, that is something I will consider going forward. Not got the cash to get some bikes just now, but I might tap up the LBS for some ex hire bikes Wink

Gkam84's picture

posted by Gkam84 [8825 posts]
9th March 2014 - 16:54

like this
Like (7)

Tried a new LBS the other day. They promised to take our bikes and service them over the weekend. We turned up to find that the shop was closing and having their floor relaid. They basically cost us that weekend to get them done. I also wasn't exactly impressed with what I saw.

I normally clean my own bike, but like a shop service from the point of view that they're much more aware of the minor issues which can become big and deal with these much better.

I'll not be trying their service anytime soon. But I'll give a big shout out to 'On Your Bike' at London Bridge who are very good.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1120 posts]
9th March 2014 - 18:24

like this
Like (3)

Went to a LBS near work in Southport, I only wanted a set of good quality cartridge brake pads for my road bike. The guy serving me said oh we don't sell that type of brake pad. Showing me a set of really poor moulded pads he said we only sell these because there the best. Apparently the shop has a decent reputation, but to basically be lied to about something as simple as break pads was insulting! I also think some one new to riding would have bought them and been disappointed.

I have found an in between point an online shop which is reasonably local and is also a shop with helpful staff good pricing. I'm lucky I guess to live near Merlin cycles, they are the best of both worlds if you live close enough to call them a LBS.

What I don't understand is why some LBS charge so much for gear? Surely they could order it on line them selves, put a profit margin on the price and still be much creeper than there current price.

No I don't have any connection other than being a customer

HMCC

Beefy's picture

posted by Beefy [113 posts]
10th March 2014 - 0:17

like this
Like (4)

Lots of interesting comments and ideas for LBSs, but it very much sounds like if you've got some good old fashioned nous, and work hard, you can make a LBS work and beat the pressure from the internet and business rates. Maintenance (outside of my capabilities) is the big one for me and, secondly, good advice which often ends up with me buying something there and then.

Shades

posted by Shades [197 posts]
10th March 2014 - 15:50

like this
Like (2)

I agree that a well maintained shop is a better immediate experience, but the friendliness of the staff is above all the biggest attractor make me feel at home. Get some money out of me!

Specialized Allez 2009, Campagnolo Centaur 10, Campagnolo Shamal Wheels. 8.3kg

Miles253's picture

posted by Miles253 [199 posts]
11th March 2014 - 9:44

like this
Like (2)

When I wrote off my beloved Trek, my LBS looked it over, opened up the headset, priced up how much it would be to fix, looked up possible new forks I could go for, and showed me the damage around the head tube.

Then they admitted that I'd probably be better off not repairing it, because even with new parts, the alloy frame could fail at any moment after that crash.

If they'd just kept quiet and repaired it, they could have charged me over £200 for all the parts and labour.

As it was, their honesty meant they weren't going to charge me anything, after spending maybe a couple of hours on the bike (and consoling me for my loss).

Needless to say, they won my business, and I happily bought the replacement, and my wife's new bike, from them, spending nearly £1000. Good service wins customers!

PJ McNally's picture

posted by PJ McNally [586 posts]
11th March 2014 - 11:21

like this
Like (6)

Nick T wrote:
How can you exclude R&D costs or anything else from a price? You might as well say my Spag Bol only costs 10p if you exclude the beef, tomatoes and pasta from the price but you still won't be correct.

You can't include R&D costs in the manufacturing price per unit, it's a fixed cost whether you produce 100 or 10,000 units. It's more like including the cost of the recipe book for your spag bol than the ingredients. Moreover if you buy a Cervelo for example then there will have been genuine developement gone into the frame, but that's not the case with all manufacturers, the majority are using off the peg frames.

Anyway this is beside the point, all I was saying is that the vast majority of the profit has been taken out of the bike by box shifters before it gets anywhere near your lbs, making it harder for them to survive. You get behind the massive international companies if you buy into their hype, but I would rather see my smaller local businesses thrive.

posted by drfabulous0 [311 posts]
11th March 2014 - 11:53

like this
Like (4)

In my lbs this morning and someone came in asking for a puncture to be repaired. He said that he may have burst the tyre by over inflation as he had it 'up to 6 psi'.

