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Discussion - Shop Vs. Direct

19:27 14th May 2013 by Ed Haythornthwaite
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in der grössten Carbon Fahrradfabrik , Martec, China

In the latest issue of Dirt (135) I wrote the piece below on whether ‘direct’ sales are the future of the bike industry, and questioned what the future holds for the traditional bike shop. Obviously what I’ve written is my view on the subject, and so it would be great to know what all your thoughts are on the matter. I mean do you stand by your local bike shop, and will you always support it no matter what? Or are you more concerned with getting the most bang for your buck? Do you feel that shops offer you a great service, or do you think that done correctly a direct sale could actually offer better service? And have you already bought a bike product ‘direct’, or is something putting you off? Anyway, enough of the questions cos I’m sure you get the drift, but here’s what I originally wrote on the subject…

SHOP Vs. DIRECT

Are direct sales the future? Or will bike shops always have a place?

Unless you’ve been living in a cupboard you’ve almost certainly noticed that there’s an ever increasing number of companies who are now selling us products ‘direct’ at what seem to be unbelievable prices. The whole ‘cutting out the middleman’ ethos is nothing new, but it’s only in the past couple of years that this way of doing business has really taken off in the bike trade, and unfortunately for shops I can only see the trend growing.

In the past I have worked in several bike shops, and for many years, so if anyone should be keen to keep the shop tradition alive it should be me. But, I know full well that if I was a regular Joe paying customer right now I would be seriously tempted to buy something direct. The cold hard facts are that if you cut out both distributor and shop margins you can automatically chop a huge percentage off the price tag of a product, and in many cases there is no reason why that product can’t be exactly the same as one in a shop, just a lot cheaper. So why the hell would you go to a shop?

Well at the moment perhaps the biggest reason to buy from a shop (whether it be online or in your local town) is choice. You simply can’t buy a lot of products direct. That though I feel will become less and less of a valid argument as more products are offered direct, so let’s for a moment assume that every product is available via both channels. What can a shop offer that direct can’t? Service. That’s the age-old answer. It’s not a simple thing to define though. Advice has to be a key part of that, but then if the truth be told many shops have staff that can offer little in the way of advice to an experienced rider. Of course there are some genuinely great shops and staff out there who can offer words of wisdom to even the most knowledgeable of cyclists, but sadly I think these are in the minority. Your traditional ‘Raleigh Dealer’ at the end of the street might be able to offer some advice to parents about what bike to buy their kid, but I doubt they’ll be able to tell you whether or not you can use IceTec rotors with your Formula brakes.

On the flipside to all this if you’re buying direct then you’ll hopefully be dealing with the very people who designed and manufactured the part that you’re interested in, and therefore the people that know most about it. Obviously you’re not likely to get any impartial advice, but if you know what you’re after then maybe dealing direct is actually better? Yes you might have to arrange sending your bike/component somewhere should anything go wrong, but at least you will be dealing directly with the company involved, and it’s certainly no worse than buying something mail order. Any costs that you might incur doing this should also be more than offset by the original savings that you made.

I originally set out writing this with a very clear mind that I was going to give a balanced view on this subject, but the more I think about it the harder I find it. With my background that I have mentioned before I find this very sad, and the fact that if shops were to disappear a massive percentage of the bike industry would lose their jobs just makes it even worse. On the positive side though I reckon that will never happen, there will always be a place for bike shops no matter how much direct selling takes off, and despite the ever present threat from online retailers. Some will probably continue to make a living from catering for the casual cyclist (the ones who don’t just buy a bike from Halfords or the supermarket that is), but then I think we’ll see far more emphasis on the repair side of the business. If I was thinking of setting up a bike shop I’d probably just focus on repairs because whatever happens with how stuff is sold people will still need their bikes repairing locally.

Whatever happens I think the future is going to be interesting and you the consumer are going to benefit in one way or another. Will the direct sellers adopt ‘Concept Stores’ like those from Giant and Specialized as a way of showing off their wares in the flesh? Or will they organise test ride weekends so that you can actually try them out properly? Who knows, but if the choice of ‘direct’ products continues to grow I’m really not sure how much longer people will be willing to pay the considerable premium that is involved if you buy something from a conventional bike shop. Will you be willing to?

 

  1. 1022

    No time for shopping in store. riding sleeping or working..

  2. JB

    For me, good customer service has to come 1st, be that shop or internet. Match that with fair prices and nobody should go out of business. But, when you have a problem with your bike, that’s a different matter. If you are lucky enough to have a good local bike shop they become invaluable at this point.
    So long as bike shops don’t become complacent in the same manner as record shops, and adapt to a changing market, all should be good.

  3. cristian

    I have worked in bikeshops for over 20 years, and now own my own (with the wife!) & I tell you all this now, not much has changed. We sell bikes, pretty much most days, the workshop is booked up for two weeks, & the shop is getting more & more stock (only been open since Jan.) we have advertised only once (apart from the Dirtmag dedication!) and are pretty busy. What everybody seems to miss, (or assume) is that everything revolves around 1K+ full sus bikes, and posh kit you see in the comics, which is bullshit, to own & run a good shop is to do everything, & everything well. We sell MTBs (ish!) from £260, hybrids from £300, & kids bikes from £110, along with selling whatever we can, to whom ever we can, from toestraps to trouser clips, to shiny hope bits and frames & forks.. along with anything to do with road bikes. There is SO much more to it than worrying about Canyon et all, and CRC (having been over there & met them, that is a brilliant success story I can only admire) we try our best to serve the local (& not so local at times) population, and as long as the accounts are run well, everything will be OK, and we will be around for awhile to come.

