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James Stanfill: Change is not simply coins

Published August 15, 2019

By James Stanfill

James Stanfill is the President of the Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association and the founder of A Better Bike Biz

Over the past three years, I've personally attended every industry event (within reason). A few of these events spent big money on bringing in big outsiders to talk about the future. Sure, it's great to listen and be awed and engaged by their story, but c'mon ... real change starts within.

I'm sure there is no shortage of great verbiage around that simple term "change." What are we, as bicycle retailers, doing to change? Did we dump the brand that was forcing us to take on volumes of debt? Did we rework our business model to meet the demands of today's consumer? Did we downsize our retail footprint? In all the meetings, seminars, conferences and events I attended, those were never the recommendation. We hear the terms omnichannel, multichannel and branded-store kicked around. We can see that it happened with some brands (if they want to openly admit it or not), that over the past decade, they did a good job of ensuring their success.

When jobs, families, careers, houses and even sometimes marriages are on the line, why are we all so resistant to change? Are you afraid that you are going to lose a customer because you raised your service rates by $5? If it's a fear, then do the math: how many repairs make up what the value of that one customer might have been? Even better, who showed you how to calculate the value of every customer you have?

Our industry is going through dramatic change, but it is change that is being dictated by people and companies who shouldn't have any impact on your business as a bicycle shop. The only influence of change you should care about at the retailer level is your customers' needs.

In today's internet age, people are shopping online and they may or may not come into your business until they have a question the internet can't answer, or a task the internet cannot complete for them. Time and time again I hear about shops who refuse to install parts purchased on the internet ... WHY WOULD YOU SAY NO TO LABOR DOLLARS? The only thing happening here is that you lost that customer to the shop down the street, the mobile shop, or a smart mechanic who is making their own way.

Labor is one of the most highly profitable departments in your business; if it isn't, then you are doing it wrong. That is a bold statement, but if you have, are, or are willing to do the math, you will discover this simple fact. Now, the arguments that the service department alone cannot support the bicycle shop ... 100% true unless you operate a service-only business, are very service focused, or have properly adjusted your business model over the years.

Why do you need 10,000 square feet of retail space? Practically every product in your store could be purchased online and arrive later that day or the next day in most cases ... why should the retailer become the brand warehouse and hold that inventory? Sure, that won't work in every instance, but it would work in most. Bicycle shops don't need to be in the strip mall in the most expensive cost-per-square-foot area. Sure, it's flashy, but also expensive, and you must be making 40+ points on every retail item sold if you hope to stay open for a long time.

Why can't the shop be in a place that is just outside that costly zone, in a space that is set up to be customer forward and an open welcoming service department? If you want to have retail items and it makes sense, then do it, but sell things that are curated for your client base, and things that the internet can only compliment and not exactly compete with.

If you want to change, do it. Do not wait for the word to come down from the top of the mountain. Do not wait for your distributor or brand to tell you it is time to make some changes. When they are telling you to change it is already too late. The hardest hit are almost always those at the bottom of the pyramid, and when you get to the top there are so many buffers it becomes a long delay for the reality of needed change. We at the shop level feel the need for change every day: the asking of why a company is asking us to do X, Y or Z ... the wondering when things will change. Just don't wait. Control your future and create the change you need to support the people who depend on you; your employees, your family, their family, your community and your customers.

Change begins within.


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