As long as there are people like him around the lbs should be secure.

Crosshouses's picture

posted by Crosshouses [185 posts]
11th March 2014 - 17:39

like this
Like (3)

Even at 6 bar is only 87 psi. I run my my trike tyres are 140 psi D Oh

Gkam84's picture

posted by Gkam84 [8825 posts]
11th March 2014 - 18:08

like this
Like (2)

In a local 'bike shop', not many yards from one that 'closed for a refit' without warning early last week, Shimano 501s, front wheel £60, rear £70 = £130 for the pair. Online - £71.99 ........ that's why I shop online, almost exclusively. The shop I refer to isn't really a LBS either, more a 'Specialized' brand boutique, and everything is priced top whack. When will they be closing for a 'refit' I wonder?

posted by youngoldbloke [74 posts]
11th March 2014 - 19:34

like this
Like (3)

I can't think of any other retail environment where you are encouraged to 'build a relationship'. Good service and prices should be for everyone who walks through the door, not just those who are in the gang or who have proved their worth.

I'm lucky in that I have a good LBS but their pricing on some items does drive me online, tyres and Shimano components a perfect example.

If I have a £100 budget I can either buy one item from the LBS or if I order online it will often leave me with enough money to spend the remaining in the LBS.

posted by thebungle [115 posts]
11th March 2014 - 23:00

like this
Like (5)

I'm on my third LBS now... in two years since I took up cycling as hobby. First two were disappointing, the jury is out on the third one. I'd pay for good service, even adequate will do, but such seem surprisingly scarce.

Zombies don't ride bikes.

posted by Markus [36 posts]
11th March 2014 - 23:11

like this
Like (2)

thebungle wrote:
I can't think of any other retail environment where you are encouraged to 'build a relationship'.

It's not really a retail environment though is it?

It's a full service provider, just like your local independent garage, tyre shop and the like.

The best of these shops do reward if you put a bit of time in, I actually introduce people to my local place, as otherwise they wouldn't know who was working and who was hanging.

This is a place that people travel over an hour to use, but it ain't Tesco!

All Campag

posted by Flying Scot [530 posts]
11th March 2014 - 23:29

like this
Like (5)

I'm gonna give an unashamed plug to my LBS of 45 years, Edwardes of Camberwell. Despite no longer living South of the river, they will always be my "local".
Friendly and experienced staff, good selection of stock, and always willing to haggle. And they'll loan you a courtesy bike if you ask nicely.
They've been in business for over 100 years so they must be doing something right.

Ride like you're invisible, not invincible!

posted by Big Softy [15 posts]
12th March 2014 - 1:22

like this
Like (2)

I took my bike into my LBS for the first time recently. Evans was more convenient to be honest and their hours suited me better but I wanted to give something to my LBS. However, they then charged me just over £70 for a pretty standard service. Absolute rip-off. I understand they have to make a living but why would I pay about £20-£25 more for the same service? I would love to use my LBS but at their prices, I just can't afford it.

posted by MarcMyWords [69 posts]
13th March 2014 - 10:19

like this
Like (2)

Flying Scot wrote:
thebungle wrote:
I can't think of any other retail environment where you are encouraged to 'build a relationship'.

It's not really a retail environment though is it?

It's a full service provider, just like your local independent garage, tyre shop and the like.

The best of these shops do reward if you put a bit of time in, I actually introduce people to my local place, as otherwise they wouldn't know who was working and who was hanging.

This is a place that people travel over an hour to use, but it ain't Tesco!

Of course it's a retail environment, how else would you define a shop?

Why should a customer have to 'put a bit of time in' to earn a special relationshop?

The best shops make the customer feel special from their very first visit, the very best shops combine that service with good stock and keen prices.

posted by thebungle [115 posts]
13th March 2014 - 13:19

like this
Like (7)

i have an excellant lbs, nothing is too much trouble, just the other day broke a spoke, so much easier to take it to lbs as new spoke and retruing was £ 7.00 cant ask fairer than that, i always go there, as ive tried other lbs and was dissapointed. the shop is in chester-le-street, co durham, called cestria cycles, Wave

posted by issacforce [205 posts]
13th March 2014 - 14:37

like this
Like (3)

I've got a pretty good lbs near meat, Wildside in Tumbridge Wells. Really friendly staff, but not the cheapest prices overall. But they make up for it with good sales and tonnes of times fixing small things for me for nothing, obviously after me offering.

