Beer fueled musings on shop life and the impending death of cycling culture as we know it.
A hyperbolic tirade in approximately six hundred and sixty six parts.
(Editor’s note: The opinions expressed by the author in no way represent those of Bikerumor. If you are easily offended or inclined to get uptight about things you honestly don’t have to bother reading in the first place, then go ahead and move on to another story….probably one about some bike thing that just came out or something. ‘Kaythanksbye.)
(Real Editor’s note: Watts wrote that one.)
(Fake Editor’s note: Whatever.)
What do people want?
As a person trying to make even a modicum of a living in the world of retail, it’s a question that plagues me.
What do they want? And why? And most importantly….at what cost?
I had a legend of a sales rep in a while back, talking to me about “the power of the tube.” (Folks in my neck of the woods will know exactly who this is.) We discussed the various facets of my shop structure (or lack thereof) and how to improve it so that I can sell sell sell!!! His question was, specifically, given what the “typical” customer wants, what’s the first thing they should see when they walk in the shop?
Without hesitating I gave him the answer: I bent over and spread my cheeks submissively.
He wasn’t partial to my visual…. but he knew what I meant.
Meanwhile, www.clownpenis.fart (or whatever online discount douche you prefer) is trying to tell you that it’s the dealers who are bending customers over. Well…I’m here to tell you that this is as big a pile of bullshit as has ever been loaded onto a plate for consumption.
And if they did try and bend you over…. then it wasn’t on price. It was probably just something they wanted to do. I mean…. We all have our quirks and drives, right?
There’s something broken in this industry right now. And while I’m not smart enough to put my finger on it precisely… I do have a rough inkling of the various directions to be pointing my middle fingers.
(That’s everywhere…. all the time. Right?)
As a shop owner, I have to admit that I spend a good bit of time being whittled out of a living by people who make more in month than I do in a year. (A bit of that hyperbole I mentioned)
And it’s hard not to feel bitter about that sometimes, because to my mind, it absolutely reeks of a lack of respect for what I do, and for my livelihood in general.
But….”Hey… that’s retail, baby.”
Well….No. I’m afraid that just doesn’t cut it. That’s just as weak as saying date-rape is just “part of the dating game.”
I mean….Fuck off.
While I am certainly not the most universal example out there, I’ll tell you honestly…I make a salary that, with very few exceptions, most of my customers would balk at.
And to be asked to make even less than that, all so someone with more money can feel.. what?….important? is beyond insulting.
Most of them aren’t bad people. (I mean….anymore than any and all people are bad) Sure….occasionally there’s a real fuckhead who’s demand for a deal comes from a sense of over-aggrandizement and entitlement.
But I think (and hope) that the majority of people just assume that that’s how it works.
Ask for a deal. It’s built in to the price, right?
Well…actually… No. It’s not.
And I get it. I really do.
You just dropped $4000 on a bike. (Or $1000 or whatever) That’s a lot of money. That’s a shit ton of money. And at surface level, all you see is that money leaving your hand and going into someone else’s. As far as you can tell, the shop just made $4000.
But you know what?
Not even close.
You’d be shocked at what the actual take home on that sale was. And with the overheads of payroll (so people can help you), rent (in a place you’d actually want to go, as opposed to my storage unit), insurance (so that when we get robbed, or someone falls during a test ride and tries to fault us -“Well I never fall, so it must be this bike.”- we’re not screwed), utilities (so that it’s all temperature controlled and well lit so you can.. like… see), and inventory (so there’s stuff to like..buy)… the take home is slimmed down to ridiculousness.
So regardless of the impression that www.clownpenis.fart gave you about bicycle costs, the margin is actually surprisingly small, and the shop really made very little off of that $4000.
Question: Why do you want a discount?
I mean….Really? Why?
Is it the thrill of the hunt? The joy of haggling?
Is it that you just deserve it? Because you know…..you’ve been such a good boy this year?
Is it something wired into us? Having become all civilized an’ shit, our innate viciousness has had to find new pugilistic outlets. You can’t beat the shit out of me…so you try to beat the shit out of me on price.
