This post was going to be something about how to save on import duties for bicycle parts but it got me thinking about why we order online, and how bricks-and-mortar shops can or should compete with that.
As much as possible I try to support my local bike shops when buying bikes, parts, and accessories. However, for some high-wear items like drivetrain components, I find that my LBS either doesn't have what I need in stock, or has it but at a really high markup. For instance, it's hard to justify paying $120 for an XT cassette when I can order one online for $65 delivered to my door. Likewise for chains. And in my case, the nearest bike shop that carries my range of gear is at least a 60km round trip away, and simply inconvenient to get to during the work week. So if missing out on convenience and have to order a part anyway, why not order it myself, skip the middleman, and save a big chunk of cash? There's no salesmanship or inventory involved; it's just buying a new version of the same part I've bought dozens of times before. Pure commodity retail.
The problem is I'm not alone in this thinking. Online shopping is so good now, and the prices are so competitive, that it's posing a real challenge to bricks-and-mortar retail. Fewer shops carry any kind of inventory, especially in the high-end. As a society we want the local stores so we can touch and try the goods, but we also want lower prices. What's the fair and reasonable balance? Personally, I'm not interested in paying the lowest price because I value knowledgeable service. I also want to support my local shops because they enrich my community, both literally and figuratively. I don't mind paying a small premium on parts for that advice and the convenience factor. But fewer people seem to think that way now. Retail today is more cut-throat than ever.
Nevertheless I dream of one day running my own bike shop. Not sure what form it would take. Simply moving inventory isn't the way I'd want to do it. But what should the model be to build a sustainable, valued business? What should the service aspects look like? What would you gladly pay for at a local shop? Some bike shops have attempted to diversify by combining with other businesses, like a cafe. Is that fundamentally a good idea?
The best businesses create a loyal following through excellent service, good product, and attention to market needs. My ideal bike shop wouldn't be the biggest, or the shiniest, or the cheapest. But it would be the unquestioned institution that everyone, knows, respects, and shops at because the staff lives for bikes, always has exactly what you need, and contributes much more to the community than simply product for sale.
What would your ideal bicycle shop look like? What about your ideal motorbike shop? Different market altogether, but a lot of similarities in terms of components, price points, and cost of inventory. What are bicycle shops doing right that motorcycle shops could learn from, and vice versa? How can you build a successful local business around the concept of two wheels, motor optional?