Top 3 Reasons to Purchase from an Independent Bicycle Shop
Ever wondered what makes the shopping experience at a local bicycle store different from a big box retailer or department store? In this blog piece we explain the fundamental differences.
The Difference Between Independent Bike Shops and Big Box / Department Store Retailers
So, you’re in the market for a new or used bike and are weighing your decision on where to shop for said bike. On one hand you have the big box retailer, which offers an array of bikes at a very competitive price. On the other hand, there are a few independent bike dealers in your area that carry well known bicycle brands, with entry level models costing at least a couple hundred dollars more than the competitively priced bikes. You decide to purchase a bike from the latter thinking you got a great deal, but later encounter some problems. Imagine, the front brake was not properly installed, or worse, one of the pedals fell off while in the middle of an intersection at full speed. This kind of scenario is very likely to happen as we will discuss, based on our personal experiences and other anecdotal evidence, on why seeking value alone is not the best decision to make when considering a bike purchase as a long-term investment.
Obviously, the main differentiator between the two is that independent shops specialize in the assembly, repair, and selling of bicycles, while big box retailers by their very nature do not. But there are several points that we need to make as to why anyone serious about biking should support independent shops.
Service is Key
If you buy a bike from a big box retailer, you most likely will not find a bike service department at that store. If you do find one, it may be understaffed or under utilized. The solution is to take your new bike to a local bike shop to have them make the fix or adjustment. Even then, if the quality of the components are sub-par, an expert mechanic can only do so much to get your bike to function as intended.
Personally, I recall experiencing all three of those reasons when working at a large department store. While I originally hired to service the bike department, management was more concerned about covering departments with higher foot traffic volume (read: higher revenues). This resulted in me having to leave my department to ensure that the basketball wall was perfectly aligned. Further, due to the corporate nature of working at such a large store, remedying situations with customers unsatisfied with their returned bicycles resorted to a back-and-forth with the manager, leaving the customer feel helpless at times. Often, the remedy was to simply exchange the old bike for another bike, which perpetuates the problem. We’ll touch on that later.
Efficiency vs. Quality
Take it from Matteo of Matteo's Mobile Bicycle Repair. The bikes that you see at many big box retailers were not assembled by the employee you see at the bike department. Most often, the retailer hired a 3rd party to come in late at night to assemble bikes, under little to no supervision, at a certain rate per bike. While I’m sure a lot of these assemblers have the best intentions, the fact is that they are motivated to churn out as many bikes as possible for the sake of their financial interests. Further, some of these assemblers have been known to use impact drills to install handlebars as quickly as possible. Ask any bicycle technician, and they tell you that this is a huge mistake, as the stem bolts will be stripped and render the bike unsafe to ride.
Two Likely Scenarios, Two Different Outcomes
Scenario 1: Customer purchases a $500 bicycle from an independent bike shop. During their shopping experience, the sales team gave them their undivided attention while actively engaging and asking pointed questions to better understand the customer’s cycling goals and needs. A month into their purchase, the customer notices that the bike’s rear shifting is not like it was during the time of purchase. The customer returns to the shop with the bike to explain the mechanical problem, where the mechanic places the bike on the repair stand to perform a free diagnostic at that moment. The mechanic explains to the customer that shift cables often stretch after a purchase and performs the adjustment free of charge. The customer walks away feeling confident in their purchase decision.
Scenario 2: Customer purchases a $300 bicycle from a big box retailer. Since their exchange with the bike department employee was pleasant, they decide to purchase the retailers $50 service warranty in case of any mechanical mishaps. A month into their purchase, the customer notices the same problem as in Scenario 1, and returns with the bike to the big box retailer. This time, the employee that they originally dealt with is now working at a local bike shop, leaving them to deal with an employee from another department. The second employee knows nothing about bikes, so they decide to check the bike in for an indefinite amount of time, leaving it for someone else to fix.
One week later, the customer returns to pick up their bike, takes it home, and finds that the chain falls of the front chain ring. Upon their third visit to the big retailer, no one knows how to fix the problem and they debate the right course of actions. Management’s remedy is to exchange the bike for another, leaving the customer doubtful about the second bike’s safety and quality.