(No… seriously, you can’t. I’m like…. super strong and shit. Plus, I fight like a total…awesome… fighter.)
Or it is just that shit costs a lot… and you’d rather not pay that much?
I’m with you. It costs us a lot too.
“But I mean…. they own a bike shop. They have all this stuff. They must be doing alright.”
Yep…. I “own” a shop… in the same way that you “own” your house. The difference being that one day you’ll actually own your house…. While I will never pay off the shop, as its very nature is an eternal cycle of debt. And in the end, what is that debt worth?
“Well…. that’s the way it is in the auto-industry. Sticker price is negotiable. Works for them.”
That’s true. And one day, with a massive paradigm shift in American thought, it might work for the bike industry too.
But in the American retail landscape, cars are a necessity… Bikes are an accessory… (I know, wtf, right?) And the volume of bicycle sales just doesn’t support the same price structure.
And that is where much of the BROKEN comes from. Because this industry just isn’t structured in a way to support the direction that bike retail has headed
And while the facade projects a ruddy health, behind the curtain is some pretty rampant malnourishment.. coupled with schizophrenia.
Some of us need a damn samich…. and some of us need a pretty heavy dose of lithium. In the butt.
(It’s absorbed faster that way… I’m told)
Do I love me a discount? Yes…. Absolutely. But if I’m out of town and walk into another bike-shop to grab something, I expect to pay retail. If I get a “fellow shop-owner deal” of any kind, I’m extremely grateful. Because I know what’s up, and know that the shop could use every damn penny of that sale.
Do I discount? Sometimes. Yes…. Absolutely.
When a customer has made some purchases and shown me that they’re willing to support me in a fair way…. I usually do what I can for them.
But if there’s an expectation of discounting?
Because it doesn’t do me any good. And I just don’t have to.
One of the best days of my life was the day I realized that I didn’t have to discount shit.
When I realized that I’d built my brand to the point where I didn’t feel pressure to bribe customers with a deal. And not that I had relied on that before. But there was always insane pressure to make the sale, and get whatever minimal money I could, simply to generate cashflow…. so that I could make payroll that month. Or rent. Or utilities. Or pay a supplier. Or very occasionally get paid myself. But heavy discounts ultimately did me absolutely no good.. and the game of robbing Peter to pay Paul was netting me nothing save for an ever increasing feeling of anxiety.
A customer called the shop and said he was interested in a Santa Claus Teabag. He then informed me that he was a “big time local rider.” What was the best I could do out the door?…. because as he put it, “I don’t pay retail.” As gently as I could, I told him that discounting bikes did me and the brand no good, and that our pricing was very competitive as it was. Interrupting me as I listed out the reasons and benefits of paying us a fair price, he came on hard, saying he was ready to buy now but wanted a very substantial amount off the sticker price.
At which point I informed him that we probably weren’t the shop for him.
As he stammered again about “being ready to buy” (at his heavy discount)…. I thanked him for his time and hung up.
I later saw him out on the trail, riding a big-brand bike bought from the local big-brand concept store.
And instead of feeling the sting of a lost sale…. I felt the freedom of having dodged a bullet.
Because…. as obtuse as it sounds… some customers… you just don’t need them…. or want them.
And I definitely didn’t want that kind of customer.
So….. herein lies a bit of that BROKEN that I mentioned before.
What if every time a customer asked a shop for a discount, that shop, in turn, asked the supplier for a proportionate discount on the product?
I’ll fucking tell you what….The answer would be NO. The supplier isn’t going to devalue their product like that, and they’re not going to NOT make their money. They have their own overheads.
Which means that every discount the shop give eats into THEIR margin, and into their ability to pay their own overheads, much less themselves…. and subsequently, into their ability to even keep the doors open.
And unfortunately, I think that the suppliers know that. They know that every day, the bike shops are beat senseless on our margin. But hey….you know what? That’s our battle, and how we fight it isn’t their problem.
