Yesterday, Bike Radar published an article offering advice on how to avoid being one of 12 customers that bike shops dread. Judging by the sheer volume of replies in the comment section, it appears as if the average bike shop customer was taken aback by some of the suggestions, and to be honest, we were too. We've listed their 12 "bad" customer types, and why we'd love to work with them.
1. The know it all (keep on knowing it all, and let us in on your secrets)
Sure, it might be kind of weird to quiz us Jeopardy style, but we have less than zero problems with a customer who wants to tell us about technology they are familiar with. Bike shop employees live and breathe bikes full time, but they are not always able to read every new article on emerging technology or have an encyclopedic understanding of all the Schwinn and Raleigh standards from the 20th century. There's a difference between knowing more than a customer and knowing everything more than a customer. The former is likely, the latter is doubtful. Customers should expect to share their passion of a subject with an interested listener.
2. Bringing in a filthy bike (pffft, you should see OUR bikes after a race)
Perhaps it's harder to inspect a bike for micro-cracks or properly adjust cables and threads when a bike is dirty. On the other hand, I've had to repair a bike knee-deep in a muddy cyclocross pit within three minutes. Having some road debris on the back of a seat tube isn't something I'll be up in arms about.
Customers should expect the offer of a bike clean for a price, but should also be treated like a rad rider they are for going on an adventure in the first place
3. The JRA Rider (Sometimes bad stuff does happen to good people)
So obviously fabricating a story will likely get called out by most wrenches, but that doesn't equate to having a "Just Riding Along" story. I'm still amazed at the time my chainstays snapped on my old carbon road bike when I was doing sprint intervals in the park. Just because someone was Just Riding Along doesn't mean it didn't happen.
A customer should expect someone to give an assessment of moving forward, not eye rolling for using a J.R.A. story.
4. 5. 6. 9. Wanting stuff for free, Showroom shopper, Internet parts customer, the haggler (Play with those market forces, baby!)
Why did I group these four customers together? Because in many ways, they are one and the same. Look, the onus is fully on the bike shop, not the customer, for this one. If you have great salespeople and not great mechanics, people will more likely pay full price for a part and haggle down to near free labor. As a customer, I happily pay a premium for good work.
As for internet sales, I really can't get angry at a customer for something I do all the time. Online retailers often have parts that wholesalers are out of stock in, so it's far more than just a matter of saving $4-6 bucks. Sure a shop needs to prioritize making money, but in today's market, there really isn't room for the words "good luck finding someone to install that internet part," because chances are, they will without luck.
7. Poor mechanic (Be excited for trying)
OK, so bicycles are FAR more complicated than online retailers let on. Building a bike is never just a matter of installing handlebars and throwing on the front wheel like plenty of companies suggest. Still, it is within every bike shop employee's power to give a customer a non-condescending explanation of what a good job looks like, and what the full labor entails. A good mechanic will leave a customer thinking "Woah, there's no way someone could afford to build a bike for a customer for ONLY $20!"
8. Leaves it to the last minute (People gotta work)
Look, life gets in the way. Kate once got a dress hemmed the day before a wedding she was a bridesmaid in. The tailor bailed her out rather than shaming her, and now you better believe she's a loyal customer.
10. Truth deniers (We all are)
Again, repeating my point from customer number one: Bike shops are not the gatekeepers of all divine bike knowledge. I have always wished I could be the cycling equivalent of Merlin from "The Sword and the Stone" with a mad wizard laboratory that contained every facet of bike knowledge past, present, and future. That's unrealistic. Practically every customer has the ability to bring something from the table that a shop employee can hear out.
11. I'll just leave it here for repairs... (And thanks for choosing us)
Wait, I know I'm originally from the Motor City, but do all of you call your auto mechanic ahead of time to schedule an oil change? Because I sure don't. A bike shop may not have time to work on a bike in the near future, but it does have time to give any bike a free estimate within a matter of hours and a time frame when the work can be completed.
12. The one that never picks up their bike (wait, you didn't know it was done?)
I'll admit it. This is the number on this list that I agree most with Bike Radar on, if only because I have a soft spot for lonely bikes that want to be ridden. On the other hand, the problem of lingering bikes is usually another example of the onus being on the bike shop. I have literally worked for shops that thought it was okay to not call a customer when the work was done because the work was finished in the same time as the estimate. Of course a shop will have a pileup of finished bikes in that case! Like any relationship, things happen to flow smoother when the lines of communication are open.
Again, the problem here is not the customers. It's the shop not adapting to their customers' needs. Sure, a retail shop is about making money to pay their employees, but that can easily be done without crossing arms and rolling eyes. Setting up an equation where the staff wants to problem solve, the culture is great, and the love of cycling is obvious will result in a place where those 12 customers will be some of your best.