Specialized Allez 2009, Campagnolo Centaur 10, Campagnolo Shamal Wheels. 8.3kg

Miles253's picture

posted by Miles253 [199 posts]
14th March 2014 - 12:13

like this
Like (2)

Flying Scot wrote:

The best of these shops do reward if you put a bit of time in, I actually introduce people to my local place, as otherwise they wouldn't know who was working and who was hanging.

I'm with TheBungle here. I don't think this kind of 'you've got to be in the know' thing is very helpful if you're not in the gang. This is just the sort of thing that puts people off and sends them to the big boys. Not great for the LBS or the customer.

posted by Chuck [370 posts]
14th March 2014 - 12:21

like this
Like (0)

Support my LBS as much as possible but even they will say use Merlin Cycles for Shimano kit as they can do a better price. But that said I have spent £1000's in there and they have been brilliant and I have saved a large chunk in the process.

Never paid a penny for repairs or servicing. one example was my rear mech kept sticking after the bike had been left for a few days so I took it in, turns out that my drinks bottle was leaking and my energy drink was getting into my cables and it had dripped around the BB shell, So they fitted new outer and cable, cleaned the bike and polished it, when I asked for the bill the shop manager said "there isn't one, don't worry about it". I get this kind of treatment all the time so I am happy to pay more for kit from them then buy online. Service like that means more than saving a few quid.

They support our local MTB club with sponsorship for the race team, give stuff away for competitions and they do open nights with extra club discounts and they do training nights for those who want to service their own bikes.

posted by Shep73 [137 posts]
15th March 2014 - 9:21

like this
Like (1)

There's an assumption in a lot of these comments that the same wholesale prices are available to local bike shops as to Wiggle, Chain Reaction etc. I can tell you categorically that this is not the case - even matching the prices of the big online retailers often means selling at a loss.

So yes, a local shop can be more expensive, but for the extra money you're getting the benefit of their expertise (and who hasn't bought the wrong thing online). If they're fitting stuff for you you're also getting their warranty and legal liability. You're also supporting the shop's owner and staff, all of whom will be living locally and putting big chunks of their money back into the local economy.

I can't tell anyone where they should shop - we all make our decisions based on our own circumstances - but incredibly cheap deals on parts aren't going to be much help when there's no one left to fit them. Or index your gears, bleed your brakes, cure that annoying clicking noise...

posted by psclarke [11 posts]
15th March 2014 - 11:00

like this
Like (3)

This has been really interesting thread to read - not least that I have spent some time in business analysis. It strikes me that on the one hand we have a consumerism argument - strike for the best price; and, on the other, we have an acknowledgement that the LBS provides a broader level of support, which is valued, set against higher prices for some elements of that support, particularly spares. I suppose one could cherry pick - buy spares which have relatively low risk attached to them at WigReaction but use the LBS for higher risk activities; I imagine most do this to some extent. That said, as others have said on the future of LBS - 'use it or lose it'. Personally, like many, I have built up a relationship with my LBS, always give them a chance to get within 5-10% of a web price, and am prepared to pay that extra as my 'tax' to support the LBS, noting it runs our local riding group, goes out if its way to support my old vintage bike, sorted my (troublesome) indexing the day before an event on my number 1 bike, sorted mates' machines before we went out on an informal ride, runs the local Sportive ... I could go on but I sleep easy in my bed knowing that that 5-10% has provided that support. Not that I am a paid up member of the V Taliban but perhaps there is something to Rule 58.

posted by NickK123 [70 posts]
15th March 2014 - 17:16

like this
Like (3)

I understand why people go to their LBS, but I genuinely don't understand this perceived adoration of LBSs. Is it a nostalgia thing? I've found most to be expensive and not as knowledgeable as I expected them to be (although more knowledgeable than my local Halfords I'll admit!). Don't get me wrong though, I'm sure some give a great service, but you can get much better product information online (reviews, technical and problem solving etc.). With no prior experience (other than fixing a puncture), I've just built up a bike from scratch using parts I'd purchased mostly from Ebay and I feel much more confident riding around the French countryside knowing exactly how my bike works. Bottom brackets, derailleurs and headsets are no longer a mystery to me. For me, price is less of a concern. I'm much more interested in good, accurate information and a wide choice of parts and products.