As a retail store, we are essentially asked to be the infantry in what often seems a losing battle, and watching all too many suppliers actually enable and support the very thing we’re asked to fight against; the devaluing of their brand, we’re constantly fed the most absurd rhetoric and run-around about how and why this kind of rampant discounting exists.
And then, like any good infantry…. we’re expendable.
Where’s the next wave of hungry little suckers ready to live out their dream of owning a shop?
Needless to say…. it’s pretty vexing.
Compounding the vexation, there’s a bizarre metric in place wherein selling bikes at a discount actually makes a retailer look better. Sure… it makes them look better to the consumer, because deals are the best, right?
But it also makes them look better to the supplier.
Well…. Despite whatever disingenuous outrage is expressed when a whistle is blown on some discounter, in more cases than not, the supplier seems all too willing to turn a blind eye to the practice.
Why? Because ultimately they are still selling their product, and regardless of what the discounter sells it for, the supplier is still making their margin.
So how does discounting make me look good to a supplier?
Well…. here’s a scenario:
Last week I moved 30 units of Boringman Bike’s full-suspension Superdouche, each at 20% off retail. Meanwhile, Koolkid Cycles sold only two units of the Superdouche, but at full markup.
I’m congratulated on my numbers and salesmanship, and bumped up to platinum pricing (which engenders even more discounting) while Koolkid is told that unless they step up their game, the line will be yanked from them.
Koolkid, by the way, has been a tireless advocate of Boringman Bikes and were at the forefront of trying to build the brand back when no one gave two fucks.
Sadly, that means fuck-all to Boringman, who is now a “really big deal.”
Koolkid then tries to point out that x amount of the existing Boringman dealers are not adhering to the pricing structure demanded by the supplier.
To which they are told “Yes, we are aware of the issue and steps have been taken to ensure that this does not happen again. Believe us when we tell you that we take this very seriously and will not allow such blatant blah de fucking blah blah”
Cough cough bullshit cough cough.
But nothing actually changes. It just shuffles in such a way that there’s an illusion of change or progress. The quantity driven discounter continues to devalue the brand, and further ensure that any dealer selling at retail is perceived as “ripping people off”… and the quality driven dealer trying their ass off to make a living and sell the product is punished.
Without a doubt, old models just don’t work…. and maybe the new direction of retail is online? Right?
Discounting bikes to move volume. The volume makes up for the lost margin.
Works for Walmart.
Sure sure … seems like fun.
Until it all turns to shit.
The high cost of low prices.
And if the industry really wants to race to the bottom…. then F it. In the A.
Btw…. here’s that equation: =>((
It seems like a boon, right? Tons of stock. Straight to your door. Crazy deals.
For the companies too. Low overheads. Wharehouse space costs a fraction of what retail space goes for. (Yeah… I misspelled it on purpose). “Mechanics are expensive. We can just hire trained monkeys to fill boxes and ship them out. Then… it’s out of our hands. They can get it built and serviced at the local shop. And then… heh heh… if something goes wrong, the local shop was the last one to touch it, so we’re in the clear.”
The most common bullshit response given to brick and mortar bike shops regarding the online-debate is “Well….Service is King, and that’s what will keep the local shops going.”
In an age when there’s a free youtube video on how to repair every facet of your bike, what does “service” even entail anymore?
Why even take it in for service? I mean….Unless you totally botch it yourself?…. (because you will)
And make no mistake. I am all about some DIY. I’ve got it tattooed on my neck. Knowledge is power. Arm yourself. But don’t try and feed me a line about service being my lifeblood when our very ability to provide that service is being undermined.
Is “service” what I provide when I stock shoes or clothing for a customer to try on, all so they can ultimately order them online for less than my own cost?
Is “service” what I provide when I do the legwork to warranty a bike that wasn’t purchased from me? And then, when I try to make some money for my time and labor on swapping all the parts over, I’m given all manner of grief?
Is “service” what I provide when I take over an hour to talk to a customer about the merits of a certain model, all so they can buy it from whatever discount douche is advertising on this very page?
Remember when the bike shop used to be a bastion of esoteric knowledge of all things two-wheeled?
