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When are labor charges unnecessary/excessive?

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When are labor charges unnecessary/excessive?

Old 04-22-11, 04:19 PM
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dyrmaker83
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When are labor charges unnecessary/excessive?

Bike shop mechanics, employees or owners:

I'm just trying to figure out if I'm being unfair. I have a LBS nearby who I've liked well enough, but I've recently had two experiences that have not exactly made me happy.

First, I bought a pair of pedals and was charged an install charge. They weren't super expensive, around $40, but it took all of 5 minutes to put them on. Is that normal? Or should I be acknowledging that 5 minutes of labor is still worth a ($6-$8) fee?

Second, I brought in a front rack that I (idiotically) broke off a hex bolt head in. They spent 30 minutes trying to get the bolt extracted and failed. Then, they awkwardly asked if I'd mind a $10 charge for their time. I accepted quietly, but I'm kind of pissed off about it.

I really want to be fair, so let me know if these types of labor charges should be expected or if I'm being a tightwad. I don't think they were appropriate, but I'm sensitive to the fact that they're running a small business.
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Old 04-22-11, 04:28 PM
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Neither one seems unfair - but both sides should agree to the charges beforehand... including even if it's not successful.
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Old 04-22-11, 04:29 PM
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Yes on the pedal install. No on a job not done. That's on them if they take on a job they are unable to complete. I would have asked them if they would mind paying you for your time while you waited for them to not fix your bike rack.
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Old 04-22-11, 04:31 PM
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I don't think those prices are unreasonable at all. They have to make a profit too, and $10 for messing with something for half an hour doesn't sound "unfair." I once paid a shop $5 to pop a cassette off. After that I decided to start buying tools and doing all possible repairs myself. If there's something I can't do (pressing/removing a headset for example) I take the bike to a shop and accept that I have to pay a premium for having them do it.

If you're unhappy with the shop rates get some tools and do the work yourself.

EDIT: oops, I missed the part where the shop failed to fix the rack. In that case, they should've told you beforehand about charging whether they can fix it or not.
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Old 04-22-11, 04:32 PM
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yes running a shop cost money and you need to make money somehow. but since they couldn't get the bolt out they shouldn't has charge you. the pedals yes as you stated a 6-8 fee if they only took 5 mins to do or free too since you got them there.
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Old 04-22-11, 04:34 PM
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I always feel that shops are free to set their own labor rates, and the customer is free to accept or decline. Therefore I never say someone is high or low, rather that the market sets prices.

That said, I'm more on your side here. While they're entitled to charge to install pedals, the accommodation of waiving the install fee would have gone way to gaining good will. As for the second issue, I understand that they want to be paid for time, but I think they should have told you up front, that you'd pay whether they succeeded or not. Otherwise, charging on a contingency fee basis (you pay if they succeed, not if they don't) might have gone down more smoothly.

Way back over 40 years ago, I got good training in retailing at my first bike shop job. My employers bought large quantities of a really high quality bell (chrome platted brass) with the stores logo. We sold these for $3.00 which was decent dough, given that a 3-speed bike sold for $45.00. But every bike sold was delivered with the bell installed - Free. The owners felt that after a sale was made, even if the customer negotiated a discount or freebie, he still wanted to deliver more than the customer expected.

Nothing makes a customer happier than a surprise freebie, so it's not about the money but the principle. Your shop would have been better served say pedal install $5.00 -- but we're happy to do do it free for a good customer like yourself.
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Old 04-22-11, 04:39 PM
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If the bike shop is one which you visit often, and are a regular customer, then my expectation would be that small items of labour would be either tossed in, or heavily discounted. If you are not a regular, then I would expect them to charge for installation of something like a pedal, but not for a job which they could not do.

At the same time, I expect to pay more at the LBS than I would over the internet for parts, specifically because of the staff, the expertise and the local stock.
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Old 04-22-11, 04:46 PM
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These are all good points, particularly discussing charges up front for jobs that may not be fixable. I actually called about the rack before going in and they acknowledged labor cost, but not in the context of not being about to get the bolt out. Oh well, I feel a little bit better, or at least less like I was taken advantage of.

I did learn my lesson on the pedals though. I bought a pedal wrench two weeks later.
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Old 04-22-11, 04:49 PM
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As a mechanic I would have installed the pedals free of charge if they were purchased at said store that was doing the work. I also would not have charged for the failed bolt removal. The job was not completed.

It's worth more to me to have you come back as a repeat customer for major service than to try and nickle and dime you for things like pedal installation.
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Old 04-22-11, 04:51 PM
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Originally Posted by sauerwald View Post
If the bike shop is one which you visit often, and are a regular customer, then my expectation would be that small items of labour would be either tossed in, or heavily discounted. If you are not a regular, then I would expect them to charge for installation of something like a pedal, but not for a job which they could not do.

