The Angry Singlespeeder: Don’t “Showroom” Your Local Bike Shop
By Kurt Gensheimer April 02, 2013 OPINION
Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at firstname.lastname@example.org. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.
The other day I was at my neighborhood bike shop when I saw this schmucky looking dude trying on some cycling shoes. I too was checking out shoes, but only ones that were on sale because, well, I’m a cheapskate. After trying on three pairs of spendy carbon sole shoes, Schmuck seemed to find a pair he liked. So instead of putting the shoes in the box and walking to the register, he pulled out his smartphone and took a picture of the shoebox.
Considering I still rock a dumb-phone and am clueless about anything related to apps, I asked him what he was doing.
“There’s this cool app that lets me check to see if I can buy these shoes for cheaper online,” said Schmuck. “Yep, here we go. Sweet. I can get these for $75 less on Amazon!”
Schmuck got up, put the shoes back on the rack and walked out the door. For a fleeting second I thought it was a damn good idea for an app, but then I realized something; as much as I think Strava sucks, trying out products at your local bike shop, then using your smartphone to buy it cheaper online is even worse.
What Schmuck was doing is called “showrooming” and it’s become a huge issue for independent bike dealers worldwide. According to marketing research companies Aprimo and Forrester Research, one in five consumers are now showrooming, and one in three leave the store like Schmuck, and then purchase the product from a competitor.
I don’t care if you want to go to Target or some other big box, corporate-owned store worth billions of dollars and showroom a set of cooking pans or a Dutch oven for your wife, but woe to the schmucktard who walks into a local, family-owned bike shop and showrooms.
Hey, here’s a crazy idea. Why not take that pair of shoes up to the counter, show the owner of the shop what you can buy it online for and see if he might be able to work a discount? The bike shop might not be able to sell it as cheap, but you’ll save on shipping, you’ll get personalized service and most importantly, your schmucky cheapskate actions won’t be slowly eroding the business of a local bike shop owner and the entire bike industry as a whole.
If your weak justification for showrooming is that don’t you like your local bike shop anyway, then don’t go there to begin with. Either buy the product online and run the risk that it might not work out, or find a bike shop you like and support them. If you try to use some lame economics 101 justification about “healthy competition”, stop for a second and think; do you care the slightest bit about an industry that provides you with incredible technologies to ride a bicycle further, faster and more effortlessly than ever? More importantly, do you care about the people in the bike industry who work tirelessly every day to make a living?
Of course consumers aren’t entirely to blame. Some online retailers and eBay sellers make matters all too tempting, advertising product prices lower than what a bike shop can even buy them for. Companies like Shimano and Specialized are putting an end to this, cracking down on retailers who sell below minimum suggested pricing (MSP). But there are still plenty of brands out there that can be showroomed.
If you do decide to showroom or choose to buy a product online instead of at your local bike shop, if and when the product breaks, don’t be a colossal schmuck and march into the bike shop you just slighted to demand they warranty it for you. The extra money you pay at a locally owned bike shop is for the personalized service that no online price-finder app can deliver. Who knows, they might even help you find a pair of shoes that fit your feet better and cost less than the pair you just showroomed.
If you’re a true cheapskate who does all his own wrenching and simply refuses to pay full retail for products, then either stick with quality online retailers without showrooming your local bike shop, or better yet, buy what you seek slightly used from private sellers on Craigslist or eBay. There’s always someone who paid full retail for a bike that did nothing but collect dust in a garage, and these gently used bikes can be bought for less than half of retail cost.
In the end, you get what you pay for. The little extra you spend at a reputable, locally-owned bike shop will not only pay off with personalized customer service, but you’ll also feel good in knowing that you’re supporting a fellow cyclist who lives in your community. And most importantly, you won’t be acting like a schmuck.
The Future of Bike Retail new
Written by: Dan Empfield Date: Tue Apr 09 2013
How do you "Support Your Local Bike Shop" while also supporting retail innovators who deliver superior price and service? Is there something unethical about buying mail order? Is supporting the local shop charity or advocacy? I don't think so. My message to whiney bike shop owners is: don't complain, compete. The best among them are competing or, to put it more accurately, they have just begun to fight.
The irony is: if technology, in the form of the internet, has been a weapon used against the LBS, some of that same technology empowers the local bike shop (LBS) to fight back.
But not all of them are fighting back. Some local bike shops are going to fade away. But, since bicycles aren't going anywhere, new opportunities are going to crop up.