That was where you went with questions… Where you went for advice.
We used to give it.
Now we get it.
Instead of asking our opinion, customers give us theirs. A lawyer/doctor/insurance salesman/arms manufacturer/male model telling me why a bike geometry will never work for their rabid weekend-warrior assaults on the local trails.
As far as they’re concerned… they know more about bikes than us.
And sometimes… it’s fucking true. For tons of reasons. Whether because it’s some old-dude who hasn’t ridden anything without a quill stem (or anything at all) in over 20 years. Or whether the staff just hasn’t kept up on product knowledge outside fixed-gear ratios and homebrewed pomade. Or whether because the bike shop is the new record store, and every coolkid in a 100 mile radius with no work experience save for mowing their parents lawn in middle school wants a job there. Or whether because the owner is an anti-social nut who would rather ride his bike than work on it.
But then….It doesn’t help that too much of the time, the shops are the last ones to know about things.
There are quite a few companies out there with a notoriety for keeping dealers in the dark until a giant mass email is sent out.
At which point the dealer is inundated with questions about a model that they’re unaware even exists (it having been a heavily guarded secret until that point), and that, as it turns out, won’t be available until never.
It also doesn’t help that sites like fucking Bikerumor are undermining our all-knowing authority by scooping the story to the masses before the shops even get wind of it.
(just kidding, Tyler. But really… I’m not.)
That’s just one facet of this glorious new technological age we live in. Any information (or misinformation) you want is available at the touch of a button. It’s a boon and a bane.
There’s a balance somewhere, but as a fairly unbalanced person, I’ll be damned if I know what it is. And I’m not sure anyone does, which is problematic on a number of levels.
I think we as a species are innovating more rapidly than we’re evolving. And we’re just not smart enough to wrap our heads around it all, much less keep up.
I know… we’re really smart and stuff. I mean… we are. It’s fucking mind-blowing how smart we are. Even from the minute facet of the bike industry, you can see what an amazingly clever species we are. Suspension… braking… carbon fiber…. computers. As someone who still marvels at the unbefuckinglievable resilience of the simplest loose ball-bearing hub or bottom bracket, my mind is in constant danger of melting at the advances in technology.
….But damn, are we dumb.
Before I became ensconced in the bike industry, I was going to be a paleontologist. I wanted to study the evolutionary history of life on this planet.
Whales and their origins were of particular interest.
Pretty astounding stuff.
For a number of reasons that I won’t go into because I still get bitter, I put that path on hold. (Assuming my feeble brain could have even handled it.) And as time went on, that goal became further and further away, until when I try to see it now, it’s barely visible. Overgrown with trees and brush, much of which I admittedly planted myself.
As unobtainable a path as it is for me these days, the history of life on this planet is still one of my favorite topics.
I’m favorable to the theory that the human species arose from an arboreal primate ancestor. (And look…. I don’t give a crap what you believe. If you believe in an anthropomorphic god with a great big god-dong, then good on you. (or if he’s as lily-white as ‘Murica seems to think, a tiny little god-dingy) We can argue about evolution and religion and the day the word “truth” lost all meaning another time. For the sake of…. sake…. just hear me out.)
Ahem… as I was saying… We came from arboreal primates. We were opportunistic scavengers living in trees. We ate what we could, and sitting on our branch, we shat it out.
Down it dropped.
Out of sight and out of mind.
I think that as a species, we have a genetic-memory that just doesn’t allow us to see the consequences of our actions. We’re still living in that tree. We eat… and we shit. And it falls away somewhere, to some vague “elsewhere”….but who cares? I want another grande nowhipskimsoychocomochafrozendrinkamathig. And did you hear about Miley Cyrcus? (she’s who’s daughter?)There’s naked pictures of her somehwere! Also…Have you seen the new negligible pivot-point full-squish that AssFactor Bikes just debuted. That thing is hawt!
We obviously have many other very important things on our mind than where the effluence and waste of all of our innovation goes.