  4. Steve Lang

    I run a bike service & repair business & I often get asked advice & I am always helpful but then sometimes find the ‘customer’ takes your advice & buys on the web but then when something goes wrong they either moan about a lack of response from the site, ask if you could sort out a warranty issue or sometimes don’t always come back because of the embarrassment factor of you knowing they took the advice & bought the same product elsewhere. There is also a problem with manufacturers supplying products direct to online store (especially OEM products) at such low prices. If this is the case then we (the cycle trade) should all be able to buy direct from the manufacturers or everyone should have to go through the distributor. Everyone wants a bargain but it’s often not a level playing field. I also don’t know if it wise for retail outlets to be linked to or to be the distributors either as they can then monopolise.

  5. DeJean

    I work in online sales professionally. There is no one OR the other. There’s not 1 type of customer, and there’s no 1 type of purchase. Both will continue to exist. Small shops will have to focus on adding value, rather than just moving boxes in high volumes. My riding buddy decided to cancel his YT Tues order in favour of a more expensive lower specced specialized because he wanted to be sure to have easy acces to warranty and service

  6. Brian Smith

    There will always be a place for bike shops that are in the right place. By this I mean somewhere where there will be a lot of casual footfall from passing trade, such as near a riding hotspot or a trail centre.

    On the flip side I live in the North East corner or London on the Essex borders and I have no idea where my nearsest bike shop is that sells kit at a suitable level for me. All the bike shops in the area that still exist have gone very heavily into the commuter and road bike market and have very limited mountain bikes, parts, clothing, etc, and the same is true of the bike shops in central london. This is understandable as the commuter market is now very big. The last couple of bikes I’ve had and friends have had have all had to be bought from shops that are at least an hours drive away. By the time I’ve done that I might as well have bought direct and saved money on the purchase and petrol and hours of my time.

    I think NukeProof need to get on the direct sales route with their bikes as they would do very well out of it and it would be good to see a British manufacturer followinng on from the German’s (YT and Canyon) lead

    1. Hancock

      Nukeproof (and Vitus) from CRC is near as damnit a direct sale.

      1. burns

        What’s really odd is that although nukeproof is an inhouse brand from the worlds largest online-shop the stuff is relatively pricy compared to other direct-sellers mainly from germany and it doesn’t get percieved as a direct sales brand but an independent brand just happen to be sold by crc (and other shops).

  7. Gary Palmer

    When you have got a shop like Independant bike works in Cirencester to use then it’s bike shop every time, every bike shop should be like this. Good on ya Sean & Jim

  8. Barney

    @Brian Smith Nukeproof do sell direct…they’re all one entity CRC, Hotlines, Decade etc.

    My LBS is shit…I shop mail order to save my pennies, If I have a problem I either fix it myself or learn how to fix it myself.

    The only thing I don’t do is shocks…and there’s plenty of service guys out there these days.

  9. BenJag

    We’ve already got planet-x / on-one doing the UK direct sell and doing a really good job with having a couple of shops too. As the article says, the bike shop will need to focus on sales and repairs which no on-line shop can cover. I am planning to open a shop in the next few months and its certainly the direction I will be going.

  10. Paul

    Did you guys pinch the VS bodyboards logo? Bit naughty!

  11. Christie

    Everyone likes a bargain. Get to know your LBS and you get the good customer service and I also, with a lot of other regular customers I might add, get at least 10% discount without even asking

  12. LemonadeMoney

    I use both. If it involves fitting or compatibility, or if they can get close on price, then LBS every time. You look after them, they look after you. But if it’s a major deal, or you wanna try something on for size that you can’t expect them to order in, then mail order. But you need a good LBS, my two nearest one’s are proper shops with poor service, so I have to travel.

  13. WAKi

    I just got a package from CRC, and I buy there stuff only that is much cheaper than at my LBS´s in my town or unavailable in them. I go to LBS every now and then because I believe they should be supported as much as possible. And in those LBS I buy stuff produced as close to me as it can get, which means EU, Hope and Mavic for instance. Even if the product isn’t always as good as stuff made over seas (like Hope should learn from Gamut about the chain guides…) However in most cases I buy used stuff.

    It’s undeniable that budget wise online shopping is better and more convenient. But people doing it have right and obligations to shut the hell up about “the economy” when they loose a job, whatever they do for living. If your money does not stay where you earned them, if a guy who worked at the LBS won’t be able to afford the flat in the building you designed as an engineer, then you get fired. As simple as that. You know what you are doing by following the easy way – so DOOON’T complain about shit! You make it happen

  14. antennae

    I buy most of my bikes and bits online but most of us will *always* need service and repairs done (even if just the tricky stuff) and will pay well for a good quality of work and a rapid turnaround.

    The phrase “the workshop is booked up for two weeks” is my worst nightmare. If something’s wrong with my bike that means I can’t pedal in the hills that weekend or have to get the sodding bus to work instead of breezing through the traffic on my tin donkey, I want it sorted pronto and will happily part with a few crispy tenners to do that.

    My favourite LBS doesn’t sell any bikes, just basic parts, and will happily fit stuff you bring in. They just do fantastic repairs and servicing turned round the same day without booking, and they are awesome because they focus on what online retailers can never provide.

  15. DanLees

    Hmmmm
    I would LOVE to support my local bikeshops in Leicester, but they just make it so hard!

    Try getting something ordered in. 2 week wait (if you are lucky) and full RRP. Or I could order it at a discount and have it within a day or so. Also the likes of CRC are getting very good at returns with Collect+.

    You’re right with regard to servicing though, with the likes of PressFit BBs, and forks that need servicing A LOT, I think this is the way things will go.

  16. Campbell Rodgerson

    My local bike shops dont stock much in the way of bikes im after, however I always try to use them where possible and tell them the price I can get online and see if they want to price match, if they do then great, if not I go online.

    Whats the best online sites to get a nice full sus all mountain bike?

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