The Spoke October 2, 2011

Local Bike Shops (LBS) verses the World

Local Bike Shops (LBS) verses the World

With the competition for the pound in your pocket becoming increasingly intense, the fight between your local bike shop and the 'majors' is a tough a one. Increasingly, economies of scale mean the likes of Evans, Halfords, Tesco, wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles and probikekit are able to offer extremely cost friendly products, at a variety of price points, on an almost instantaneous basis. So in a world that is so heavily orientated to these 'big players', what is the role of the local bike shop?

I live in a small seaside town called Shoreham. I've lived there for nearly 11 years in which time one bike shop has closed and two have opened. I wasn't really into cycling when the first shop closed, but by the time M's Cycles opened, all that had changed. Recently M's Cycles moved premises into a prime retail location on Shoreham High Street. In equal measures, amazingly, and unkindly, not 6 months later a Giant cycle superstore has opened, 50 meters away. Talk about unlucky. 

The owners if M's Cycles, John and Maria, were fairly upbeat by the prospect of the local competition being literally across the street. They were adament that they local cliental would see them through. Personally, I wasn't so sure. The new Giant shop is impressive; one of only nine in the country. It's run by the ower of an already successful cycle shop along the coast in Seaford, called Mr.Cycles. There's at least 50 bikes on show, everything from commuter and urban bikes to fully fledged Tour level bikes worth > £5000. However, it's a brand other than Giant you're looking for - you're looking for, you're out of luck. they only represent that brand. M's on the other hand is orientated towards family riding and with it 'Saracen' - but stock home-grown UK manufacturer Genesis as well as Bianci. Not only that, if there's something you want specifically, then there's every chance John will be able to get it for you.......

To be fair the guys in the Giant store seem perfectly knowledgeable. But they are employees and lack obsessive interest that John and Marie have - and that's primarily because it's their business. Their care, attention and personal service reflects this. John is a qualified Cytech mechanic. What he doesn't know about isn't worth knowing. His (sometimes brutal) honesty and professionalism belies a genuine interest in bikes and the folks who ride them. So whilst it's not necessarily the distinguishing feature, personal service is a key feature of the LBS. Here's another example. Just prior to going on Cycle Oregon, I asked John to tweak the bike ready for the trip. However, I didn't want to go the whole hog on a service because it would need 'the full treatment' once I got home. John put the bike through it's paces and charged me for parts only. Tt still took him 45 minutes to sort out, but it was done on the understanding the bike will be serviced properly by him later on in Septemer. I doubt whether the Giant store would have considered that. 

In my opinion there's enough business to go round for everyone. However, for consumable type items, I don't think you can beat the offers that wiggle, et al can provide. For example, I can buy a Conti 700cc inner tube for around £4 on wiggle - in the LBS it's closer to £6. Likewise with tyres. My favoured ride, Conti GP4000S retail at about £36 on wiggle, verses £40 + locally. The amount and variety of stock held by these on line retailers CRC is also incredible. My wife had an accident recently towing the AT2. Luckily both she and the boy were fine, but it was sufficient to snap the nylon inner within the hitch assemble. I was convinced I would struggle to find a replacement. CRC had stock. Within 3 days had received and fitted on the trailer. Just fantastic service. Same with wiggle. With consistently good service, they are my initial point of reference when searching for cycling paraphernalia. 

And then there's Halfords. Until the affiliation with Boardman, they concentrated on the low end of the market with their brands Apollo and Carrera, as well as stocking GT. If you just want bike that goes from A to B, then an Apollo bike might suffice. Moreover, you can get it checked and serviced on site by qualified technicians. However, I'll wager the service will not be as thorough or as knowledgable as the LBS or the branded superstore, but it will probably do the job. It depends on you're looking for and how much you're spending. With their recent tie up with Boardman though, Halfords have successfully entered a part of the market that was hitherto out of reach. And in doing so has eroded some of the Market share enjoyed by the better promoted brands such as Specialized and Trek as well as those offered by the LBS. 

In conclusion, there is a place for the LBS, but in order for it to survive in it's present niche, it needs to continue to focus on the things that make it stand out - because fundamentally it's basic not offering is not any different from the competition. Toy can draw parallel's to buying food from a Farmers Market. I know I can buy it from Tescos cheaper, but it's going to be better quality plus the person who served me probably produced the food. Same difference here. So let's just agree that the next bike I am going to buy (imminently) will be bought from an LBS......and the Giant store will have to live and fight another day.

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