The way you get the goods you want will continue to evolve, and for the better. What you'll read below is my best prediction of what the retail landscape will resemble in 5 years, and probably sooner. By "below" I mean both what you'll read below as well as what you'll read over the rest of this week in multiple installments.
Let's talk about our Crackazon habits, and when I say "our" I include you and I — the consumers — along with the brands who make the products you buy, as well as the retailers in the middle who have decided that an Amazon "partnership" is in their interests.
Let's take a look at the world two years ago and the world as it is today.
During this scant two years, Amazon's the big winner and by Amazon I mean those of you who choose to buy using Amazon as a gateway, whether Amazon sells you the product or middles the transaction between you and an Amazon partner store.
The British Invasion hit a speed bump. Pro Bike Kit has lost 25 percent of the head of steam it built up over the past half-decade — among Slowtwitchers — and Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycling, while maybe picking up steam inside the UK or in Australia, remains small and flat inside the U.S. (again, limited to Slowtwitchers).
Nashbar has not increased its market share among Slowtwitchers, nor have any of the other upstarts like BikeTiresDirect. Traditional stalwarts like Trisports.com have seen their market share eaten into by Amazon, and when I ask Slowtwitchers who it is they're talking about when they choose "other" the consensus seems to be EBay partner stores.
The problem Amazon presents to the brands who sell to it are twofold: rather than a service provider who takes a slice of the revenue but leaves the great majority of the profit within the industry — like Visa or American Express — Amazon siphons that profit out of the industry whenever it buys from a vendor directly (more below on that). Second, its technology guarantees a race to the bottom on price. Let's talk about that now.
As you probably know, Amazon has amazing technology that allows it to scour the internet looking for the lowest available price on a product. Amazon presents that price to you, the customer. Should Amazon deal directly with a vendor, Amazon's price automatically shifts down to that point. That's great for the end user. However, there are knowable margins that allow retailers, like bike shops, to remain viable. If the price on every item is set not by the manufacturer, but by the lowest common price denominator found anywhere on the internet, it's clear that this is not going to end well for the lattice of rooftops that make up the brick and mortar network of retailers.
Is the dive to the price bottom what's best for consumers? Brands overwhelmingly believe their long term sustainability is in the maintenance of price. Hence the move toward a minimum advertised price (MAP) imposed on retailers. Brands are legally allowed to enforce how their products are advertised — this is not "price fixing." But retailers cannot seem to wean themselves off discounting and the current dodge around discounting is the coupon. If you wonder at the proliferation of the "coupon code at checkout," this is the MAP pricing end-around.
As for Amazon, it does not seem fazed by MAP pricing. Vendor after vendor to whom I spoke evinces frustration at the Amazon model. "We work with Amazon to maintain our MSRP," said 2XU's Fred Hernandez, its director of marketing. I hear that a lot. I hear it from almost every brand — the special effort that brand is making to make sure Amazon treats its products differently than everyone else's products. Geoff Shaffer, Hernandez' analog and contemporary at Pearl Izumi told me about the efforts his brand is making that we'll see executed going forward.
I asked 2XU's Hernandez, "Does this mean Amazon has agreed not to price match? If so, your brand would be the first I've heard of that has cracked that code."
"Like everybody else, we have our own ways of telling Amazon what they might do to protect MSRP," Hernandez said. "But in an admittal that his brand has no real power over Amazon's pricing, "Toward that goal they [Amazon] don't hinder, but they don't help. Sometimes I question the effort, but it's not Amazon, it's others [whose prices] Amazon matches."
"So, you spend your day chasing retailer after retailer who's fallen off the wagon and resorts to a discount off your suggested retail."
That seems about the size of it, and Hernandez rued that it's, "almost a disproportionate effort, but it's our view that if that's what it takes to maintain credibility with our specialty retailers, that's what we have to do. It's a daily battle. It's frustrating, it angers us, sometimes we'd like to throw our hands up."
Why, then, do brands sell to Amazon? In the case of 2XU, it's because Amazon represents the ability for that brand to expand its reach. Its compression wear is used now in major sports, like football, and it's making a big push into swimming. 2XU pays extra for an expanded pseudo website on Amazon during which 2XU makes its case for its products.
