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The death of LBSs as we know them. Reborn as Jiffy LBS?

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The death of LBSs as we know them. Reborn as Jiffy LBS?

Old 02-07-18, 02:12 AM
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raria
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The death of LBSs as we know them. Reborn as Jiffy LBS?

Apologies for the long post but I've been thinking about this a lot lately and even thinking of investing in my idea and would appreciate feedback.

Let me begin by saying, I like LBSs and have been around them all my life. I bought my early bikes from them, then I learnt to build bikes with their help, then I was a steady consumer. Hecked I even "volunteered" in one recently (see Anyone ever volunteered at their LBS?).

It was this last stint where I clearly saw the writing on the wall, especially as the employees and owner would often talk about the situation openly. Amazingly this was/is a very popular shop (I won't name them as the volunteering bit will get them in trouble) in a very pro-bike area. So they are in the best possible circumstances and even they know the end is near.

Sales Side


1. As a 1st year "wrench" I could see the two parts to the business service and sales were not evenly match. The sale guy (and the owner) really didn't have much to do all day. Online sales by places like Amazon/BD/Nashbar etc took away a lot of the low level sales and even some high end sales.

2. But those low level bikes (think a $500 Claris equipped road bike) are pretty damn good and don't need much maintenance or even to be upgraded. We'd get a lot of people buying those and asking us to set it up and then we'd never see them again. Claris is only 8 speed, but it works well for a long time.

3. Youtube and professional channels like GMC and Arts Cycle mean even the most mechanically challenged person can put together and tune a bike if they have enough time.

So its a perfect storm of: i) Trickle down effect giving high quality inexpensive components, ii) direct to customer sales and iii) Ample accessible information.

Now with high end manufacturers like Cannon the high end bike market is being eroded. But realistically most LBS would be lucky to sell 2-5 $2000+ bikes a week on average, not enough to even cover the rent. Pre-summer we'd sell 10+ a week, but there were many weeks in the dead of winter where we wouldn't even sell 1.

But there is hope!

Service Side


There was of course one-of-work (move my components from bike x to frameset y) but that's rare. Due to better quality components most people now do *not* bring in their bike for a spring tune let alone a fall one (as I did years ago).

But surprisingly there were people who would want almost weekly work done! We had one customer who would ride hills one week, flats another and religiously he would bring in his very expensive Boyd rear wheel on Friday night and we'd change the cassette for him for Saturday pickup.

There were loads of people like this who wanted us to regularly change tires based on weather, stems, rings, wheel sets etc.

I think its the flip side of cheap online retail. People now have many spare parts to bikes but not the time to change them over. So what these people want is quick turn over which most LBS don't do. The cassette on Friday night guy above was an exception (he'd bring the wrenches a good case of beer every month). Like most shops we'd take in a bike and promise to return it a week later.

So I seriously think the future of most LBSs is to reinvent themselves as a jiffy lube style place. Do routine services in a wait/shop-while-your-served setting and they'll make money. This will require a major rethink of how business is done. i hate to say it, but McDonalizing service is the key. Get one guy specializing in changing tires, another adjusting brakes, another adjusting RD/FD and that's all they do each day and they will do it well and quickly. Most importantly, forecasting would be more accurate. Every week we'd get customers who were promised bikes and due to know fault of him (or us) it would get delayed. It would take some serious groveling from the owner not to loose them.

Last edited by raria; 02-07-18 at 02:21 AM.
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Old 02-07-18, 02:48 AM
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Title Should Be "Honest LBS"

Clearly an LBS can make money if they aren't honest about the work they do.