Now, if I could have gone in to my LBS today and watched the Paris - Nice coverage on Eurosport and chatted with some other cyclists over a latte, I might well have walked out with a new pair of Sidi shoes under my arm. But my LBS doesn't go in for any of that. One could argue that's not a bike shop, it's a café, but times are changing.

posted by LinusLarrabee [36 posts]
15th March 2014 - 21:28

like this
Like (3)

Hardly ever use mine. Order everything online. Self service the bike using YouTube and other google links. Occasionally pop in for urgent spares. Get charged a fortune and sells average stuff. Guy doesn't seem to be bothered. This may be an exception but as a rule I've never seen the need to support them other than nostalgia or inertia.

Shamblesuk's picture

posted by Shamblesuk [77 posts]
15th March 2014 - 22:10

like this
Like (1)

LinusLarrabee wrote:

Now, if I could have gone in to my LBS today and watched the Paris - Nice coverage on Eurosport and chatted with some other cyclists over a latte, I might well have walked out with a new pair of Sidi shoes under my arm. But my LBS doesn't go in for any of that. One could argue that's not a bike shop, it's a café, but times are changing.

This! Offering that social experience massively makes me want to support my local shop. They offer social rides and a local sportive, if they had a cafe too I would be there all the time. Times are changing and I think this is the way forward. Look at Look Mum NO Hands, pretty sure they are thriving, though I know they sell no bikes.

Specialized Allez 2009, Campagnolo Centaur 10, Campagnolo Shamal Wheels. 8.3kg

Miles253's picture

posted by Miles253 [199 posts]
16th March 2014 - 11:18

like this
Like (0)

Only time my bikes go inside an lbs is for headset install or replacement or, on the mtb suspension rebuilds, because I don't own the tools for that (yet). Every other job I can do myself. I determined to teach myself these skills after one too many patronising conversations with lbs staff who wanted to take me for a mug or insult my choice of bike/riding style/equipment selection. Funny how "xxx is shit" often means "we don't have those in stock". And one too many times collecting a bike from an lbs to find it hadn't been fixed or had new faults that weren't there before.

The smartest lbs hereabouts at least offers a £30 per hour to fit the parts you supply yourself service and the people there can frequently be heard to say "Buy it yourself off the interwebs; we can't get near those prices" which is an excellent and common-sense approach. Another just refuses to fit bits you bring in yourself and charges list for everything plus labour!

Really, though?

posted by workhard [378 posts]
17th March 2014 - 11:04

like this
Like (1)

Aren't the big mail order sites based offshore and thus don't pay VAT?

posted by allez neg [4 posts]
17th March 2014 - 12:14

like this
Like (1)

allez neg wrote:
Aren't the big mail order sites based offshore and thus don't pay VAT?

CRC in Ulster. Wiggle in Portsmouth. All the German ones, where the big BIG price savings are to be made, in... well... Germany no?

Really, though?

posted by workhard [378 posts]
17th March 2014 - 12:33

like this
Like (0)

www.supernovacycles.co.uk Website looks alright.

If I lived there I'd come in just to see the dog!

monkeytrousers's picture

posted by monkeytrousers [35 posts]
17th March 2014 - 13:22

like this
Like (0)

The Veloton in Tetbury is going down the route of tea shop and bike shop. Tea and cake downstairs, bikes and kit upstairs. Done out really well and it has become a popular stopping point for a lot of cyclists.
But then I am just as happy to go to the farm and garden shops for cake as the view can be nicer.

I do most work on my bikes but when I spend all week fixing equipment, somedays I just want someone else to do it or if it's going to be a warranty job then I let them do it.
The full susser is labour intensive, especially for a pivot bearing regrease which takes me a couple of hours at least.

posted by Shep73 [137 posts]
17th March 2014 - 15:34

like this
Like (1)