Hernandez thinks 2XU can, "ultimately build demand through our presence on Amazon. We're a young brand, not that well known, so, we look at it as spreading the gospel of 2XU, raising the profile of the product for our specialty." Rather than specialty stores building up a brand to the point where Amazon approaches that brand directly, Hernandez thinks it can work the other way around: that his brand's presence on Amazon is large-audience platform that will allow 2XU to grow beyond its current niche.
That established, the more usual model is for a retail store to "partner" with Amazon, using that robust portal to increase that retail store's reach. However, if 5, or 25, or 75 stores that all sell a single brand "teach" Amazon that a particular brand is hot, it's a virtual certainty that Amazon will approach that brand seeking to buy directly. So much for the retail "partnership." 2XU is not alone in selling directly to Amazon. Just about every brand in its competitive set does so.
And this — along with price erosion — is the other behavior in which Amazon engages that I believe is a cancer to a niche activity like cycling. Were Amazon simply a gateway, aggregating inventories held at the local level into a virtual national warehouse, there is very little about which one could complain. In this case Amazon would take a service fee to help brands, retailers, customers find out where the best match is made between sellers and buyers.
Once Amazon flips that switch, and decides to approach a brand directly, badly needed profit is sucked out of the bicycle retail "ecosystem." As Amazon flips that switch over and over, a retailer's best brands focus their gazes on Amazon, and that Amazon partner retail store is left to refocus on their lesser performing brands. Why Amazon's partner retailers continue to "teach" Amazon which brands to approach directly is God's own mystery.
For all the calumnies one can heap on this retail juggernaut Amazon has transformed the landscape in unequivocally positive ways. For smaller brands, or brands with a lot of SKUs, Amazon aggregates inventories into a virtual warehouse, providing customers with one-stop shopping for a national (or international) look at what's available online per the product he seeks.
Amazon also impresses upon the retail landscape common standards for customer service and a return policy (would that a powerhouse race registration engine use its might to enforce a common race transfer policy!). If Amazon ensures a race to the bottom in price (short term good for the customer, long term problem for the industry) it ensures a race to the top in customer service.
Finally, as we've seen with the example of 2XU, a brand may choose Amazon's formidable readership to expand the reach of its narrative.
Bike Industry Fight-Back
Yes, our readers buy mail order. In fact, if you query them, as we do, we consistently find that Slowtwitchers buy online at a rate of 85 percent, that is, 85 percent of our readers buy some stuff online. This is tri-specific stuff we're talking about. Only 15 percent buy nothing online for use in their avocations of swim, bike and run.
However, if you query them further, you'll find that, all things equal — price being "all things" — they prefer to buy from a bike or other similar specialty store. But superior service cuts both ways. One Slowtwitcher wrote that he and his wife buy from their LBS, "if it is within 15% of the best price online." But one Slowtwitcher indicated he'd even pay slightly more for an Amazon product because of Amazon's superior service and return policy.
Be the Culture new
Written by: Dan Empfield
Date: Thu Apr 11 2013
Let’s talk about the future. A lot of retailers are pessimistic or downright frightened. Not me. It’s the most exciting time during my lifetime to be in the business of delivering goods and services to the triathlon community; for consumers as well.
But it’s new knowledge, tools, and delivery channels that’s made this time interesting, and that means nobody can stand pat. Nobody. Not even Amazon.
Where does a consumer buy his product? And why does he buy it there? One reason: he can’t buy it anywhere else. If you’re a bike shop, thank goodness your biggest grossing product — bikes — are largely unavailable except through brick and mortar stores like yours.
Another motivator driving consumers is product knowledge, but it’s not enough just to know all about a bike, or a pedal, or a crankset. What drives consumers to specific retailers is a hope and belief that the retailer knows how to mate a specific customer to a specific product.
Take me, for example. I’m involved, editorially, in two product launches right now, one from Shimano, one from SRAM. In each case I needed to provide to these component companies a lot of information about me: fit coordinates, crank length, chain ring and cassette gearing options, desired pedal spindle lengths, and when it’s all done a bike is provided that will fit me perfectly in every way so that I can fairly test new components. Could your bike shop generate all that data for you, specific to you, and mate that data to product solutions for you?