For example many older customers would bring in a mail order bike we'd build it for $90. Then 3 months later they'd bring it back to have the cables, brake adjusted etc. like what we did 20 years ago. But 9/10 times the bike was fine and we'd just return it to them and not charge.
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Old 02-07-18, 05:43 AM
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I think that what you describe is much like how most small shops operate, except they don't have specialists mechanics, they just have one very good mechanic, who may even have ownership. For instance, at the shop I frequent, it seems the vast majority of the service they provide is "while you wait," and they even have a little fridge of sodas and water, and a coffee maker if you want to get a drink while you wait. Bigger shops attempt to make that a profit center (on weekends at least), and may even provide some comfy chairs and a TV - which can make the shop so appealing that people will visit even when they have no intention of buying anything or having any service done. This works for small shops, too. After all, social structure and personal service are "core competencies" of brick-and-mortar establishments. For some, their LBS is their church.
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Old 02-07-18, 07:09 AM
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Originally Posted by kbarch View Post
I think that what you describe is much like how most small shops operate, except they don't have specialists mechanics, they just have one very good mechanic, who may even have ownership. For instance, at the shop I frequent, it seems the vast majority of the service they provide is "while you wait," and they even have a little fridge of sodas and water, and a coffee maker if you want to get a drink while you wait. Bigger shops attempt to make that a profit center (on weekends at least), and may even provide some comfy chairs and a TV - which can make the shop so appealing that people will visit even when they have no intention of buying anything or having any service done. This works for small shops, too. After all, social structure and personal service are "core competencies" of brick-and-mortar establishments. For some, their LBS is their church.
Thanks did this smaller shop sell bikes at all? I'm thinking of an establishment which is just service oriented and only for a small number of high demand services.

Also to be clear, I didn't mean a specialist highly trained mechanic, rather someone whose just good at (trained to do) one thing.
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Old 02-07-18, 07:47 AM
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Originally Posted by kbarch View Post
I think that what you describe is much like how most small shops operate, except they don't have specialists mechanics, they just have one very good mechanic, who may even have ownership. For instance, at the shop I frequent, it seems the vast majority of the service they provide is "while you wait," and they even have a little fridge of sodas and water, and a coffee maker if you want to get a drink while you wait. Bigger shops attempt to make that a profit center (on weekends at least), and may even provide some comfy chairs and a TV - which can make the shop so appealing that people will visit even when they have no intention of buying anything or having any service done. This works for small shops, too. After all, social structure and personal service are "core competencies" of brick-and-mortar establishments. For some, their LBS is their church.
My LBS is like this. It's family owned with very long hours. If I need something done and they have someone their, they'll usually just do it while I browse or just wait. On the weekends it's a little harder to get this service, but for something simple I've never had an extended wait. Hell, after I bought my last bike they needed to change the stem and getting the stem from the manufacturer was going to take some time so they told me they would come to my house and swap the temporary stem out after when they got it. Sure enough a few days later after I ride home from work one of the some showed up and swapped it, outside my apartment.

As long as I'm living here I'll probably continue buying bikes from them just because I appreciate the convenience. Too bad my wife says my bike now had to last ten years before u get a new one.
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Old 02-07-18, 07:56 AM
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Originally Posted by raria View Post
Thanks did this smaller shop sell bikes at all? I'm thinking of an establishment which is just service oriented and only for a small number of high demand services.

Also to be clear, I didn't mean a specialist highly trained mechanic, rather someone whose just good at (trained to do) one thing.
Yes, they sell their share of bikes. It's suburban, so they sell a fair amount of children's bikes, ride-with-the-kids hybrids and trail bikes and pretty much the complete Giant range, though I don't recall ever seeing a new TT bike hanging up. They do usually have TCR in stock and I got my Propel there after seeing it in the window. They just picked up Bianchi, one of which will get a prime spot in the window, but it's not clear how much floor/wall space they'll get. They also sold me the Ridley - the Owner knew how much I liked the model and learned of another dealer who had one he wanted to move.
I got what you meant, and it makes sense for a larger shop to take the division of labor approach. Just that small shops often have just one dedicated mechanic.
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Old 02-07-18, 08:02 AM
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Hmmm...

If one has a waiting line, then in theory, one can keep one's technicians busy. And thus maximize billable hours.

To have good drop in service, one should have at least one technician standing around twiddling their thumbs at all times. So they can say grab a bike change tires, and give it back to the owner a few minutes later.

Or change a chain

Or lube something, adjust brakes, etc.

