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James Stanfill: Let's educate the consumers

Published October 15, 2019

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

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I'm going to ask a few questions here. If you are brave enough to read through, I really hope you'll add your opinion to the comments below. As an industry, we have gone too long only looking at what we do and talking about it among ourselves in small groups.

Statistics show there are fewer people riding bicycles, fewer bicycles being sold, and — most importantly — fewer kids getting into cycling. While I applaud NICA for its efforts to get kids and teens on bicycles, what is the next step in that evolution? Races are dying (except for gravel, which is actually growing).

Looking at the bigger picture, I think back to a few years ago when there were mumblings about a group of dealers and a "Got Milk"-styled campaign for cycling that then evaporated. Where did it go? Ride Spot, Buy Where you Ride, it would not appear those were momentum-shifting ideas to get consumers into bicycle shops.

Before I get too far into this engaging rant of questions, I should say that I consider a bicycle shop to be any business operating legally per their local governance serving consumers who have bicycle needs. This could be a traditional shop with bicycles for sale, a service department and considerable inventory, or it could also be an enterprise that doesn't sell anything but service, and it certainly could be a mobile unit serving its clients at their place of work or home. I believe strongly that changing our mindset on exactly what a bicycle shop is can become step one in solving the diminishing footprint of the "IBD."

So let's get on with it. You've read this far and are wondering when things are going to get interesting. ....

Question No. 1

You are a bicycle shop — where are you investing your marketing dollars? Are you buying into some brand marketing from your mainline bicycle brand? Are you spending money on social media marketing or local advertising or supporting local cycling events that aren't races?

Question No. 2

If you are a bicycle brand — what are you doing to drive customers into the stores that are supporting your brand? I think ads talking about your latest product are great, but what are you doing to educate your customers on how important their local bicycle shop is?

Question No. 3

If you are a bicycle industry nonprofit — what have you done lately to bolster the idea that the bicycle shop is the most important part of a cyclist's existence? Have you helped drive customers into the shops that are supporting your organization?

Have you given a customer a reason to go to the bicycle shop other than that is where they sell bicycles and get stuff for bicycles?

Before answering the above, consider all of this below.

How about collectively beginning to talk about what happens in the bicycle shop when it's not bicycle, trainer, lock or light sales. How about starting to talk about the experts that work in the shop and how great a resource the shop can be for knowledge, experience, and service.

We are in a new and modern world, and you won't win the internet. A customer can get everything and more delivered to their door with ease. Many brands offer the latest craze of direct-to-consumer, meaning that customer might never set foot into a store.

For those brands, I have a great fourth question: How are you supporting your customer after the sale? A broad warranty policy of "send it back" is great, but that is likely not a good model for brand longevity. How about engaging with bicycle shops (see the definition above if you still don't get it) to be your service and warranty portal. We already know shops are beginning to struggle for business and that most are growing their service revenue; why not be a part of the solution instead of adding to the consumer
mindset that shops aren't needed. I can promise you that you will need them, and you probably already do and just don't know it.

Mechanics are the backbone of the industry. Call it the chicken-and-the-egg, but I am certain that bicycles would not be bicycles if a mechanic did not assemble them. Even at a big box store, a "mechanic" puts the bicycle together; it's just an embarrassing representation of an assembled bicycle. There are a couple of national organizations in our industry that have been going to bat on your behalf as a brand or a bicycle shop for somewhere around 30 years. Where has that gotten us? For a while, they even said not to worry about the internet.

PeopleForBikes has a huge consumer audience riding bicycles. I've suggested before that it begins to talk about the safety elements involved with the technical side of bicycles, a near-perfect platform to help drive customers into bicycle shops. Places to ride are great, but what happens when eventually there is no place to get that ride fixed, or better yet, no place to get it fixed properly and the scary real-world scenario of accidents begins to spike.

Go ahead and laugh, but the people in the bicycle shop can help prevent injury and make cycling safe. I am a big-picture/idea person; however, someone real smart at marketing can figure out how to get that message to the consumer, and hopefully, a group like PeopleForBikes will help deliver the message.

My point in all of this rambling is that for bicycle shops to exist in the future, for them to succeed in the future, for them to have competent and qualified mechanics providing professional service in the future, we need to all come together, set aside our differences (whatever they are), focus on the mission, and deliver a collective industry-wide message about the importance of the bicycle shop. Deliver that message to consumers, not to each other, and not in small groups and special circles.

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