This is the great part, and it’s the scary part, for bike shops around the country. If you came to me, I could tell you whether you needed custom footbeds, and I could provide them for you at my workshop, while you’re here. I could varus/valgus wedge your cleat, mount your cleat, adjust inward/outward rotation, deduce your proper stance width and choose an appropriate pedal spindle length if your pedal company provided pedals with variable spindle lengths. I could do all of this, and I’m not the resident expert here. At my bike fit workshops I bring in Paul Swift and have him teach pedal/shoe interface (I’ll write about a Paul Swift invention below). The point is, what I know about this subject is, according to me, the bare minimum. Nevertheless, a consumer would be a fool to go anywhere else for cycling pedals and shoes, mail order in particular, because these products are too tweaky and personal. The delta between pedals and shoes inexpertly mounted and pedals and shoes done right is legion, unless you’re the sort of consumer who can just ride anything.
And this is really the determiner of future success for an LBS: Will the retail store of today understand the value he brings, the edge he has, and either leverage — or equip himself so that he can leverage — this formidable advantage? When Amazon or Pro Bike Kit figures out a way to deliver a custom footbed, I’ll begin to worry about your LBS. That said, I see two types of retail stores in the future: the very basic store that is inoculated against mail order because its customers do not know what a presta valve is, and so cannot order it online because he doesn’t even know what to search for; and the store that offers it all, with a fully fledged fit studio, in-store custom footbed maker, and all manner of tooling and gadgets that enhance the customer try-in, try-on, test-out experience.
What will die is that shop in between, that seeks the pro sale, but does not offer anything beyond mail-order expertise and service.
Be the Culture / Honor the Culture
Mark Rouse owns a store in the northwestern suburbs of Chicago. It’s one of several running stores in those burbs that comprise what I consider the best aggregation of specialty running stores in any metro area anywhere. Mark has flown in, to speak to his customers, Mirinda Carfrae, Chrissie Wellington, Craig Alexander, and many others. Mark isn’t simply true to the culture of running and triathlon at Runners High n Tri. He is the culture or, at least, he and his store is woven into the cultural fabric of running and triathlon in Chicagoland. This store has a mural on a wall, see how many signatures you can recognize.
Chris Holmes owns Bicycle World and Fitness in metro Houston. He’s got a gaggle of F.I.S.T. certified fitters on staff, and he just bought an expensive fit bike to bring into the store. Chris started his own tri club, the store offers monthly clinics in open water, and in how to transition to those club members ($100 a year dues). You’ll find hospitality tents at local races for his customers. The store sponsors a spitload of multisport races, he’s got “pro night” much like Mark Rouse does in Chicagoland. Emanating from the store are weekly runs, and proximate to the store are supported brick workouts and training rides. The store also carries the sorts of brands triathletes want, like Cervelo and Felt. I was just sent a set of Profile Design Altair wheels to road test. Got an early shipment of wheels, thought I. Then I had occasion to migrate to Chris’ website and there, featured, are these wheels (for what it’s worth, I also noted that Chris’ price on these wheels beats Amazon’s lowest price).
Topanga Creek Bicycles is not a tri shop. Rather, it’s nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains, some of the most ardently ridden and oft-enjoyed mountain biking anywhere. (Road cycling too, and I’ll be there for three days beginning this afternoon for just that.) First, you just have to visit this shop. It’s other specialty is touring, so, a wall of Brooks leather saddles is like, well, stepping into a saddle shop. I mean a saddle shop, where lots of leather sits in between you and your horse. The shop is steeped in culture. It is the local cycling culture. Rather than send you to this shop’s website, here’s its blog, click it, just pan down the photos and tell me you don’t want to join this shop’s employees and customers on their weekly rides.
If you look at that blog, you’ll note something cool. I noted it. I nosed around, and found it myself. I called and found a manager at that cool “thing” and the manager said he’d heard my name before. He scurried around, looked at his appointment book, turns out I have a reservation there later this week. As I am leaving for a product launch this afternoon, taking place in that general area, I now see that the company engaged in the launch will surprise us (the cycling media) with a venture to this cool thing. Which is pretty damned cool, and I’m therefore scurrying about to get one of our photographers out here for a photo essay of this cool thing.
Sorry to be so circumsript, but, it’s culture I’m talking about now, and when farms, coffee roasters, bike manufactuers, restauranteurs, bike shops, local pros, all get together and find and form something cool, that’s culture. And when your bike shop is part of that, or even incepts that, I think it’s our job not just to enjoy it, but to honor it.