One could modify that, of course. For example have background tasks such as building new bikes or refurbing used bikes that could be done as time permitted, and then jump to customer bikes when they arrive.

Some customers might allow a morning drop-off/evening pickup. Others might prefer a 30 minute or 1 hour turn-around.

Velocult in Portland has a unique design. Half bar, half bike shop.




So in theory, one could drop off one's bike. Then go have a beer. Then pick up the bike and head home
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Old 02-07-18, 08:18 AM
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Originally Posted by CliffordK View Post
Hmmm... Velocult in Portland has a unique design. Half bar, half bike shop.
So in theory, one could drop off one's bike. Then go have a beer. Then pick up the bike and head home
As soon as I started reading this thread I thought 'Bike'n'bar" where you spend money on expensive ales while spending money on expensive but minor bike work.

I always have good ideas ... about two years too late.
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Old 02-07-18, 08:30 AM
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Originally Posted by CliffordK View Post
Velocult in Portland has a unique design. Half bar, half bike shop.

So in theory, one could drop off one's bike. Then go have a beer. Then pick up the bike and head home
One of the better shops in the area is a bike/coffee shop. They carry some cool gear and make one of the best lattes in town. They're also a couple doors down from a great bakery - dangerous.
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Old 02-07-18, 08:36 AM
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I've thought for a while that the future is going to be something like what @raria describes:

- sales largely moving online;
- small, specialized service-only shops, or even mobile service like Velofix

The key will be making getting your bike serviced as convenient and quick as possible. If shops can sustain a "walk in" model, great. If not, online scheduling is a great alternative.

However, I wonder how much of this is going to require a change in the backend as well. I would often drop my bike off at my LBS (which just abruptly shut down a week ago, one day it's open, the next its shuttered, with no explanation), only to get a call two days later that they needed some part that, of course, they didn't have in stock, and QBP was telling them it would be delivered in a week. In the meantime, I could and did go to to Competitive Cyclist and have the same part in two days, or go to a UK site and have the same part in the same amount of time but at half the cost. I don't know enough to know why suppliers like QBP are so inefficient (monopoly?), but that's got to change as well.
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Old 02-07-18, 08:53 AM
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Originally Posted by blazin View Post
I don't know enough to know why suppliers like QBP are so inefficient (monopoly?), but that's got to change as well.
QBP has a few warehouse locations nationwide, now - the shipping time to LBS is probably more reflective the the LBS ordering schedule than anything; most take orders/payment whenever but only place orders on a specific day of the week. Even though I live in QBP HQ's back yard, it can still take more than a week to get something from them via an LBS if you order on the wrong day. Pricing discrepancies between US/UK have been well documented in countless threads.
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Old 02-07-18, 08:54 AM
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Originally Posted by WhyFi View Post
One of the better shops in the area is a bike/coffee shop. They carry some cool gear and make one of the best lattes in town.

There is one like that just outside of Philly along a very popular bike trail. A short walk along the trail brings you to a brewery/restaurant that is so popular wit cyclists on nice weekends that they have multiple, high-volume racks outside.


As for regularly serving beer at a bike shop, I think insurance (cost) could be an issue.
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Old 02-07-18, 09:33 AM
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in my area, LBS are thriving
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Old 02-07-18, 10:03 AM
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Wow. Those guys think big. I was thinking of just getting retail space near a Safeway.
But a bar would be great. The customer would always leave feeling happy :-)

Now do people agree with my comments on servicing? The nice but inexpensive components we have now has really changed things up.

Originally Posted by CliffordK View Post
Hmmm...

If one has a waiting line, then in theory, one can keep one's technicians busy. And thus maximize billable hours.
So in theory, one could drop off one's bike. Then go have a beer. Then pick up the bike and head home
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Old 02-07-18, 10:13 AM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz View Post
There is one like that just outside of Philly along a very popular bike trail. A short walk along the trail brings you to a brewery/restaurant that is so popular wit cyclists on nice weekends that they have multiple, high-volume racks outside.


