Friday, August 9, 2013
RE: CBC Bad Attitude Dudes in Bike Shops
It is a truth universally acknowledged that bike shops are staffed by intimidating snobs, or so this CBC story presumes. As a long-time bike shop staffer, I have to pick this apart. The most obvious first point is if you are intimidated by someone, it does not follow that this person is trying to intimidate you. Being outside your area of expertise, faced with many decisions that could cost you money is intimidating in itself. As when needing a car mechanic or hiring a contractor, knowledge of your own ignorance can make you insecure. Second, not all bike shops are for everyone -- and that's okay. Just like clothing retailers, car dealerships and grocery stores, certain products and services are in demand and retailers are able to select profitable clients. I'm no economist, but it makes sense to me.
For example, it's no surprise that if you took your cheap commuter bicycle to La Bicicletta for repairs, the staff might not want to work on it or be able to help you. As the name suggests, La Bicicletta Pro Shop is a pro-level shop that caters to racers and competitive cyclists who are riding elite level racing bikes. (It's also where many doctors and lawyers shop.)
To put it in car terms, it would be like taking your 2002 Honda Accord to the Ferrari dealer and asking for a tune up. La Bicicletta is a racing-centred shop that specializes in selling components and servicing racing bikes. While most people can figure this out; some people take it as snobbery.
This works both ways in the industry. While Our Community Bikes does a great job of serving commuter cyclists and those that are keen to learn, bringing in your Durace Di2-equipped carbon wonder bike is also going to raise some issues, much like taking a Bugatti Veyron to a Ford dealer for a tune up would.
I have a quick way to check if you're in the right shop for your kind of bike. First, look at the bikes for sale; if your bike was purchased for about the same amount of money, and looks like what they sell in the shop, you are probably in the right place. Are you wearing a set of spandex shorts and standing in the middle of a "bro down" mountain bike store,? Do you wear a tuxedo to do hot yoga?
Another consideration is that the bicycle industry is a service industry with high demand in concentrated periods. Profits are based on sales and staff are paid by the hour, sometimes on commission. There is almost always more demand than supply. Seasoned shop staff are able to pick out tire-kickers and time-wasters. These people are often ignored or recommended on to other shops. To use La Bicyletta as an example again (and no, I don't work there), imagine you have a flat tire on your 1982 Nishiki, a reasonable analogue to a Honda Accord. It's not in this shop's best interest to help you: you are not their market. Time is better spent helping the dentist behind you take his Cervelo off the roof rack of his Audi.
As far as shop staff upselling you, a good shop will know what they are selling. Mechanics are usually upselling that "expensive" tire or shifter for a reason. Long-wearing, quality parts usually cost a bit more. It always surprises me when people complain about a form a transportation that costs less than $5 a day to own, operate and maintain. Even transit isn't cheaper. Good parts make for a better experience, and often less money spent in the long term.
Is this counter-culture snobbery? No. A lot of people in the cycling industry are underemployed. They have lost better paying, more stable jobs, are students, or are new to the country. Relatively few people choose to make a career in the industry. Those that do often conduct themselves as professionals, which is a challenge in an industry where the pay and social status are low. In the past I have worked with architects, real estate agents, software developers, lawyers, a handful of journalists, a BDSM dungeon master, entertainers and a yoga teacher. None of them were working in a bike shop because they wanted to play the too-cool hipster -- working in a shop can be soul crushing, like any service job. Treating shop staff with respect and politeness -- not as mindless peons -- goes a long way to establishing a good rapport and getting better service. And this is true anywhere.
I find the comments about MEC interesting, too. Operating a co-op allows them to bypass tariffs on bicycles, parts and accessories. They stock and sell bikes but often don't have direct access to the parts needed to service and maintain them because the wholesale cycling industry has shut MEC out to an extent to protect local small businesses that do pay these tariffs. When smaller shops have to compete directly with MEC, they often react by no longer carrying brands because they cannot compete on price. These small shops know the value of the industry is in the service, not how much you paid for your pannier rack -- because you're going to need someone to install it.
Overall, I agree with many of the recommendations Jennifer Chen makes. Asking questions is great. Most shop staff would like you to understand what they are selling you. Pretending you know a lot about bikes when you don't, or starting with the assumption that staff are out to scam you is not a good idea. But don't expect staff to make you understand the finer points of bicycle mechanics on a busy Sunday afternoon. Not-for-profit community shops like Our Community Bikes offer workshops on basic bike knowledge, which will make you a better cyclist and a better consumer. Also, any good shop stands behind their work. If after five visits, your bike isn't repaired to your satisfaction, ask the staff if a larger problem is to blame or find another shop. But we aren't all snobs, I swear.
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