At the same time, I expect to pay more at the LBS than I would over the internet for parts, specifically because of the staff, the expertise and the local stock.
I'm a pretty decent regular, but not to the extent they know me by name. I bought a good number of parts from them for a bike assembly that I had them do, and paid for. I'm a pretty big believer in supporting local shops, while trying to balance the slightly higher prices with me being a grad student.
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Old 04-22-11, 04:55 PM
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what do you do for a livng? would you do it for free?
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Old 04-22-11, 06:06 PM
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Agree in whith many, but well if they did not have the tools to take the bolt out thats another issue also, many bolt extractors in the market but anyhow. The pedals would have been done free, not even 5 minutes. 30 secs per pedal maybe?

As for the second job, I dont know what to tell you because it depends, i work in IT and many times i do stuff for free or ask 5 bucks just for the fuel when is something really really short. I understand also that a 30 secs job can turn in a 2 hours battle when the things arent working, but I been in the situation when the lbs could not finish the job and they have not charged me. My advice to you is just learn to work in the bike and be more careful because is pretty easy to thread a bolt wrong and brake stuff. On the other hand there are people who really should not grab a tool ever in their hands.

Good luck.
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Old 04-22-11, 06:39 PM
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The shop was perfectly within their right to charge for installation of the pedals. Think of it this way, if you only wanted the pedals and no installation, would you asks them for a discount? Probably not since the list price is only for the pedals. Shops are nickle and diming because business is slow and margins have taken a hit because of more price competition via the web.

They probably should have thrown the installation in if you buy regularly from them, but it's their choice.
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Old 04-22-11, 06:41 PM
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If they were also installing.g cleats in your shoes and instructing you how to use them, yes charge. If they were taking a pedal wrench and just installing, do it free, the markup ok the product should more than cover that. They shouldn't have spent a half hour and not got the bolt out, they didn't do the job, they shouldn't.get paid.
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Old 04-23-11, 12:27 AM
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Originally Posted by bikeman715 View Post
yes running a shop cost money and you need to make money somehow. but since they couldn't get the bolt out they shouldn't has charge you.
I disagree. If you go in for surgery, I guarantee the hospital's going to charge you for it, whether it was successful or not. And if you ask me to spend the shop's $60/hour billable time on your ____________ (bolt extraction, stuck-seatpost removal, or whatever), we deserve to get paid. As others have said, it's best to be up-front about that, so the customer knows it's not a case of DIOYAFT (do I owe you anything for that?).

Installing pedals is so fast that yeah, I'd waive that charge if you bought them from us. Installing fenders, a wired cadence computer, or another relatively time-consuming item... probably gonna charge you, unless you just bought a new bike with them, in which case we'll cheerfully do it all for free
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Old 04-23-11, 01:00 AM
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Looked at the Dealer shop overhead on getting the Car repaired lately?
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Old 04-23-11, 04:23 PM
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Originally Posted by fietsbob View Post
Looked at the Dealer shop overhead on getting the Car repaired lately?
Funny you mention that, my dad owns an auto body shop. He often fixes 5-10 minute problems for customers without accepting payment, and he does the work himself in those situations. He's also built up a pretty loyal customer base, I think as a result. It's a good analogy because, just like the bolt issue, he can't charge people for work that isn't correct or complete.

Oh, well. I'm off to the hardware store to buy an EZ Out or something like it.
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Old 04-23-11, 04:30 PM
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Here are my takeaways from this experience and some of the comments above:

If you own a small business, it's a good idea to install something free if it's 1) easy to do, and 2) you actually purchased the item from the shop. I know they compete against cheaper online business, so I see customer service as their strongest advantage and an arbitrary charge undermines that.

Also, they need to acknowledge that some jobs can't be successfully completed and that labor fees are expected in either case. I should have asked about this myself, so I can't act too surprised. Some jobs, like stripped/broken bolts or stuck seat posts are known to be problematic and risky, so that should be a standard disclaimer.
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Old 04-23-11, 05:47 PM
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They asked for a charge for their time, attempting to do a tricky job. That's a low fee ($20/hr) for abstract mechanical work. That seems fair, but should have been noted ahead of time.

The pedal install charge looks excessive when you consider hourly fees at $8/5min racks up to $96/hr; but they are doing skilled labor for you (it would take you at least 3 times as long the first time, and maybe more; it's not a major operation, it's a convenience). Most automechanic shops charge $70/half hour and round up, so for that 5 minutes you would pay the full $70--or in this case, the full $48.

It's lucrative and it's fair. Small jobs are over-inflated because they are small: they're fast, easy conveniences. I tell people to learn to change their brakes and rotors on their car because it's a light task that costs $50 for parts and takes 40 minutes total for all 4 wheels, but the mechanic charges $168 PER WHEEL. But a full tune-up at the mechanic for $300 is a nice convenience (summer specials like this show up everywhere), even though you can do all that for around $150 in 3-4 hours yourself (and the mechanic can do it in 1).