My poorly made point: As a species we spend more time on innovating new shit (and a lot of it is shit… you know it… and I know it) than on how to handle the consequences of it all…. because we’re just not programmed for it. As far as we can collectively see…. we eat, we grow, we build…. and from our perches on the branch, the consequences pour from our asses and disappear into a magic black hole.
(I mean… come on… as far as explaining our inability to deal with our waste effectively, you have to like that better than “humans are born of divinity, but are such petulant, entitled little shits that we can’t even be bothered to clean up after ourselves.”)
So how on earth does that apply to online sales, Watts? You’re not making a goddamn ounce of sense. (or cents)
A simple inability to see the forest for the trees.
We’ve innovated what seems like a very simple shopping fix.
But in our quest for deals and convenience, we’ve created something that isn’t sustainable.
And I am of the opinion that we stand to lose the very things that make the bike industry awesome.
And look….I’m a bit of a nutter. I know it.
I am, to the point of madness, zealously committed to the model of the small, independent bike shop. And my commitment to this model, in many cases, exceeds reason.
I admit it.
I dislike chain stores. And I dislike concept stores.
Those aren’t bad models, mind you… outside of being soulless and boring. From a business perspective, there is absolutely nothing wrong with them.
If you’re into “business”…. it might be a perfect fit for you. It’s structured. It’s safe. (Safer, anyway.) It has the potential to be fish in a barrel. (Assuming you’re not a total dingus.)
And in the same way that people love the banal pablum of Chipotle and Panera, they’ll likely gobble up your sterile shop model with the same gusto.
So…a question: When you dreamed of having your own bike shop… did you dream of owning Max’s Flying Anvil Bike Shop of Awesome.
Or did you dream of owning a Boringman Bikes franchise?
And if you settled for the latter… Why?
Because it was safe? And it was a sound business model?
Well…I can’t fault you for that.
In fact, you’ll probably be around long after I’m gone…. or long after I’ve become what I hate. (You know…. when Revolution Cycles NC blows up and we take over the Southeast, stuffing other shops into our gaping maw (At least until Mike and Pinky say “Helz no you don’t!” and put a cease and desist on the name.))
Part of my zeal for the indy model comes from that love of all thing DIY that I mentioned. I like challenges. I like creating my own thing. The key is to try and avoid re-inventing the wheel and taking what you can from the past and make it better….something I admit to failing at often. (“Look, I invented a bike with one speed!”)
But here’s a metric to that equation. (Again with the metrics and equations. This is that Watts Math you talked about isn’t it?)
We support the businesses we want to. If Harry Johnson’s Bike Barn is the local independent shop in town, but it turns out that Harry Johnson is actually a giant fucking dick…. what incentive is there to support that jack ass?
That applies to me too. (Oh, trust us… we know, Watts. We know.)
I’m all too aware of my foibles and shortcomings as an individual, and I’m HYPER aware of the shop’s foibles and shortcomings. When we fuck up…. I know it. Trust me. There’s no “whatever!” There’s just “oh fuck.”
And I hope that the people who support the shop do so because they genuinely like us and what we provide.
So…. this year my shop was voted “best bike shop” by one of the local newspapers polls. Yeah… I take it with a grain of salt, because Olive Garbage was voted “best Italian restaurant.”
But I couldn’t help be a little pleased…
Because about three years ago, I really went for that poll. I mean…..I sent out an email to all my customers…. called and texted friends…. told anyone and everyone on Facebutt to vote for us. And after all that work….we didn’t even merit a “runner up.”
This year? I wrote it off… and made one sarcastic facebook post about voting for us and all of your wildest dreams coming true.
Then promptly forgot about it. Until one morning a month later, one of my employees texted me, “We won!”
Awesome!…. uh….Won what?!
“The poll, dude! The Reader’s Poll!”
I’m extremely grateful to everyone who voted for us. You like us… you really, really like us.
And I like you too. Hell… I love you guys and gals.
And look….I’m blowing off some steam here as we come off the insanity that is Thanksgiving consumerism. Consumerism that just doesn’t apply to small independent stores.
