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Guest editorial: Demystifying the Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association

Published December 18, 2018

By James Stanfill

Editor's note: Stanfill is president of the PBMA

Color me just another “old” white guy, but I’m really not that old … I’d like to reintroduce you to the PBMA with this long-winded rant and rave … will it make friends, who knows. I’m an only child so entertaining myself is really simple, getting along with others took years to learn but I am really really good at it now … I can even stand up in front of people and talk … I still get nervous but I can do it, thanks to help from people always pushing me to be better.

The PBMA wants to push everyone to be better … that is the bold statement that will hopefully get you to read the rest of this thing.

We started this thing March 22, 2016 with a call to action of sorts; you can read it by clicking here. We had some ideas, we formed an official board of directors and by September we were at Interbike in fabulous Las Vegas. That show was great, people wanted to talk to us, know what we were doing and meet the people involved.

We formed the PBMA as a 501(c) 6 which means we don’t pay taxes but we aren’t a charity, we are a membership organization focused on its core mission which is: To Promote, Advocate and Develop on behalf of the Professional Bicycle Mechanic. 

Until mid-2016 the term “Professional” and “Bicycle Mechanic” rarely lived side by side. A few places and a number of actual professional working mechanics had used the term (appropriately), yet suddenly by mid year, everyone was hiring and employing Professional Bicycle Mechanics. GREAT! Except one problem — just because you are getting paid to do something doesn’t make you a professional. We debated this publicly as well, you can read it here. People get angry when anyone questions their level of professionalism — a perfect example of what makes a pro and what doesn’t. 

We’ve floated a lot of ideas and information into our industry's trade magazine where you are reading this today. Bicycle Retailer and Industry News has been there, they have posted news releases, opinion pieces from us about wages, how to make more money and the importance of service. You can easily find all of these by going to the search box on their site and typing in PBMA (no less than 3 pages of stuff relating to us, a page per year is pretty solid I think!).

I can assuredly tell you we are not a trade union, and honestly it’s getting exhausting hearing this. We heard it in the beginning, and we still hear it today. Yes, we are gathering mechanics, and yes, we are talking about hard subjects like wages, but no, we aren’t going to tap into the mechanics to strike and hold the industry hostage — who is that going to help long term? Not the industry, not the shops, not the brands, and certainly not the mechanics. They say you can only squeeze so much juice from a lemon … so lets try to grow bigger and better lemons so more juice is available.

 Some people get really angry when we talk about or support something that usurps the traditional shop model. Say "Mobile, Direct-to-Consumer, Service- Only" … man, if we really get into these discussions, some folks' nonprofessional side really comes out.

 Mobile is really important, as it provides a pathway for the mechanic to earn more money. Independent Mobile is huge, maybe three of four hundred are operating in North America, and that number isn’t shrinking. On the opposite side of the spectrum, more shops are closing all the time … why shouldn’t we support a pathway for mechanics to branch out on their own? Why should the mechanic's career end when the shop can’t sustain business?

We didn’t create the internet but we understand it. Consumer-direct is fine, stop hating it and embrace it, find a way to work with it, figure out how to use it to your business's advantage and you’ll win … trust me, simply having someone build you a copycat website isn’t going to win you the internet race.

We need to educate business owners on Google’s Analytics, they need to understand SEO and how search engines function … but is that our job? Not really, but we’ve learned that most shops are small enough to feel a good connection to the service side, one- and two- and three-person operations that aren’t getting this information elsewhere are reaching out to us … so yeah, we might as well start doing that too. (read about all that here)

We aren’t a charity as I noted above. If you’re a shop or a mechanic, you can be a member and the benefits of such become stronger and more relevant daily. We work constantly to create more value for what we as the PBMA are doing for you, and also to create more value for what you do for the consumer. The consumer after all is why we are here — if not, find another business, but good luck finding one that ultimately doesn’t serve the consumer.

If you are a brand, you can’t donate money to us, but we can talk about putting your marketing dollars to work to our vast audience. Our newsletter reaches 7500 people, our following on social media is nearly 10k across various platforms and what started it all was this little Facebook group that now has almost 10,000 members … if you want to work together, if you want mechanics to know what you are doing, we are just a call, email or conversation away and our arms are open.

While it can be easy to say "Facebook so stupid, it's just a bunch of mechanics complaining, crying, blah blah blah" … we've found it's actually a very valuable tool for us and for the industry. It reaches people who are interested in the exact topics of education, mechanics, tools, resources, training and on and on … if you aren’t your company's social-media-numbers-person — go get them … in a year: 2500+ posts, 8000 average active members, 62,000 comments, 117,000 interactions … everything here stems from the conversation we started in March of 2016. some will say "oh there is a consumer in there … this person doesn’t belong" … well we weeded out much of the riffraff which was doing more harm than good, bolstered the moderation of the discussions, and today the Facebook page World Bicycle Mechanic Forum provides an efficient platform for sharing information, best practices, getting questions answered and most importantly sharing what is going on in our world with people who are interested.

Education is important, and our technical education is really important. We can’t simply focus on making sure the best keep getting better. Yes, we want that, but we need to elevate them all, all mechanics, all owners, all managers, all sales people, all product managers … everyone in our industry needs more education, trust me. It could be simple business management, budget writing, planning … diversity training … plenty of education opportunities is my point …

We supported this idea by creating workshops which we couldn’t have done without our partners, who's commitment to education makes it all possible. These workshops are important places for the mechanic not just to learn, but to see that their world is larger than the shop bench, there are others just like them, doing similar things in different ways — it is professional networking.

So in essence, the PBMA is for the longevity of the cycling industry, and mechanics are the backbone of what we all are passionate about … the chicken and the egg, I suppose, but we believe a bicycle isn’t a bicycle until it’s put together and that is what mechanics do. We’ve done so much in the last few years and we don’t plan on slowing down … maybe you’ll join us for the epic ride we're on.

Service is the future … that’s what we say and we mean it … define service as it fits your business model. Service to me is what we do for others, and for us mechanics, it is absolutely inclusive of all we, as an industry, do for others. 

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