Ok, let’s get this topic out of the way tout suite. I’ve noticed on many social communities that there is an air of tension and cynicism that exists in terms of customer service at local bike shops. And I doubt very much this is a localized Vancouver matter.
I will admit that I felt judged from the moment I walked into my local bike shop for the first time to look at higher-end road bikes. Did I deserve to be in such a store, let alone get any service?
At the time, about 10 months ago, I was carrying a couple dozen extra pounds (mostly around my waist) which visually precluded me from being any kind of obvious cycling devotee. Who was I kidding, I was a newbie! I ashamedly recall sucking my stomach in to try to appear more worthy. Regardless, I was quickly greeted by an employee, he of slight build, shaved legs and elbow scars, medals of honour amongst the cycling community. To my credit, I’d done a bit of online research and at least knew some of the right questions to ask. I had a few repeat visits including test rides before settling on my new bike. My experience, although intimidating, was a positive one.
But it’s true. Bike shops and their staff* are (in my experience) generally quick to judge and feel entitled to decide whether or not you ‘deserve’ to be in their shop, regardless of how many thousands of dollars you have in your pocket. Are you one of us, or are you one of ‘them?’
A friend of mine who I’d talked into checking out this same shop and also into a Cervelo is not someone you would consider ‘fit’ but has every intention of using cycling to cut a ton of weight and has lofty cycling goals. He/she is the kind of person you could see (from a retailer’s perspective) starting from square one and spending a ton of cash in your store on their journey. He/she is also an influencer amongst his/her friends and talks loud and proud about good and bad experiences.
I’m sure you’re gathering by now that my friend’s experience was not as positive as mine. He/she persisted, however; bought a Cervelo, but now does all accessory/paraphernalia shopping elsewhere.
This is the part that confuses me. As someone who’s been in sales all their career, I see non-traditional markets/consumers as even greater opportunities than the already-converted. A skinny, spandex-laden racer on a Pinarello walking into this same high-end bike shop is certainly easy for the floor staff to relate to, but their sales opportunities are highly limited since most of these folks are already geared up and looking only for tune-ups, cleats or arm-warmers. Someone like my friend is starting from the ground up – sell me a bike, sell me shoes, sell me shorts – what, I need more than one pair? Great!, sell me a bike computer, sell me a second set of wheels, etc. Furthermore, reputations are at stake. Newbie cyclists (in my experience) want to tell the whole world about their new passion and that includes good and bad rides, stores and equipment.
Anecdotally, my weekly clinic rides have occasionally digressed into complaining about how bad some local bike shops are. This is not the kind of press a retail store should be aspiring to achieve! Indeed, it’s become press-worthly to publicize how your store is ‘not like the rest‘ when it comes to customer service, yet – here’s the kicker – commenters have stated that these very stores are amongst the most judgemental! A rebuttal to the linked article is here, which again shows some of the divisive attitudes out there.
Cycling, I’ve found, can be very welcoming and inclusive, but it can also be very standoffish and clique’y. And this extends to the store level, which is unfortunate. Before any cyclist can take their first pedal stroke, they have to walk into a store. It’s the front line for cycling as a sport.
I want to visit my store often and get told about the latest and greatest, but I don’t want to feel like I need to ‘belong’ just to walk in the front door. We should check our attitudes for the greater good and save showing off for the mountains.
*Addendum: this is not an indictment of every salesman, nor every store. As I said, even my local bike shop which I bought my bike at (and most of my gear) has been a positive environment nearly every time I’ve visited. Some employees are easier to talk to than others. This extends to most other shops I’ve visited.