Sure… AmEx promoted Small Business Saturday. And damnit, they SHOULD, because they charge us a premium for the “privilege” of being able to accept their cards. Seriously. $1800 becomes like $1650. But with Black Friday and Cyber Monday (and Sex-fiend Sunday)… I don’t know if local establishments of any kind get a whole lot of love during the holidays.
And, of course, you must know that I’m speaking in the broadest and most sweeping of generalities.
I love my customers. And I love converting new people into customers.
And they know I’m not talking about them when I bitch about “good buddy discounts.”
(Except for that one guy… and he knows who he is.) I don’t have the kind of restraint to have not lectured you long ago if I felt like you were asking too much. There’s a difference between a customer and my customer.
And promotions and sales aren’t a bad thing, save for when they set a precedent or trap of constant discounts. And when I see a sticker that says 49% off, and know that my margin on that item was less than that, I get in a tizzy.
And there are some great companies and brands out there that really do commit to the Independent Bicycle Dealers, or IBD’s as we’re kollectively k-nown.
And there are some that just talk the talk.
Also…. there are some great, large, multi-location shops out there. I’m not bitching about real bikes shops. I’m talking about retail outlets posing as bike shops.
You know who you are.
And for all my vitriol and anger (Kurt…. you ain’t got nuthin’)… I love the hell out of this industry. I just think it needs a swift kick in the ass. Or an ever-so-gentle throat-punch.
Bottom line…..the face of retail is changing rapidly.
Old models don’t work anymore and a new paradigm is at hand.
But what is that paradigm?
I don’t have the answers. Just a lot of (really really pertinent and astute beyond your wildest imaginings) opinions. And as anyone who reads Bikerumor will attest… opinions are like assholes, everyone wants one…. er…I mean… has one.
And in my opinion… Rich Dillen is an asshole. (He’s not really… I just wanted to say that. (But really, he is.))
Which circuitously takes us back to the crux of this Dead Guy fueled missive….
(It does? Is this another one of your “metrics” or something?)
What do people want?
Some of it I know.
They want readily available product.
They want relatively quick gratification.
They want to be treated fairly.
They want a free handjob.
(Wait… what? They don’t?! You mean I shouldn’t be throwing that in with every bike purchase?! No other shops are doing that?!! Ugh. Time to rewrite the business plan. Again.)
On the availability front, given the overheads of stocking every widget around in the offchance that someone needs it, the shops are very much at a loss. Especially given the sheer quantitiy and variety these days. But do me a favor. Give your shop a chance…. because every time you DO purchase from them, even if they had to special order it, you’re helping them get that much closer to being what you need them to be.
And maybe it costs a little more than that online deal you saw. But unlike the company on the other side of the country that gave you x amount off, that local shop is probably pretty involved in your local scene, and doing what they can to improve riding in your neck of the woods. And they’ve probably given time and money to that improvement. And you’ve probably had a free beer or two at their shop. Or ridden bikes with them.
As opposed to some dude in another state who did who knows what with your money.
Much of the real tension comes from number 3. People want to be treated fairly. And so do we, mate. So do we. And when the very slim margin we potentially make (before taxes) on a bike is whittled down to an even slimmer margin simply because “Good Buddy” “doesn’t pay retail” but “really wants to support your shop”, my honest opinion is that I’m very much not being treated fairly, much less supported.
I’m not ripping anyone off by charging them what the bike is supposed to cost.
If we can find that balance, and not be dicks to each other, and remember to take our pills, or just pull our heads out of our asses, then I think we can take this industry, and cycling in general, to the next level of awesome. Because for all my obnoxious blather, that’s all I want. But if bottom line keeps getting eroded away, and a pursuit of all things cycling becomes a pursuit of all things discounted, then I don’t see much progress happening. And if that’s all the people want… then let’s give it to them. In lethal doses.
Thank you beloved ones for your time and consideration of our business proposition of BICYCLES and looking forward to your correspondence on this matter.
Warm regards and blessings
Barrister Watts S. Dixon Esq.
PS. Support your local shop.
PPS. Read about all manner of uninteresting things on Watts’s blob.