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Working in a bike shop part two: The Customers

   I wrote this in the middle of summer when the bike madness was sweeping the country. I was helping at my neighborhood bikeshop tuning bikes. Then, when big orders would come in at Longmont Bicycle Company I'd bring my girls in after-hours and together we would unbox and assemble the new bikes. I'd pull bikes from the box, the girls would cut off the shipping material and put wheels on. It was a great experience.

But when the summer was in full swing, bikes and parts were in high demand. People got a little crazy and I came home and wrote some of it down. I didn't publish it at the time, because it sounded pretty negative. Now it just sounds kinda humorous. And I'm no longer annoyed by some bike people, now I love everyone. So I present you with a small glimpse into world of a small bike shop in mid-summer 2020...

The country is still experiencing an unprecedented demand for bicycles and all cycling accessories and parts. Tubes and tires are in high demand with Amazon at one point raising the price to $24 for a standard 26" tube. The initial surge of bike repair has drifted off slightly, but more bikes are dropped off at the shop every day. For most repairs, customers are told to expect a two week turn around.
  So imagine our surprise when a customer rolled their bike  though the doorway and stated, "This shifter is broken, if you don't have one in stock, you're going to have to come up with some sort of work-around by Thursday."

  I've been a lifelong bike shop customer, I'm sure I've asked some dumb questions, I've definitely loitered and kept employees from being productive. At the old Bike n' Hike shop I would let my daughter take laps around the floor on the new strider bikes. I would do it while chatting with Rick the owner, and he never seemed to mind. But, it may have been annoying. I think the most common issue I brought to the bike shop was the search for some obscure or non-existent part. Oh, and I've certainly pulled a move where I buy the same thing in three different sizes, then come back later and return two of them.
   I know what kind of customer I've been. Working at the bike shop has introduced me to all the other types of customers that I didn't even know about. The Do-It-Yourselfer is one category. I think I fall in this one, I just wasn't aware that DIYers have such a wide spectrum. 
  Replacing tubes. Easy job for some people, mystical alchemy for others. I sold a set of road bike tubes to a guy, he was fairly confident he could handle the swap. Later that day he rolled his bike into the shop on flat tires and asked if we could put tubes in. We asked if he still had the tubes he bought earlier, and with grim defeat he slowly shook his head side to side. Road bike tubes can be incredibly difficult to install without pinching holes in them. Every good DIY rider should be able to realize the limits of their abilities.
  Another recent DIY customer needed a new rear derailleur. He bought the derailleur and declared he would install it himself, later he returned triumphantly having completed the repair. The Boss said, "Great job! now it shifts into each gear?"
To which the customer replied, " Well, it's got five out of eight, and that's good enough for me."

The DIY people are easy to deal with, because they have a basic understanding that parts need to move and perform mechanical tasks. If they don't understand something at least they smile, nod and pretend they do, and they are usually nice.
  We also get people who aren't nice. People who are A holes. An A hole isn't a specific bike shop customer, because it is a lifestyle. These are the people who send food back at a restaurant, or write nasty Yelp reviews of small businesses. Here is how they behave in a bike shop. Some dialog is actual and some is only imagined.
A hole: So, I just brought my bike in for a tune-up and now your telling me I need brake pads and a new wheel? I don't understand how you can justify these additional parts!
Us: Well, your back wheel has a really bad flat spot. This caused the rim to cut ridges in your pads.
A hole: I don't understand anything you just said, I'm not a bike mechanic, that's why I brought it to you.
Us: Ok, Just take a look right here at your wheel where it stops being round...
A hole: I don't know what I'm looking at, it looks fine to me.
Us: Imagine you draw a circle on a piece of paper, then you erase a section of the circle. Now connect the shape back together but with a straight line. That's what your wheel looks like.
A hole: It was all working perfectly before I brought it in here for you to work on.
Us: Then why did you bring it in for a tune up?
A hole: How did that even happen? 
Us: That's a great question, have you ever ridden this comfort bike off of a roof?

   I like to hang out in bike shops, I like to check out the new bikes even when I have no intention of buying one. I like to paw through the super-discount clearance bin. I like to talk bikes and biking with the employee who's working the sales floor. Up until three months ago this was perfectly acceptable behavior. But the pandemic has had huge and varying effects on shops. 
   One bike shop owner explained to me that his $15/hr employees fell into the category of workers who could make more money on unemployment than they could coming into work. Another shop went to curbside service. This works for someone swinging by to purchase a specific part, but kills any sales based off of browsing the shop and making impulse buys. These disadvantages are stacked on top of the massive back-orders and out-of-stock on all popular items.
   On the other hand, service at every shop booked out for weeks.  Where I'm working, is mostly a service shop. All but two sales bikes were sold out months ago, and there is not a large showroom with racks of cycling clothing to browse through. The shop does not have a designated floor sales person. When a customer comes through the door, one of us stops repairing bikes at the work stand and goes to help them.
  So we try to interact with people like things are normal, but they really aren't. We hear the door chime ring, stop working on a bike and get ready to disappoint who ever just came in.
"Hi, I'm looking for a helmet?" "Ok, we have these two XXSmall's"
"Hi, I'm looking for a bike to ride on the bike path?" "Ok, we have these two high-end mountain bikes, one is $3,000 and the other is $3,500."
   You might think that the conversation ends there and we could get back to the repair stand, but it doesn't.
What follows is a slow explanation of how a global pandemic effects a complicated multinational supply chain. After that, the follow up question is usually, "Well, do you know where I can get one?"
At that point, The Boss usually calls me over. I stop working on the bike I was fixing. Together we start calling all the bikeshops in the front range and asking about their inventory, then we scroll through Craigslist and check the used market.
  After an exhaustive search we proudly announce to the customer, " Good news! I located a large size helmet in your price range over at Longmont Bike Co!"
"Yeah, I was already over there, that helmet is red, I'm not wearing a red helmet."




 

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