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Clear Lake, TX
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I finally got an offer to re-join my career field of IT support, so today was my last day as an LBS mechanic after 1 year of service. A bike shop can be many things to many different people. It depends on the shop itself. My shop was not a shiny, fancy, dazzle you with high tech displays type. It is popular for the solid technical and friendly customer service provided by real people without snooty attitudes. Regulars hang out for hours sometimes. Trying to compete with online bike businesses is tough, but we could usually match most prices or beat other local LBS’s. Here are just a few observations from the other side of the counter:

LBS vs. Internet Stores:
Few shops can beat Colorado Cyclist’s Shimano prices since they buy at OEM prices, which are much lower than wholesale a local shop buys at.
Don’t pick the brains of LBS employees just to turn around and buy it online. Get the price the competitor offers and see if the LBS can match it. Some shops won’t do it, but you never know until you try. If it fails or you have problems later, don’t expect the LBS to warranty your online purchase.
Very few shops can stock everything you need without the business failing. Many shops can order you what you need just as quick as Performance, etc.
A good LBS will provide expert technical service, sometimes right away. They will spend time with you and answer your questions, no matter how basic.

Service:
Take care of your bike to the best of your abilities. Learn by asking a mechanic, reading articles and books, or online http://www.parktool.com/repair_help/FAQindex.shtml. Keep the chain clean and lubricated. CLEAN YOUR BIKE WHEN IT GETS DIRTY! Don’t ride the chain until it gets so old, it damages your cogs and/or chainrings.
Don’t think you need a tune-up every few months unless you really ride a butt-load J of miles, but don’t neglect your bike when it acts up. A little prevention at the right time can save you plenty of money down the road.
Don’t make major modifications of change parts the day before a big event.
Sometimes mechanics get busy and have a long line of repairs ahead of you. Sometimes they can stop and fix something for you right away. If they REALLY go out of their way for you, consider dropping off a gift. Customers have given us tasty imported beer, tips, sent a delivered lunch, and offered their first born. Some rudely expect you to be at their command like a dog on a leash. Guess who continues to get the best possible service?!
If you need service at a big charity ride’s rest stop, remember that a busy mechanic may not have eaten for far too many hours. Try to be understanding.
Some repairs require what we called, "Micro Garage" ingenuity. You'd be amazed how difficult some repairs can become!

The Social Center of Cycling:
Some days, regulars will hang out for hours, chatting with employees and other customers. A few will stand around your work stand and get in the way, but most know how to be more respectable. I think some expect us to entertain them sometimes. Remember, we enjoy your company, but try not to get in the way of progress and slow down the shop. I think a good shop can be like the old barber shops of the past. Guys will hang out and chew the fat over bikes, politics, women, the local or international racing scene, and even personal stuff. I’ve seen divorced couples exchange children for visitation at the store, and even one couple that met there and are now considering marriage!
Expect some ribbing and fun cut-downs if you become a regular shop fly. It’s all in good fun. Everyone should be able to take them good-naturedly as well as dish ‘em out.

Other Stuff:
Kickstands are wonderful! Putting bikes out on the sidewalk without them bites.
Department store bikes obviously suck. That goes triple for a mechanic. Buyers could have saved needless repair costs if they bought a well-assembled bike from an LBS for a little more upfront.
Most employees of area shops get along really well with each other. We don’t let the owner’s politics get in the way of camaraderie that is created from riding or racing with each other.
Most LBS employees don’t ride nearly as much as they want/need to. Don’t get a big head if you drop one! Having to cut Saturday morning rides short to get a shower and to work can cause mental and physical relapse. Bonking 2 hours into the work day after a hard ride isn’t much fun either.
Try not to sit around in the parking lot 15 minutes before opening like a vulture. At least let the employees turn off the alarm and turn on the lights before coming in to make your urgent request. Maybe this is just my personal pet peeve.
Some roadies prance about like prema donnas. They give roadies in general a bad name. Don’t come in and try to impress other on how you dropped your wife/dog/a Cat 2, etc. Those who impress the most do it with their legs out on the road/trail, not by bragging!

Most important of all, don’t expect everything to be discounted to you because you are a super racer or have been riding for X-number of years, blah-blah-blah. Do you go to a department store or grocery and try to talk down prices? Asking if we can cut the price a little isn’t improper, but don’t get upset if it can’t be done every time. Very few shops, and NO employees are getting rich off of you. We have kids to take care of, too.

Sorry for being long-winded. Some of this may even offend a few of you out there. That’s just the way I see it. I won’t miss working weekend hours while others get to ride. I will miss working with excellent friends. I will miss buying stuff at employee purchase levels (about 20% below wholesale) from manufacturers. I won’t miss the occasional jerk customer that can never be pleased. Blah-blah-blah!
 

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Bravo

I worked in shops for years before getting a job that payed enough to actually feed a family. Some great days, months, years, of my life have been spent at a Park stand talking to friends and customers. Some of my fellow employees and shop locals are still close friends. I think you gave some great insight into how we viewed Joe Customer. The mail order thing is something I use every now and then, because I can do the work myself. I would never bring a M.O. part into a shop and ask them to install it. Nor would I go into the shop and brag about the "great deal" I got on the net or anywhere else for that matter.

I liked the comparison you made to the local barber shop. We had a loyal crew of locals who were always good for sitting and chatting. I do believe that the LBS is a dying venture in todays "I want it cheaper, faster" society. I hope that people start to see value in the hands on service and personal attention that only a LBS can offer. I see a shift in my local market where people are starting to go back to the local Ace Hardwdware/True Vaue stores because they are frustrated with Home Depot and Lowes service. It would be nice to see that shift in the bicycle industry.

I like to get the best deal on my purchases and sometimes that is online. When I make a purchase I always try to factor in the camaraderie and convienence of going down to my LBS and supporting my neighborhood.

Sorry for running on,
Shu

P.S. is there a spell checker on this thing because I am sure I butchered a few words?
 
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