Is the $150 labor cost at the auto mechanic a rip-off for something you could do yourself in a couple hours, just for 1 hour of easy labor? Not really. Neither is a $5 bicycle labor charge on 5 minutes of work.

As another person mentioned, free install would have been cool for the pedals, since you bought 'em there and it's a real quick job. Major service I wouldn't hand out for free; but when you buy a bike and get a water bottle cage and kickstand and computer and new pedals etc on it, they should put all that stuff on free and give it an initial adjustment. If you want them to do something complicated, well... that's a stretch. I mean the bike should work (initial adjustment), and popping on a water bottle cage or bolting on a rack is a five minute job; but if you want to buy bike parts and have a bike custom built, or something similarly intensive, be prepared to pay for that.

So yeah, since you had the bike there and bought the pedals there, they could have reasonably waived the install fee. Then again, I think it's fine that they charged; it's a few dollars, it's labor, and it's convenient. You could have got a 15mm wrench and done it yourself (I did).
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Old 04-23-11, 05:53 PM
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I wonder what they do when they need to install pedals for a test ride. Do they charge $5 for the test ride?
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Old 04-23-11, 06:00 PM
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If you want something done expect to pay. Otherwise do it yourself.
In the case of the broken bolt you should still expect to pay because the guys tried their best.
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Old 04-23-11, 06:15 PM
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Originally Posted by bluefoxicy View Post
They asked for a charge for their time, attempting to do a tricky job. That's a low fee ($20/hr) for abstract mechanical work. That seems fair, but should have been noted ahead of time.

The pedal install charge looks excessive when you consider hourly fees at $8/5min racks up to $96/hr; but they are doing skilled labor for you (it would take you at least 3 times as long the first time, and maybe more; it's not a major operation, it's a convenience). Most automechanic shops charge $70/half hour and round up, so for that 5 minutes you would pay the full $70--or in this case, the full $48.

It's lucrative and it's fair. Small jobs are over-inflated because they are small: they're fast, easy conveniences. I tell people to learn to change their brakes and rotors on their car because it's a light task that costs $50 for parts and takes 40 minutes total for all 4 wheels, but the mechanic charges $168 PER WHEEL. But a full tune-up at the mechanic for $300 is a nice convenience (summer specials like this show up everywhere), even though you can do all that for around $150 in 3-4 hours yourself (and the mechanic can do it in 1).

Is the $150 labor cost at the auto mechanic a rip-off for something you could do yourself in a couple hours, just for 1 hour of easy labor? Not really. Neither is a $5 bicycle labor charge on 5 minutes of work.

As another person mentioned, free install would have been cool for the pedals, since you bought 'em there and it's a real quick job. Major service I wouldn't hand out for free; but when you buy a bike and get a water bottle cage and kickstand and computer and new pedals etc on it, they should put all that stuff on free and give it an initial adjustment. If you want them to do something complicated, well... that's a stretch. I mean the bike should work (initial adjustment), and popping on a water bottle cage or bolting on a rack is a five minute job; but if you want to buy bike parts and have a bike custom built, or something similarly intensive, be prepared to pay for that.

So yeah, since you had the bike there and bought the pedals there, they could have reasonably waived the install fee. Then again, I think it's fine that they charged; it's a few dollars, it's labor, and it's convenient. You could have got a 15mm wrench and done it yourself (I did).
Your points are well taken. I've learned my lesson and have resolved to do as much work as I can myself in the future. Funny thing is, that is work that could be done by the shop for an expected labor cost.
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Old 04-23-11, 06:24 PM
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If they asked you if you were OK with $10 and you paid them, you haven't got much to complain about. They could have given you the pedal installation as many shops would have, but they aren't obliged to do so. If you experiences with the shop are generally good, I would advise you to chalk up the cost of both jobs to education and supporting a good shop that tried hard to help you out.
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Old 04-23-11, 06:24 PM
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I would expect you to pay for the pedal install if you brought them in from somewhere else. If you got them there (at the same time), I would expect it to be included, but not object if it wasn't. If you don't want to pay $5 to have your pedals installed (I'm assuming we aren't talking cleats on the shoes too) then you should buy a $5 wrench and do it yourself. As for the rack, that's a bit of a toss up. I've had failed jobs at shops a couple times. Generally I'm pleased if I don't have to pay for the time, but understanding if I do.
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Old 04-23-11, 06:30 PM
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Originally Posted by jccaclimber View Post
If you don't want to pay $5 to have your pedals installed (I'm assuming we aren't talking cleats on the shoes too) then you should buy a $5 wrench and do it yourself.
Actually the proper tool for the job costs about $20 (a Park Tool Pedal Wrench), but a $5 15mm wrench does work almost as well (less leverage, wider so sometimes it doesn't actually work--usually it gets the job done).
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