As for regularly serving beer at a bike shop, I think insurance (cost) could be an issue.
Yeah, there's also a pub next door to the bike shop that I mentioned - outdoor seating is hard to come by on a nice day. And now that I think about it, there's also a bike shop/cafe in one of the towns east of the Twin Cities (but within a 70-mile ride for someone like me in the eastern metro). Good times and probably not a bad idea to hedge bets with other services.
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Old 02-07-18, 10:39 AM
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Originally Posted by raria View Post
3. Youtube and professional channels like GMC and Arts Cycle mean even the most mechanically challenged person can put together and tune a bike if they have enough time.

But surprisingly there were people who would want almost weekly work done! We had one customer who would ride hills one week, flats another and religiously he would bring in his very expensive Boyd rear wheel on Friday night and we'd change the cassette for him for Saturday pickup.

I think its the flip side of cheap online retail. People now have many spare parts to bikes but not the time to change them over. So what these people want is quick turn over which most LBS don't do. The cassette on Friday night guy above was an exception (he'd bring the wrenches a good case of beer every month). Like most shops we'd take in a bike and promise to return it a week later.

Wow So I clipped the pertinent points out of your post that I am responding to. I can't imagine taking a wheel to the lbs once to swap a cassette much less weekly. I only live about 2 miles from a good LBS but in city traffic with lights in all, I could have changed that cassette back and forth four maybe five times depending on how many lights I hit during the drive. I mean we are talking about a 3 minute task. This is not about time, for this guy at least.

I recently swapped my groupo from a wrecked frame road bike to a cross bike frame and my labor hours was probably at about 3 hours and that included extra time because the Campy crankset didn't fit the frame and I had to buy a MTB crank to fit. That time included pressing multiple bottom brackets and the head set bearings and this was my first ever 100% bike build so its not like I am very efficient in doing the work.

The other thing for me is that I work during the day and in the early evening hours are also busy with my kid's activities so the only time I have to actually go to a LBS during open business hours is on Sunday's and if I am lucky I have a few hours on Saturday's. However some LBS around me are closed on Sunday's. The only time I have to 'shop' for bike stuff during the week is online after the LBS stores have closed. So when I bought my Canyon and subsequent Bombtrack cross bike, they were both bought online and lack of time to go to a store had as much to do with it as the pricing. The bombtrack frame I paid $158 for with shipping included.

If a jiffy lube LBS is going to make it, its not because of time, its because there are enough people out there who are simply just lazy or just completely mechanically inept. Having said that, I think I might want to put stock into this future chain. lol

Last edited by jitteringjr; 02-07-18 at 10:45 AM.
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Old 02-07-18, 11:33 AM
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Originally Posted by ussprinceton View Post
in my area, LBS are thriving
Same here in Philly. At least three new shops have opened in or near my 'hood in the last 5-7 or so years.
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Old 02-07-18, 12:01 PM
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I think you hit on something with the service speed - the thing that keeps me from wanting to drop my bike off for service is the wait! I don't want to leave it for 3 days, a week... I do a lot of my own maintenance but there are some things that a full time mechanic is just better doing.

I tried velofix once and that was pretty slick - make an appt, dude comes to your house and you don't lose any riding time. I wouldn't even mind that at a shop- schedule it so I'm not bikeless for a week.

I do like instant gratification, so I like supporting the LBS but even so, they don't have exactly what I'm looking for much of the time.
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Old 02-07-18, 01:02 PM
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Originally Posted by raria View Post
Now do people agree with my comments on servicing? The nice but inexpensive components we have now has really changed things up.
Hmmm,

I would think one would have to recognize that there are a bunch of different types of customers.
  • Hardcore cycle commuters. These likely are the most independent, and most likely to require carry-out parts. But, emergencies occur too. They'll likely arrive on their bike, even arriving on a broken bike, and expecting to be leaving on a working bike.
  • Softcore cycle commuters. Also often arriving by bike, or by foot with a bike in tow. They'd likely be best serviced by instant service such as flat repair, chain repair, etc.
  • Weekend warriors. Arrive with the bike stuffed in the back of a car. Some are organized, and will accept you fixing the bike... whenever.... Others may be planning a ride tomorrow. So, one has all day to fix it. Of course for some, the shop may well be far out of their way, and rapid service would be nice.
  • Mom & Pops. Also arriving with a miniature bike in the car. Needs may still depend on how getting to the store fits into their schedule.
Keep in mind that some people may arrive with an hour to kill. Some may prefer a drop and run type exchange (but may still want the bike back in a timely fashion).