Sniff it / Taste it
I’ll be speaking at a symposium in a couple of weeks, and the theme is how to bridge the gap between a shop that is in every way prepared to sell tri, and that same shop fully invested in selling tri. Yes, of course, I’ll talk about education in how to fit, and wrench on, tri bikes. And I’ll talk a bit about the paragraphs above, where knitting yourself into the culture of tri — making the culture of tri — is just huge. But my thesis during this symposium is on see it, touch it, sniff it, taste it. I’ll be bringing along some show and tell, in the form of tooling and fixtures built for the purpose.
One of the items I’ll be bringing is a tool called the SwitchIt (Paul Swift makes this). I mount this on most of the fit bikes I own, and it allows the fit bike to be more than a fit bike. It’s also a saddle testing area. In 10 minutes I can test a half-dozen saddles underneath you, while you're riding, in your tri position, to which my fit bike can adjust in about 3 minutes. People who complain that a fit session they paid for only lasted 45 minutes should realize that a properly equipped fitter can test you on a half-dozen saddles in 10 minutes instead of an hour. I’ll charge you $250 and fit you in 45 minutes. Then I’ll rub your feet for another 45 minutes. You’ll enjoy every minute of the “90 minute fit session.” But I’ll fit you better in 45 minutes than someone else who fits you aboard your own bike, on a trainer, over a 2 hour time span, because I’ve got the tools and the knowledge and your fitter doesn’t. Plus, if you really need a 90-minute fit session in order to feel you got your money’s work, you’ll have gotten a nice 45-minute foot massage.
Your LBS now will be your LBS in the future when he adopts, absorbs, invests in, the knowledge and the tooling to do a job Amazon cannot do. Yes, some mail order shops will send out a half-dozen saddles and you can send 5 back, paying for and keeping the one you like. After a half-dozen blown training rides on saddles that just would not work for you, is that paradigm better or worse that you testing saddles aboard fixtures and tooling in a so-designated area, just for that intended purpose?
So far, Slowtwitchers have chosen that saddle and aerobar testing area as the favorite upgrade they’d like to see their LBS incorporate. Above is a chart showing, by percentage, what “culture” and “touch it / feel it” changes they’d like their LBS to offer. My guess is that this 44 percent of our readers who want a saddle/aerobar testing area is going to shoot up to 75 or 80 percent once they actually see the proper tooling in action. This is what they’ll want at their LBS. This is what the LBS of the future will have. This is why the LBS of the future will prevail.
Tri it / Buy it
I finally broke down a couple of years ago and bought a monthly subscription to NPR. I’d been abusing the privilege for years. Decades, really. I’m now not just Slowman (my handle on our reader forum). I’m also Subscriptionman, buying subs to NPR, the New York Times, and the L.A. Times. Of course, their paywalls may have had something to do with that. Hey, guess what? Feels good.
My message is: if you’re a shop, be a part of the culture. Amazon can never do that. Invest in being part of the “palpation solution.” Amazon can never do that.
If you’re a consumer, honor the culture. Don’t use the culture, “showrooming” the effort your bike shop makes, only to source an item elsewhere. This is the only preachy thing I’m going to write to you in this series. I do not think that mail order is bad, and, in a future installment, I’m going to advocate for mail order. I’ll advocate that mail order become every shop’s metier, along with curbside pick up, just like California Pizza Kitchen. Will call, Lockers, local delivery, courier delivery, I’m all over it. We’ll talk about that.
I don’t think any delivery system is dishonorable or unethical. Except showrooming. Now, this can work both ways. You can showroom online. Have you ever “showroomed” Travelocity, going there to get the lie of the land, and then migrating to your favorite airline and buying the ticket there? I have. I don’t feel all that great about it. But I have. I think there’s one thing worth mentioning: the burden of getting showroomed, if you’re a local bike shop, is financially orders of magnitude higher than if you’re Travelocity and you get showroomed. You can’t showroom Travelocity clean out of business, but when you do that to your local LBS, it’s another nail in the coffin of that shop, if indeed this practice puts that shop out of business.
Of course, it would be the height of irony if you showroomed your local LBS, went online, bought the product, and it turns out your LBS was the eventual vendor, shipping you the product short haul. Reminds me of the Pina Colada Song, which I encourage all you of a younger generation to listen to. Perhaps you can showroom iTunes for a snippet.
[Note: I do not actually provide bike fits, footbeds, fit sessions, and the like, as a business. We own a fit school here, and we teach fitters how to fit, and we'll fit the occasional pro. That's it. Search our Bike Shop dbase and I would suggest power searching for "F.I.S.T. Equipped" fitters in your area.]