Friday, April 3, 2009

Support my local bike shop? Maybe.

Here's another rant triggered by a post to the OBRA email list.

The owner of a big Portland bike shop sent in a letter to OBRA members urging the support of local bike shops (and other sponsors) in these tough economic times, because the local bike shops (and sponsors) have been supporting OBRA members and activities (races) for so long.

Here's the message:

Open letter to OBRA members

Having just passed our 14-year anniversary, I have spent some time reflecting on River City Bicycle's position in Portland and the biking community. I'd like to thank all of you for the support that you've shown River City over the last fourteen years. While we are proud of what we've done so far, we would not have been able to give back to the community in the many ways we have if we did not have the support back from the bike community.

One of the things I am proud of is the long-term relationship we have maintained with many biking organizations around Portland. Many of these we started at the early beginnings of the store such as Team Rose City, John Benenati's B.I.K.E. Cyclisme' program, and Emerald Velo, and have since expanded to the Vancouver Specialized/River City team, Sorella Forte', the River City shop team, Hammer Velo, and Rapha Racing. We have also maintained long-term sponsorship with some great OBRA events, the Mt. Tabor race series, Tuesday Night PIR (and now Monday Night), Oregon Mountain Bike race series, Alpenrose track series, and the River City Cross Crusade Cyclocross Series. There are probably some others I'm forgetting at the moment. The total costs of these programs to River City exceed $50,000 annually.

Racing sponsorship is a very tricky proposition for businesses. This should be obvious to any fan of the sport, considering the revolving door of trade teams that come and go at every level. From my perspective, it can be a very difficult expense to justify at times, particularly if one just looks at the numbers or at the direct return on investment. But for River City, what we count on most to justify our continued support of racing sponsorship is the fact that each and every one of you is considered to be the expert on bikes to all of your friends and acquaintances, and that you will suggest to them that River City is, indeed, a good bike shop, and worthy of their business, whether or not we support your specific team or event. We do our best to live up to the recommendations that we get from our good customers, and are constantly improving what we do and how we do it. We have a very high caliber of staff here, true bike shop professionals who take their jobs as seriously as you take yours. As the bike industry gets more technical and complex every year, we are able to maintain a high quality of staff for many years, some almost from our inception. This should be considered an asset to the biking community, as I'm sure most, if not all of you, have had bike problems that have had to be fixed by an expert.

To conclude, I would like to thank you for continuing to support not only River City Bicycles, but also all of the sponsors of Oregon bicycle racing. This is a difficult business environment for everyone and we all need to recognize who we count on for support. So when you are thinking about that next bike related purchase please consider that the internet company or national chain that may offer a perceived lower price is doing so without the service or contribution to OBRA and our local biking community that we all benefit from and enjoy. We all vote with our wallets, and we all decide what is important to us in the long run.

To the road,,

David Guettler

He raises some very good -- and important -- points. However, it is the last bit that bugs me-- choose your LBS over the cheapo internet retailers.

I do support local bike shops and sponsors. I send emails to sponsors thanking them for their support (and free food or whatever). I also BUY their product (if it's good and I can use it.) I shop at every bike shop within range-- I have three that are close to me. I also shop on-line. One thing that I take issue with, however, is the discrepancy in the level of service between a physical shop and an on-line shop.

At just about every physical shop I've patronized, I've had various and sundry problems (overcharged, poorly performed repairs, salespeople who try to sell me something that I do NOT want). Who hasn't, I suppose. The real difference between buying from Mom & Pop Bikes and is in how they handle those problems. Without fail, the online stores have gone out of their way to help me out or fix the problem. At Mom & Pop's the best I've gotten is a grudging accommodation. I've been made to feel like I'm imposing on their time.

It doesn't matter if a local bike shop will "be there" after the sale when an on-line store cannot, if that physical presence just doesn't seem to care or has an elitist attitude.

Maybe this is why Joe Q. Public stays away from bike shops and instead picks up their ride at Wal-Mart or similar. Going to a bike shop is sometimes too much like going to an auto dealership.

The local bike shops have to capitalize on their advantages over a remote on-line retailer. They have to fulfill their promises every day-- without fail. It's not enough to beg and plead and try to get customers to come in simply because your business is "local".

No comments: