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Old 06-15-11, 06:44 PM   #1
adlai
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How Could a Bike Shop Carve out a niche nowadays?

Like the title says. How can the small guy compete against the big guy, nowadays?
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Old 06-15-11, 08:56 PM   #2
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A good question...I mean think about it...your Bricks and mortor while available the cost is the problem...the end result is having to Inflate the price of Everything just to keep the lights on...The only answer is to open a workshop and get a fee for the space,,,but the "element" might see the tools as tempting...
The service will Justify the cost of some things but you have to move product and most people today cannot see putting 3 to 5 hundered on a bike they might ride 3 days a week in the summer without rain...
my only idea would be a duell buisness to share the bills....
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Old 06-15-11, 09:44 PM   #3
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If I could sum it up, I would say service and expertise. True, cheaper alternatives can be found at places like Wally World, but do the associates working there have enough brains to determine the right type of bike for your needs? To the average person who would only ride 3 days a week in a season or two of the year, a cheap brand bike might suit their purpose. Some of those average joes realize that the bike needs to be tuned up so shortly after purchasing, and find a bike shop and realize that the services provided, as well as the expertise given, can be worth the few extra bucks they spend on their next purchase. If a shop can offer reliable service it can set itself apart from the wally worlds and online competitors, because neither one can come close to actual people who know how to work on bikes and size them to your needs and budget.

In terms of making a profit, I dunno, I don't own a business or plan to in the near future, lol.
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Old 06-15-11, 10:05 PM   #4
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1. Cater to kids, fix their flats for free, make them welcome in the shop. Their parents will come in by default.
2. Customer service must be impeccable! This is something no one can get off the web.
3. Sex sells. Hire a very cute, flirty girl to work the front counter. Might be sexist but its been proven over and over. A smart one will know when to turn it up and when to turn it off.
4. Open a couple of "do it yourself bays". Don't get greedy and think you have to do all the wrench work. There's no profit in small jobs like flats and adjusting SIS issues. Let someone come in, do it themselves, and taunt them with impulse buys placed around the shop.
5. Stock parts on hand. Don't tell someone you can "get it for them". With the internet, we can all get it. They came in because they need it now, before tomorrows ride. (they also came in because you have the hot chick at the counter, but we can't admit that since the feds will be all over us).

There's hundreds more...use your head. There are many, many independent bike stores in the world doing just fine. But they are smart about it. Don't start a business with less than a years operating expense in the bank, you'll need the capital. If you think I'm wrong, try it - I dare you. You'll be in the tank in no time.

Start with a smart business plan. Walk through many successful businesses and observe what they are doing (not just bike stores). Many are simply brilliant, they have you tricked into buying stuff without you even knowing it.

If you're out of work, in personal debt, have no capital, and are opening a bike shop just because you need a job - you'll probably fail.

Be realistic, opening a bike shop is a lot of work and not always fun (you'll probably organize the saturday rides, but not get to go).

Flat.
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Old 06-16-11, 02:15 AM   #5
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Considering the cost of a brick and mortar based business, with having to pay employees, insurance, electricity, water, tax, it get's expensive quick. The worst part to all of this is that the consumer has recognized that the price online will almost always tend to be lower than what you can provide.

If I were to open a shop, I would do it on wheels. I would buy an old fashioned stream line RV that is in good mechanical order and then strip out the interior. There is enough space in there to have a supply room, a bike room, and a work station. I would create a great website that would have a gps location of where the RV is and I could either drive customer to customer, attend big events to assist with quick fixes, or drive around rotating from location to location. It's moving advertisement as well.
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Old 06-16-11, 03:04 AM   #6
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Old 06-16-11, 05:32 AM   #7
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I like the free work space idea a lot, actually. Like, set up one or two bike stands and allow people to use them in like 30 min to 1 hr increments. Provide advice, etc. Build loyalty that way.
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Old 06-16-11, 05:33 AM   #8
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In Japan, there are many small bike shops that seem to do well by focusing strictly, on a niche market. e.g Folding bikes and minivelos, or utility bikes - and nothing else.

I think that could work if your city is big enough.

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Old 06-16-11, 08:32 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by adlai View Post
I like the free work space idea a lot, actually. Like, set up one or two bike stands and allow people to use them in like 30 min to 1 hr increments. Provide advice, etc. Build loyalty that way.
I like the idea as a consumer. As a business practice, no. If you have a business your watchword must be liability. Never underestimate human greed & stupidity. A guy running a screwdriver through his hand can find a reason to blame you.
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Old 06-16-11, 08:44 AM   #10
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In Japan, there are many small bike shops that seem to do well by focusing strictly, on a niche market. e.g Folding bikes and minivelos, or utility bikes - and nothing else.

I think that could work if your city is big enough.
Pretty much what I was going to say. Identify the biggest (and/or wealthiest) cycling subculture in your city that isn't currently being catered to by one of the other shops and cater to them.
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Old 06-16-11, 11:34 AM   #11
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In my opinion, bicycles are very underadvertised. I'm completely serious! You and I may notice bike ads, but the general public do not.
Capitalize on all the free advertising and goodwill you can generate, with the goodwill being the preferred advertising method:

"Where'd you get the cool bike?"
"I got it downtown from XYZ. They were great!".
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Old 06-16-11, 11:47 AM   #12
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- Unique bikes: Identify brands and models that are not carried elsewhere in town, such as cargo/utility bikes, recumbents, etc.
- Service: Not only service in the shop, but support group rides, even informal ones, with a visible presence.
- Group rides: Speaking of which, run and participate in group rides.
- Facebook: Get in with the local cycling scene, friend people with Facebook or other social media, use it occasionally to publicize specials (if you do it all the time, people will automatically delete it as spam, but once every two weeks or a month, especially if spotlighting a new or unusual product, and people will read it).
- Local advocacy: Spend the time at City Hall to support local cycling advocacy such as bike lanes. Strongly support the efforts of others in this area or, if necessary, spend some time to learn what the local community needs in terms of bike infrastructure/laws and spearhead the effort to get it.
- Be a Third Place by providing a lounge area, perhaps some snacks and drinks, etc. If you don't want to buy the refreshments, sell them on the honor system with a box or jar for money. Virtually all your regulars will be good about it, and maybe once in a while you get stiffed. Meh.
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Originally Posted by bragi "However, it's never a good idea to overgeneralize."
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Old 06-16-11, 11:53 AM   #13
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I like the idea as a consumer. As a business practice, no. If you have a business your watchword must be liability. Never underestimate human greed & stupidity. A guy running a screwdriver through his hand can find a reason to blame you.
If you are going to do the free work area thing, don't offer it openly; rather, use it as a perk for regulars. If a guy comes around regularly and spends a fair amount of money, and wants a simple wheel truing, take him over to the stand and supervise him while he does it, for instance. A shop here did that for me. I used there stand a couple more times, then I bought my own truing stand and spoke tension meter from them.

Understand that not everyone will do every job, but lots of people can handle some level of wrenching for themselves. The stuff that's over my head, though, I'll still pay the shop to do it.
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Originally Posted by bragi "However, it's never a good idea to overgeneralize."
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Old 06-16-11, 11:56 AM   #14
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One of the cooler things a local bike shop owner did was to get business cards made up that are stickers. The colorful logo on one side can be peeled off and stuck to your bike or whatever, and is free advertising. The backing is heavy enough stock that even after the sticker is peeled off, the printed shop info can be kept in the wallet for future reference.
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Originally Posted by bragi "However, it's never a good idea to overgeneralize."
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Old 06-16-11, 12:02 PM   #15
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Oh... one other thing: Don't alienate the other LBSs in town. If you have a niche the others don't will, you would want them to recommend your shop (and you should do the same if you know another shop can serve a customer much better than you can). It sounds counterproductive, but it seems like all the LBS owners around here speak well of each other and at times will send them to another shop if the other shop is clearly superior in a given area.
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Originally Posted by bragi "However, it's never a good idea to overgeneralize."
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Old 06-16-11, 12:14 PM   #16
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Frankly what Flat said.
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Old 06-16-11, 03:59 PM   #17
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Just from what I've observed locally. Don't carry the same replacement component or expendable parts Wal-Mart or Sports Authority does. These items have to be a brand that discerns itself from that customer or price point. Bikes, higher end brand and slightly pricier to most expensive models. Bike Techs that can turn around repairs instantaneously. Most of the lbs around here carry a limited number of brands with little or no overlap in the brand territory, unless it's used. Carry a full line of products, including jerseys, shoes, pants, helmets. I guess there's no way around inventory. Otherwise you're starting out as an internet bike shop, and that doesn't hurt to ebay for sales either. The lock I wound up getting off the internet was actually from a bike shop some 30 miles one direction away in the same city I live, they offered an good deal and S&H turned out to be less than the round trip on $ 4/gallon gas at the time. So don't short or underestimate Amazon, ebay and internet sales.
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Old 06-16-11, 04:08 PM   #18
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I've never seen the DIY bays, I think another hit that on the head for liability, it's one thing to lend a tool, but provide a work area with bench and so on ? The only DIY area I've ever seen is out in the parking lot or on the sidewalk. Maybe the front of the store, but that was only for free air. I wouldn't, as a customer, even in an emergency, impose on the bike techs livelihood. If I'm going to do it myself, I'll ride the bus home with the bike on the front rack that the bus has and get the parts and fix it at home with my own tools. Otherwise in an emergency, the bike tech and shop does the parts and labor.
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Old 06-17-11, 02:51 AM   #19
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I understand about taking food out of a guys mouth and all but the skills need to learned somewhere...Tools are needed, and wheels need to be trued....the fact is that LBS offer High end products and tend to keep the toys to themselves....The liability is the thorn in this but I still think offering classes could possibly work????
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Old 06-18-11, 11:26 PM   #20
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The liability problem could probably be solved with a simple waiver.
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Old 06-19-11, 08:01 AM   #21
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It seems the only segment of the bike service business not being pressured is the bike mechanics instruction business.

Call up UBI and Barnett and find out what the wait is to take a course - and the price...

Perhaps offer instruction and use of the bays to those who have completed instruction.
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Old 06-19-11, 08:56 AM   #22
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How? You try and survive long enough until you figure it out.

In our town we have a store on a bike commuter route with showers, indoor parking, four DIY bays, and great mechanics. www.freewheelbikecom (midtown location)

There's another one next to a bike trail that does $33 tuneups. 33bikes (facebook)

Another store which does a lot of mixing and matching, Rivendell lite so to speak. hiawathacyclery.com

One store in a very hip part of town which does recumbents, folding, and box bikes. www.calhouncycle.com

A campus bike store doing Singlespeed and fixed styles. www.Varsitybike.com

BMX, urban, and skate www.atlbikeboard.com

Used bikes and used bike parts http://www.sunrisecyclerympls.com/

Boutique builds and coffee http://www.oneononebike.com/

Higher end smaller companies www.angrycatfishbicycle.com

Really expensive carbon bikes www.excelcycle.com

Non profit orgs www.sibleybikedepot.org

.
.
.

etc.
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Old 06-19-11, 09:10 AM   #23
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Excellent customer service, especially for repeat customers.
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Old 06-21-11, 04:46 PM   #24
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Since repairs are where an LBS can compete against big box + internet, you need a location near a bike path used by many people. You may need to work out of a truck that can reposition to where the flat tires are occurring.

Bike coops that rehab old bikes I have seen working, they require special 'people' skills you might not have. http://www.secondlifebikes.org/

If you can organize people, repair classes, and bicycle events is a possibility.

I think one problem LBSs have is they are located in placed that made sense pre internet, like low foot traffic strip malls and out of the way places with low rents. Post internet those places cannot compete with big box + internet.

It is also possible that opening a shop near a walmart might work. I attended burning man once. I bought a $50 bike at wally world and paid a bike shop about 1000 ft away to bring it up to speed. I also bought a mini pump and multi tool, which cost more than the bike. I remember spending nearly $100 there altogether on stuff you could fit in backpack pack. So I think the LBS made out all because they were near WalMart. I personally think walmart would be wise to promote local LBSs and other businesses.
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Old 06-22-11, 08:11 AM   #25
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In my opinion, the answer is to carry bikes that other places don't have.

I'm spending 6 weeks of my summer working at an internship in the DC area. Brought my mountain bike, knowing I wanted to sell it and get a roadie. I thought that I could see lots of interesting bikes and brands I could not see in the shops back home in the KC area. For the most part, I was wrong. The same 4 or 5 bike companies (Trek, Specialized, Cannondale, Giant, Felt) have taken over the entire biking industry. No matter what brands a bike shop's website may say they carry, their actual inventory is dominated by one or two of the big 5. The 8-10 bike shops here carry the exact same stuff as the 4 or 5 bike shops back home.

In a metro this size, I found only one shop that stocked a decent selection of other brands, and wound up buying a Pinarello.

Now, I realize that these other shops are probably just following customer demand, and just like everyone has to listen to the same band and wear the same clothes to feel cool, a lot of people think they need one of those major-brand bikes to feel good about themselves. So maybe my take isn't a profitable one.

But it's definitely what will attract me initially.

What will keep me, though, is service and a generally upbeat attitude. I ran into a closer bike shop with some NOS Campy brake levers I was trying to put on my bike, and they were really helpful with making sure I knew everything I needed to know, and had all that I needed, to install them properly.
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