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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?

59 comments

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mooleur [537 posts] 2 years ago
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I often wonder how they survive,... mine keeps getting bricks thrown through its window at the moment :*(

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Miles253 [198 posts] 2 years ago
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I would be interested to read something from an owner, about the difficulties invved with the running of an lbs

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oozaveared [937 posts] 2 years ago
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There's plenty of room for LBS to do well. The old model still works. But not if you don't know anymore about bikes than the punter. Ok Halfords is not an LBS in my book and gets away with a business model of scale and not really catering to more experienced cyclists. BUT there's is a model not to follow. I have on occasions asked questions of the mechanic in there only to find that I knew more about bike mechanics than he did and he didn't actually answer the question. And this was not on high end stuff either.

People will go to their LBS if they know what you are talking about. If they offer good advice with the products that they sell because if they don't then it'll be cheaper on Wiggle and CRC. If their staff are actually cyclists not just some kids that have a bike. If they offer more than you can get online. And something absolutely not related to bikes or cycling ie great service.

I'll give you an example of bad service. My female colleague a newbie to cycling new bike cycl to work scheme had a mechanical issue on the way to work. Gears grinding badly adjusted, cable stretch probably. But she didn't know and worried about getting home she popped the bike into the LBS.

They charged her £40 for a "silver" service on a practically brand new bike. There were no broken parts just gear adjustment but they claimed to have checked brakes etc etc etc. This was a straight forward rip off. It almost certainly just needed a barrel adjustment on the rear derailleur.

If it were my bike shop that would have been free. Free and make a friend. As it happens not only will me colleague not use that shop, nor will I and now nor will the 8 or so cyclists in my office.

For crying out loud when I took my Smart Car for new tyres I discovered that I didn't have the locking nut. So I took it to Mercedes in Guildford. They got out the Master Set. Found the right one by trial and error. Unlocked the ones on there and replaced them with ordinary ones. They gave me the reference number of the size needed and said I could buy the right tool online if I wanted which would be much cheaper than their OEM one. They gave me back my locking nuts cleaned and charged me £10 for the ordinary bolts. Nothing for Labour. On my way back to the tyre shop. They basically had me over a barrel and they didn't take advantage. Now that's good service.

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notfastenough [3684 posts] 2 years ago
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I commented on the Cervelo R5ca hanging on the wall at mine, something to the effect of "that must cost you a fortune just to hang it on the wall", to which they replied that they had sold 5 in the last eight months. That's just one model, generating over £40k in revenue. God only knows how many £2k bikes they sold in that time. They've also just extended the shop.

To be fair, they are the extreme I guess, but I think it depends on knowing your market and all the other business-focused stuff. There is a little shop in Knutsford that used to be run by a nice old guy, who I heard having a grumble to his mate that times had never been as hard (maybe 18 months ago). Then I walk in a few months later to see a new younger guy running the place (he'd bought the business), the cheaper bikes and kit have gone, and there's a couple of Scott Foils and CR1s hanging up. I mentioned what the previous guy had said, and he told me he'd sold 3 CR1s that month.

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stubrant [5 posts] 2 years ago
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I have 2 excellent shops near me but I do think they could do themselves a favour by opening later in the evening and on Sundays if they want to compete with online. If I want something quick and can't wait until Saturday I have no option but to go to a Cycle Surgery near my work or order from Wiggle for fast delivery, as they shut at 6. I cycle past it every night around 6.45 and the number of times I wished it was open.....

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bashthebox [751 posts] 2 years ago
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My LBS is small but rushed off their feet. No job too small or too big, simple advice, charming service. Such a lovely thing to have practically on my doorstep, I'll pop in there every couple of weeks in the knowledge that my bike problems will be fixed very reasonably, and a nice chat will be had.
And this business model leads me into being enthusiastic to the idea of the shop building me some wheels, maybe getting them to order in an exotic part or find me something second hand without having to trawl through forums, and it really doesn't need to cost any more than buying online.
So, take the time to make friends with local shops. It makes you happier to live in a nice place.

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Hoester [68 posts] 2 years ago
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Many local shops don't help themselves, with poor knowledge, uninspiring stock selection and high prices. Two out of three and you might secure some business from me, but not all three. Here's some real life examples;

- If you are cock sure adamant that 53/39 is a compact crankset, you won't get my business.
- If you can order me tyres into the shop in a weeks time, and sell them to me at RRP, you won't get my business.
- If you charge kids over £10 to fix their puncture with a fresh tube instead of selling them a puncture kit and 15 minutes of your time to show them what to do, guess what, you won't get my business.

