I hear and read the same complaint from so many of my bike shop peers. "The internet is kicking our ass". Trade magazines are full of articles about shops (not just bike shops) that have just run out of ideas.
I say we ("we" being small local businesses) need to be Better than the Internet. I know what you're saying..."Joe, whats better than ordering a part for 40% of MSRP and having it delivered in 3 business days?" You were saying that, weren't you? Well, if you werent even remotely thinking along those lines, here is how we have made our shop Better than the Internet
- Staff: We have the best staff in the business, as far as i am concerned. I tell people that the robot at the discount super-warehouse that picks your item and shoves it in a shipping box could care less about you and your choice. Does it know that maybe you need a mid-cage derailleur instead of a short-cage one? No, it doesn't. However, my staff will make sure its what you want before we order it, not after. It's the human interaction that sets a brick-and-mortar shop apart.
- Installation: I use this quote all the time, "You cant hammer a nail over the internet". Lets say you do order something online, and it shows up. Now what? Expert and safe installation by qualified mechanics is very important on a bike that you will be hurtling through traffic with. Many shops will not install parts bought elsewhere/online, but we will. This has become a major sticking point with bike shops. Hey, I shop online....I book an airline ticket based on price; its the way the world works. We are not smug enough to believe that you will buy everything from us...but we will help you install it.
- Price: We get this question every once in a while, 'Can you match this online price?". My answer is always no. If we start chasing online price slashing, where mega companies have razor-thin margins because they sell 2,000 of that item in a day, we'll be out of business shortly. We offer fair and competitive pricing. We pay our employees fairly and do everything by the books in terms of payroll and all of the assorted required taxes. It's an expensive way to do business, but its the right way.
- The Economy: Buying locally contributes to our shared local condition. Taxes are collected and presumably used appropriately. Not paying taxes on online goods has caused disconnect issues in our local economy too grave and numerous for this blog to list. Buying from a warehouse in the Upper Midwest certainly helps their economy, but really has none of the added benefit that buying locally does in terms of tax distribution. i am not an economist, so I'll leave it at that.
- The Experience: This is hard to quantify, as many people don't need an "experience" to purchase a durable good. If you are the kind of person who wants to be assured you're making the right choice, that it will be installed correctly, and that you can come on by with any questions/issues subsequently, then our shop is the place for you.