Modernizing the LBS

I am one of the rare cycling enthusiasts who dreads bike shops.  In fact, I view visits as I would trips to the dentist’s office – I suppose that makes mechanics into bicycle doctors in my mind.  Interestingly enough, admitting that local bike shops are hospital-like public resources might make them more sustainable in the internet sales age.

The traditional LBS has a lot going for it.  It holds a useful monopoly on bike repairs and the purchase of bikes I’d actually want to ride; it also provides a location for expertise, impulse buys, and community building.   I have watched my local shop hook my classmates on cycling, and another offer patient puncture repairs to a squadron of pre-teens rolling in on their BMX hogs.  Obviously, a shuttered LBS is a loss to the community.

What it doesn’t do well is sell cycling-related merchandise at prices competitive with those available on the Internet.  Two experiences stand out in my mind:  (1) Last year, I rolled into a shop on a bike shod with a new set of racing wheels.  After informing the proprietor of the wheels’ e-provenance, I was promptly lectured that I should have bought from them, the LBS.  Why did I buy from the internet when I could have purchased the same thing locally?  Easy – I saved $250, that’s why.  (2) Yesterday, I walked into my other LBS, the sponsor shop, to purchase some stuff.  Even after a team discount, I was amazed how much they charged for stuff offered for less everywhere else – including at LBS #1.  I knew that I was overcharged, but I did my duty and bought stuff anyway.  What a drag.

But what kind of duty is this?  It seems that cyclists are obliged to pay more than they are absolutely required in order to subsidize our bike shop’s existence.  It’s hard to imagine walking into any other kind of store and uncorking this kind of consumer behavior – unless you’re a true elitist who insists on organic shopping. (joke?)  It’s monetary charity towards a good cause – a cycling community – without the tax deduction.

Why don’t we make this charitable arrangement official?  An LBS membership of a more-than-nominal sum of say, $25-50, in return for internet-level pricing and fringe benefits such as front-of-the-queue repairs, would bring purchasing home without having to resort to uncompetitive pricing and bruised feelings for those on the periphery of the chum circle.  Of course, the guy who walks in off the street can pay sticker price.  REI does a version of this, and nobody complains – and nobody’s trying to “support” REI!  I’d love to move more volume through my LBS without having to emotionally justify my “contribution” each time – I’d probably spend about the same amount of money, but I’d feel much better about handing it over.

Also work on the snobbery, and I’ll be a LBS convert.

……………..

But as much as I dislike LBS snobbery, there is definitely a community benefit to strictly enforcing a no department store bike repair policy.  I snapped this photo in front of a library of a community in which this policy has been in place for years.  Beaters perhaps, but there was not a department store bike to be seen.

Community conditioning

Behold the future.

2 Responses to “Modernizing the LBS”

  1. explodedhub
    April 7th, 2009 | 11:18 pm

    I havent really hashed it all out in my head yet, but as far as i can tell: LBS vs. internet pricing is a tough call. The internet has wiped out local independent music and book shops, and plenty of other things traditional local establishments, and it seems today like the LBS is one the last bastion of independent retailers. A shop paying rent and making payroll to employees during the high and low seasons often cant compete on price with an online retailer with low overhead who charges a hair above wholesale prices. So why has the LBS held out as long as it has? Hands-on service can’t be outsourced or automated. But to ask a shop to make most or all of its income from service and not sales would lead to a dismal situation, i.e. hefty shop rate, charging you for pumping air into your tires and having simple bolts tightened, and charging for ‘product and repair consultation,’ etc..
    Maybe you’re membership idea is more applicable to a collective bike kitchen, like the one some people are now trying to start on Boston, where people can come in and get service and advise from volunteers. I havent specifically heard of collectives taking a bite out of LBS’s customer base, but it would surprise me, and maybe in the future maybe all we will have is internet-ordered parts and collectively-run service organizations. and the LBS will go the way of the local record store, or the local daily newspaper. just thinking aloud.

  2. huffypuffy
    April 7th, 2009 | 11:34 pm

    a potential solution is to piss all over the free market and convince important manufacturers to sell exclusively through brick-and-mortar shops instead of the internet. our favorite bike manufacturers already do it – companies that’d have to join the model would include market quality leaders such as pearl izumi, mavic, hutchinson, and the like. i don’t think it’d be illegal in an anti-trust sense, but it’d be quite the tough sell for the manufacturers who have a lot to lose in the way of volume. we’ll leave nashbar and performance clothing and products for the internet cheapos. dreams, huh?

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