I'm not looking for local shops to beat the internet on price, I'm looking for valid reasons to pay more than the internet.

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drfabulous0 [409 posts] 2 years ago
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The traditional LBS is a dying breed, the economics of it is unsustainable. Take a bike which retails at £1000, to start with practically everyone expects 10% off or a price match, so from the selling price of £900 £150 goes straight to the taxman leaving £750, the shop will have paid around £600 for the bike. From the remaining £150 the shop has to pay the sales staff to sell you the bike, the mechanic to build it and give it it's free service, probably some office staff too to order it and do the admin. After that they have to take into account other overheads including rent, rates, power and insurance. As well as this they are expected to keep good stock levels of various bicycles and parts which conform to a vast array of different standards. Some shops can find a point of difference and will survive, but many are closing down or struggling. As a result it's the customers who are getting ripped off with crazy labour prices and the only ones making a profit are the big distributors and greedy landlords. From what I saw when I worked in bike shops it is these two parties who are causing the problems, not the big chains and online retailers. The factory gate price on a £1000 bike is typically about $30.

At the same time there are new shops and mechanics springing up all over, these tend to sell only parts and used bikes and offer labour at far more realistic rates, they are also usually run by people who have worked for a long time in bike shops and care about what they are doing, this is pretty obvious to customers which is why it's easy enough to set up and build a loyal customer base. The overheads for this are also far lower and although the traditional bike trade are trying to protect themselves by denying us trade accounts there is a whole alternative supply chain for parts now available.

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Neil753 [447 posts] 2 years ago
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A cycle mechanic now has the ability to make a good living from repairing bikes from home or at clients' premises. Parts supply chains are no longer a problem. From a sustainability point of view, it's far better to have a small town being supported by a number of independent mechanics, earning good money, rather than one LBS owner on very good money, paying his staff much less, and the rest of us having to pick up the tax credit tab through general taxation. Also, almost all the money stays in the community, and the resulting reduced labour rates mean punters have more to spend elsewhere, so increasing the whole community viability thing.

But there's plenty of scope for a LBS too, perhaps to become a community focal point, with fantastic food and entertainment, integration with local cycle culture, clever manipulation of social media, and maybe based on a co-operative business model that provides a decent wage for a number of people, are just some of the possibilities to be considered by LBS owners reading this right now, hunched behind the till because they can't be bothered to even stand up when a customer walks into their shop (like the owner of my LBS who thinks the world owes him a living).

The potential for savvy individuals, or indeed LBS owners with ingenuity and passion, especially as we enter an era where the cost of car ownership is likely to be increasingly tenuous for huge numbers of households, is enormous .

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Gkam84 [9086 posts] 2 years ago
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oozaveared wrote:

They charged her £40 for a "silver" service on a practically brand new bike. There were no broken parts just gear adjustment but they claimed to have checked brakes etc etc etc. This was a straight forward rip off. It almost certainly just needed a barrel adjustment on the rear derailleur.

If it were my bike shop that would have been free. Free and make a friend. As it happens not only will me colleague not use that shop, nor will I and now nor will the 8 or so cyclists in my office.

I have just opened a repair and servicing workshop, a large wooden workshop in my garden. What you have said is right, that was a rip off, but I also wouldn't do it for nothing if the bike was not bought from me. I would have charged something nominal, like £5, just because my time is worth something, unlike what some people think. So not making a killing of your friend, while not underselling myself.

bashthebox wrote:

My LBS is small but rushed off their feet. No job too small or too big, simple advice, charming service.

That is just the same as my LBS, hence opening my own workshop, on their advice, with them giving me overspill and contracting me in to help when they are busy, without having to worry about doing tax and things for me.

Neil753 wrote:

A cycle mechanic now has the ability to make a good living from repairing bikes from home or at clients' premises. Parts supply chains are no longer a problem.

Don't you believe the parts supply issue to much. Trying to get a trade account from anyone if you are working from home is at best an absolute fricking nightmare. I haven't been able to get one.

Very soon I hope to be mobile and going out to peoples home or business aswell. So spreading myself further afield and taking on a sportive or two.

So while I am working in conjunction with my LBS, they have kindly let me piggy back on their orders

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Neil753 [447 posts] 2 years ago
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Gkam84 wrote:
oozaveared wrote:

They charged her £40 for a "silver" service on a practically brand new bike. There were no broken parts just gear adjustment but they claimed to have checked brakes etc etc etc. This was a straight forward rip off. It almost certainly just needed a barrel adjustment on the rear derailleur.

If it were my bike shop that would have been free. Free and make a friend. As it happens not only will me colleague not use that shop, nor will I and now nor will the 8 or so cyclists in my office.

I have just opened a repair and servicing workshop, a large wooden workshop in my garden. What you have said is right, that was a rip off, but I also wouldn't do it for nothing if the bike was not bought from me. I would have charged something nominal, like £5, just because my time is worth something, unlike what some people think. So not making a killing of your friend, while not underselling myself.

bashthebox wrote:

My LBS is small but rushed off their feet. No job too small or too big, simple advice, charming service.

That is just the same as my LBS, hence opening my own workshop, on their advice, with them giving me overspill and contracting me in to help when they are busy, without having to worry about doing tax and things for me.

Neil753 wrote:

A cycle mechanic now has the ability to make a good living from repairing bikes from home or at clients' premises. Parts supply chains are no longer a problem.

Don't you believe the parts supply issue to much. Trying to get a trade account from anyone if you are working from home is at best an absolute fricking nightmare. I haven't been able to get one.

Very soon I hope to be mobile and going out to peoples home or business aswell. So spreading myself further afield and taking on a sportive or two.

So while I am working in conjunction with my LBS, they have kindly let me piggy back on their orders

I agree, traders will do everything they can to keep trade accounts for themselves; that's human nature. But using the on line suppliers, such as Wiggle, and just making money on your labour, is still way more profitable than having to stand the fixed costs of a LBS. Good luck with your venture.

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Super Domestique [1605 posts] 2 years ago
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mooleur wrote:

I often wonder how they survive,... mine keeps getting bricks thrown through its window at the moment :*(

Stop throwing them then!  3

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S13SFC [134 posts] 2 years ago
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Our town's LBS is excellent for servicing etc if you have Shimano. If you don't they won't touch your bike.

Strange that any business will turn away ££ as those of us using Campag etc now take our spending elsewhere as we have no need to walk through their door.

That said, the LBS close to work that I now use is excellent.

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drfabulous0 [409 posts] 2 years ago
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Gkam84 wrote:

Don't you believe the parts supply issue to much. Trying to get a trade account from anyone if you are working from home is at best an absolute fricking nightmare. I haven't been able to get one.

So long as you are a legitimate business with proper stationary and insurance there are loads of suppliers who will give you a trade account. Have you tried Moore Large, M&J Distributors or Massi? to name but a few who are paying attention to how the trade is changing.

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Darth_sharter [3 posts] 2 years ago
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$30 for a for a £1000 bike. As a 25 yrs in the trade veteran, I can assure you all that's absolutely nowhere near correct. No wonder people expect dealers to give discounts if they think bikes are that cheap at source.

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Darth_sharter [3 posts] 2 years ago
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$30 for a for a £1000 bike. As a 25 yrs in the trade veteran, I can assure you all that's absolutely nowhere near correct. No wonder people expect dealers to give discounts if they think bikes are that cheap at source.

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bobdelamare [19 posts] 2 years ago
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here in Cranleigh we have a fairly new bike shop in the High Street. They are clueless. A couple of wallies lounging on a sofa with loud music and obsessed with mountain bikes. Ask for a 700c x 32 inner tube and they are amazed. About 2 miles out of town there is a bike shop with some older guys who know their stuff and will fix your problem with minimal cost and time. Two problems, it's hidden away to avoid business rates and the owner, who thinks they are going to sell £million carbon fibre racers. There is not one bike in the shop with mud guards or a pannier rack. This is a rural area, mud and potholes. The market is in "do it all" bikes not "head down arse up" speedsters. We used to have a good man in the High Street but he gave up with the burden of Business Rates being charged on the value of the shop rather than the value of the business, ie ability to pay.

Actually that's the reason for the decline in the High Street generally, useful shops can't pay the high rents and rates.

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drfabulous0 [409 posts] 2 years ago
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Darth_sharter wrote:

$30 for a for a £1000 bike. As a 25 yrs in the trade veteran, I can assure you all that's absolutely nowhere near correct. No wonder people expect dealers to give discounts if they think bikes are that cheap at source.

Quite correct of course, my mistake. I meant factory gate price of the frameset rather than the complete bike. I used to work for a large 'manufacturer' and if you exclude any R & D then you could get a really nice alloy frame or the sort of carbon I would have doubts about for this sort of price. If you wanted say Sora on it (levers and rear mech) that would be $3.90.

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Nick T [913 posts] 2 years ago
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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.

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bailey19 [7 posts] 2 years ago
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I just ordered a s3 with vectors from my lbs and got a fantastic discount and great service, the price with the discount was far cheaper than anywhere online. I was a wiggle addict before but will now go and see them in store and see what they can do when I need something next!

