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Fred Clements: Your local bike shop: great, OK, or distressing?

Published August 26, 2013
A blog by NBDA executive director Fred Clements

Editor's note: This blog post was written by Fred Clements, executive director of the National Bicycle Dealers Association. Clements' previous blogs can be read on bikedealerblog.wordpress.com.

What does a really good bike shop look like? What is the shopping experience like? Is there a fair and reasonably objective way to define great bicycle retailing?

There are a lot of opinions about independent bike dealers, not all of them positive. Online cycling forums regularly burst into spasms of debate about the local IBD, the good and the bad.

There you find a mixture of trolls, (bike shops suck because they wouldn’t loan me a tool, they tried to charge me for an adjustment, they wouldn’t take back a four-year-old bike), good people who received poor service (they ignored me, the bike doesn’t fit me, the repair didn’t work), the asleep (I don’t know, I don’t care, you talking to me?), and fans (I love my local shop, they saved my life, I want to marry them), and many variations on these themes.

Aside from “I’ll know it when I see it,” is there a way to fairly judge a store’s performance?

The National Bicycle Dealers Association believes so, and is launching a new program, America’s Best Bike Shops, to define the attributes of a great bike shop, and measure the performance of stores against that standard. Ultimately, the designation of being one of America’s Best Bike Shops should help consumers differentiate between the professionals dedicated to serving customers, and weak businesses that too often disappoint.

The criteria, as created by a team of independent bicycle dealers, are straightforward. The stores are required to apply, to have a mystery shopper evaluation of their store, and to be evaluated in key areas. Points are assigned to each store’s performance. Those that reach a certain level become one of America’s Best Bike Shops. Those that don’t reach that level will know why.

Some of the areas:

  • Customer support: What does the shop do to provide exceptional customer service, to encourage returning customers, and to motivate customers to tell their friends about the store?
  • Knowledgeable staff: What does the store do to ensure that team members are experts, and keep up to date on the latest technology?
  • Operational excellence: What systems does the store have in place that ensure the store will run smoothly such as managing inventory, employee expectations, policies, and procedures?
  • Community involvement: How does the store make an impact on the community? Examples are charity participation, public education campaigns such as safety training for schools, local bike rides and events, racing team, races, bike rodeos, bike rentals, maps of trails, membership in local retailer associations, etc.
  • Local advocacy: What is the store’s local bicycle advocacy involvement in promoting bicycling, trail conservancy, Safe Routes to School, Bicycle Friendly Communities, local cycling associations, etc.?
  • National bike advocacy: What is the store’s bicycle advocacy involvement in promoting bicycling, trail conservancy, Safe Routes to School, cycling associations, industry events (such as National Bike Summit) etc.?
  • Mystery shopping: What is the store like from a customer’s perspective? Each applicant is visited by a mystery shopper who goes through the sales process and evaluates the store, including a web site review and how the phone is answered.

There are 500 possible points assigned by an independent party, with 370 the minimum for being one ofAmerica’s Best Bike Shops. Approximately 150 stores will be designated in 2013, out of over 300 initial applicants received after nationwide promotion.

This will by no means be a comprehensive list of all the great bicycle retailers in existence, and it’s not meant to be.

But it’s the first time bike shops have been evaluated and rewarded based on reasonably objective, and fully-disclosed, criteria.

This will be a great group of stores. More will be added in the future. There’s a lot of great bicycle retailing in this country and the NBDA wants to acknowledge them. Please stay tuned.

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