Dear Local Bike Shop…

I’d like to take a minute of my time to congratulate you on the enviable position of willingly turning away paying customers.  It’s 2011, the economy is still pretty rough and apparently, buyers of several thousand dollar mountain bikes are all beating your doors down.  I have the audacity to show up or call you on the phone, merely asking for a minimal discount,  and the prospect of not getting at minimum, MSRP, serves to agitate you more than a customer asking you to fix a flat before closing time.  Sales must be great, where are the customers?

Many might question why I deserve any discount.  First off, I’d like to point out that we live in a free market, we are free to shop on price.  Secondly, while some shops offer great before and after sale service, none of that is of any value to me.  All I want is a bike in a box.  I’m sure you claim your mechanics are the best, but when you say that, you are thinking of your one good mechanic, not the other three stoners.  I want my bike in the box, in fact, please don’t even open it. I won’t be back for any work unless I crack the frame.  If anything else breaks, I’ll replace it myself thanks.

Wait, what sort of discount are you looking for, you say?  Well, most shops I called, I didn’t even throw out a price, the mere mention of discount set them off.  So how exactly did I do my wheeling and dealing, I mean, I must have been rude and crass, right?  Umm, not exactly.  This was pretty much my call:

“Hi, I’m interested in a new mountain bike, I want Brand X, Model Y in size L.  I’m calling around to local shops to find the best deal.  I know you will have to order the bike, I don’t need any help with it, all I want is the bike in the box, if you insist on putting it together, that is fine.  I’m not in any particular hurry, but I am looking for an attractive price.”

The most laughable calls were when I was actually quoted the actual MSRP.  As if I was calling for a price quote.  Just be honest and say, we don’t deal.  What would someone interested in a narrow market, high end MTB need you to quote the price for?  Your customer knows more than you about the bike!  In fact I had researched bikes for quite a while before I narrowed my selection down.  I know what the mail order prices are.  Shops are selling these same bikes for 20-30% less than you are, and somehow it appears their businesses are flourishing.  I would have been happy with 10-15%.

But instead, you missed one important point.  There is no limit on these bikes, in fact, there are leftovers from last year.  The bikes aren’t scarce, you can have another one in your shop with a few clicks.  How easy is it to find another schlep willing to spend what buys you a good second hand car?   When I walk, you not only lost a customer, you gave your competitor the sale.  You totally closed off any opportunity by refusing to discuss price.

And that is what has me writing this post, I am totally confused at this fact, how is $427.50 so much worse than zero?  That’s right, even if you were so liberal as to offer me 15% off, you’d still turn a profit of over $400.  But what about overhead, and “expert” assembly?  Unless you are at full sales capacity, more sales doesn’t cost you more overhead.  That expert assembly, I’ve been around bike shops long enough to see 5-6 bikes being built an hour by the average bike mechanic.   In fact, there is more labor involved assembling those $299 specials than the bike I wanted.

So yes, I’m curious as to why you hate me, the guy that buys the pricey stuff, wants a few bits chipped off and will be back to you for another bike in three years.  Instead you seem to enjoy helping your worst nightmare, the customers that keep bringing in their ratty rust machines for their yearly tune-up.  Your mechanic spends over an hour on each one and you bill out 30 minutes of time, every time another one comes in, you get further behind.  I’ll spare you my rant on how you can’t seem to make money on service, because I don’t want to kick you while you are down.

Sure is sad you turned down my money, because Bob didn’t.  He’s cool with shipping me the bike in the box.  That whole thing about not selling bikes to out-of-towners, yeah, he’s got that figured out too.  See, Bob knows business.  He knows that customers that come in the front door might pay full price, but he won’t let the ones that refuse to pay full price go, without a fight.  He knows that once a customer leaves, he’s not coming back.

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