Some may realize that they have a specialty item that few shops on Earth carry.

And, of course, one might look at types of bicycles.
  • Vintage low-end bikes... make wonderful commuters.
  • Vintage high-end bikes.
  • New Department store bikes
  • Good MTBs
  • Good Road bikes
  • Hybrids
  • Fixies
  • Kids bikes and BMX bikes (some can be quite nice)
  • Touring Bikes.
  • etc.
If one has a good customer base, then one could certainly specialize in one type of bike, and ignore the rest. But, I actually think that is a bad idea. In particular, whenever a shop tells a customer "go away, we don't serve your kind", then the customer may not choose to come back for stuff that the shop does actually specialize in. And, if the goal is to actually compete with "internet sales", then driving customers to the internet may well be a bad thing.

I.E. Carry a variety of parts for the thousand different types of bikes out there. Loose bearings, caged bearings, square taper, ashtabula, ISIS, Octalink (types 1 & 2) steel, aluminum, high-end, low-end, etc. One could choose a single exemplar from each class if one wishes.

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Old 02-07-18, 01:24 PM
  #20  
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Originally Posted by ussprinceton View Post
in my area, LBS are thriving
Same here. All year long good weather helps along with the demographics.
I love my LBS. I'm buying a groupset from them and they will install it. Thought about buying it online and saving some money, but I don't mind doing my part in supporting local businesses.
They have a few good mechanics and at least 2 excellent ones.
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Old 02-07-18, 01:50 PM
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Maybe the key here is to simply cut out the part of the equation that's losing money - the LBS, and simply open a bar.
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Old 02-07-18, 01:54 PM
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Hard to say about local bike shops.

We lost Performance. A huge, beautiful shop. Seemingly well stocked. But, I think they had to fight against a few things. National chain vs small mom & pop stores may lose local connections. The location was also a bit odd. Moderately good freeway access, but perhaps not really close to where one might actually find bicycles, and it was isolated a bit in itself. It was about 1/4 to 1/2 mile from the bike path network, but no real good access to the paths.

We also had a long-time road shop (decades old) that at some point partnered with another local MTB shop, then apparently merged the two shops, and closed the old road shop.

Nonetheless, I think we now have 2x or 3x the number of shops that remained in town in the 80's after the Schwinn shop closed.
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Old 02-07-18, 01:57 PM
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Originally Posted by exmechanic89 View Post
Maybe the key here is to simply cut out the part of the equation that's losing money - the LBS, and simply open a bar.
Probably true, but with hundreds of bars, restaurants, and coffee shops in a city, and a half dozen bike shops, the bars have to do something that sets them apart from the rest.

Plus, I would hope those people that own bike shops actually like bikes, and/or clean energy.
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Old 02-07-18, 02:03 PM
  #24  
WhyFi
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I don't think that it's quite so cut and dry to say that the shops in my area are thriving. The ones that seem to be doing well are the niche shops or the small chains that are increasingly wed to a single manufacturer. I don't get the impression that the old-school mom and pop shops are doing too hot.
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Old 02-07-18, 02:04 PM
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Originally Posted by raria View Post
Apologies for the long post but I've been thinking about this a lot lately and even thinking of investing in my idea and would appreciate feedback.
Consider a mobile bike repair service. You'll have no floor space to rent and can charge a premium for the convenience.

Even if labor was free it usually wouldn't make sense to drive to a shop for drop off and pickup, with that taking more time than doing the work yourself.

Last edited by Drew Eckhardt; 02-07-18 at 02:07 PM.
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