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glynr36 [637 posts] 2 years ago
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I buy my parts online and use a local guy working as a mechanic to fit them for me.
It's quicker for me to be sat on my sofa/at workand decide what parts I want and have them arrive the next day, as opposed to go to a shop, find what I want isn't in stock (as all they seem to stock locally is Shimano and Commuter crap) wait for them to order it, only they won't order it just for me as they'll wait till they have a few things from that distro to order instead, and to then be more expensive than what I could have got quicker and easier online.

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parksey [343 posts] 2 years ago
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^ This is pretty much my attitude as well. LBS is used primarily for servicing and non-routine repair work only, although I could equally just use a mechanic if I knew of a good one locally.

Components, accessories and clothing are mainly bought online or in large chain stores, as my LBS just can't get anywhere near the pricing and availability. If it was only a small differential I wouldn't be so fussed, but by way of some recent examples:

Shoes - LBS £90, online £58
Pedals - LBS £60, online £32
Gloves - LBS £40, Halfords £22

At best, my LBS is 50% more, at worst more like 100%... I don't earn a fortune and have a family to support, so I simply cannot justify paying those prices. For me, cycling has to be an affordable hobby or else I can't keep it up.

But, the store has been there for 50 years, and I don't see it going anywhere in a hurry. As others have mentioned, I've seen plenty of people dropping money I could only dream of on bikes and kit in there. Cycling seems to be the new golf anyway, lots of affluent middle-aged sorts who won't hesitate to spend a fortune on the latest gear in the vain hope it'll improve their performance.

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parksey [343 posts] 2 years ago
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I should add that I did actually buy my bike from the store, even if it was through C2W. I wouldn't hesitate to buy another one there either, their advice in terms of what to buy and, crucially, why was second to none.

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Gkam84 [9086 posts] 2 years ago
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I am not really going to be retailing much, but if I wanted to retail at the same prices as only, I could only charge a couple of quid profit onto the prices I can get things at and then be around the same price as Wiggle.

Which I will do for locals, because they are willing to wait that one extra day, but for servicing bikes and doing repairs. It is hopeless to try and order parts because of where I live. Even Wiggle can't get me next day delivery.

The only company who have gotten everything to me next day like it says on their site is Chain Reactions and all their stuff so far has come from Ireland.

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Neil753 [447 posts] 2 years ago
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@ Gkam - re parts delivery delays.

Just a thought - If you take a four mile walk as your radius (for people with no other way of getting their bike to your workshop other than wheeling it) that still covers a whopping 50 square mile catchment area. So, why not have a few "courtesy bikes", so that customers can leave their bike with you for a couple of days or so, giving you more time to wait for parts to arrive.

If a customer has to wheel his bike to a shop, then walk back home, then walk back to the shop again to pick his bike up, I think most people within one hour's walking distance would probably prefer to go to you instead. That way, they'd only have to walk once, rather than three times. For someone working from a shed, it's a usp with huge potential, as more and more people give up their cars.

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cristiansupernova [6 posts] 2 years ago
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Interesting reading. I think there is way way to much emphasis on this whole internet price war vs LBS thing going on ..

Yes, it does have an impact, but if a good shop reacts well to it, it shouldn't be a problem. I know that some some LBS owners fret like mad over it, but simply worrying about it, does nothing but distract from your day job.

I have been doing it for 23 years, and have also worked indirectly for CRC, (after meeting them, having huge respect for them) but really, it's no big deal, if a good shop has the right attitude (which I hope we have) then life goes on.

My point being, for any decent LBS to "survive" they have to have the right attitude, in turn creating a nice, cool, comfortable atmosphere for anybody (with any bike!) who walks through the door.

I love bikes, I love my 10speed Cinelli, my 8" travel DH bike, and my hardtail xc bike... But it doesn't show, (apart from the Cinelli, that's always on display!)

What shows is a bikeshop doing tons of repairs (fast, to a high std, and good value) and selling bikes from £260 to £4grand ish. Not trying to be super special, or even super clean (kitchen is always a mess) hell, even our website is a bit crap, but guess what, right now were a bit to busy to sort it .. And image isn't everything, if your doing the basics right and well.

Oh, yeah, the most important part (for LBS "survival") - don't ride any waves.. Just be, and do.

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Gkam84 [9086 posts] 2 years ago
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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  3

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Colin Peyresourde [1724 posts] 2 years ago
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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.

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Beefy [376 posts] 2 years ago
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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

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Shades [294 posts] 2 years ago
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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.

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