If you’ve been around bicycles for any amount of time, you have certainly heard the battle cry “Support your local bike shop!” I’m all for it. Hell yeah! Let’s do it! But how? Should you march in and buy the most expensive bike they have on the wall? Yeah, you should. Then you should send it to me. Trust me on this.

Okay, maybe not, but some people do seem to think that not buying your bike at an independent LBS is a sin on par with ritualized devil worship. We’ve got to forget about bikes as a means of supporting shops. Instead, we’ve got to support our shops by never wrenching at home.

Let your LBS do that!

Knock it off, you kids. Stop wrenching at home.

Yeah, I said it. The data backs me up on it, too. The National Bicycle Dealers Association (NBDA) says the margin on bicycle sales is 36%, but operating expenses are nearly 38% (37.7%) of gross annual sales. I’m not a mathematician, but I believe that if you make 36% on bikes sold but you are paying 38% on overhead, then it’s actually costing bike shops money every year to stock and move bicycles.

If I may quote the NBDA directly:

Studies also show the average realized profit margin on bicycles to be around 36%, which is a break-even proposition devoid of profit

So how do shops make money at all? Well, people that buy bikes also buy tires, tubes, jerseys, CO2, and get their bikes worked on. That stuff earns a margin of 43% for clothes and 48% for “other.”

This leads me to only one conclusion.

Greg Lemond shapes these tubes with his teeth.

If you want to support your LBS, stop wrenching at home

The way I’m interpreting the data, every time you pick up a t-handled wrench you are taking fried chicken directly out of the mouths of the children of LBS owners. Every time you buy a cassette and chain on line, you are ensuring that an LBS employee has to drink High Life instead of delicious craft beer.

I spoke with Amy from my treasured LBS, Atlanta’s Intown Bicycles.

Amy laughed. “Well, we certainly wouldn’t want to discourage people from working on their bikes.” She said Intown will work on any bike, even department store bikes, despite the fact that budget components are harder to adjust. Often replacement parts for department store bikes cost more than the purchase price of the bike itself. That’s a tough conversation to have.

My sister’s husband Chuck, a veteran LBS employee at Bike Link in Birmingham, wants you to stop tinkering with your bike and give him a chance.

“If a customer looks online for an item and finds it cheap, all I ask is they give me a shot,” he said. “If I can’t help them source the part, I’ll still install it for them.” As an added bonus, if you buy parts and service from Chuck, my nieces get to eat dinner and wear clothes and be educated. My sister can fend for herself.

It’s not about the bike

I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy your bike from a shop. Of course you should, if you want to. I’m saying that for all the noise that is made about supporting local shops by purchasing bikes there, the real support comes from treating your local shop like the neighborhood hub of all things cycling that it is.

Supporting your LBS with a bike purchase while buying components online is a little like drinking nothing but Diet Coke for a month to offset the calories of eating candy every day.

Shops are the best resource cyclists have for advice, service, and sales. They have a vested interest in doing everything they can to keep us riding happily along. If we want them to stick around, we have to do business with them.

So let’s support them. I say let’s stop wrenching at home. Let’s leave it to the experts.

If you have any further questions about how to support your local bike shop, don’t listen to me. Go by and ask them. Maybe bring some beer with you while you’re at it. Can’t hurt.

# Comments

  • Jeff Barber

    Very interesting. It’s incredibly difficult to run a profitable bike shop, though on the surface it might be hard to understand given the prices on new bikes. It costs $$ to keep the lights on, pay rent, support local causes, make payroll, etc.

    So the question is, why don’t we see more small shops that only provide service and sell accessories? Bikes take up a ton of floor space and the margins are low so it seems like ditching them could be a good business decision.

    • Jim Hodgson

      I’m not sure. I have seen one or two.

      If I were going to open a cycling store, I would stock accessories, an espresso machine, and possibly some delicious craft beer.

      If someone was determined to order a bike from me, they could, but I doubt I’d have any on the floor, especially now that I know they’re basically a retail boat anchor.

    • Carolinadude

      Funny you say that, Jim. South Main Cycles in Belmont NC has craft beer bar right in the store. Bought my Giant mountain bike there.

    • Greg Heil

      I think part of the reason that shops still sell bikes is that if they sell a bike to a person in the community, they are often making a customer for life. That customer will come back to the shop to get their bike repaired, buy accessories, go on rides, etc. So selling one bike can lead to many more sales down the road, and especially the ones that matter: maintenance.

    • MTI

      I agree with Gregg on why they sell bikes. My first bike I bought the bike, helmet, car rack, gloves etc. I used that shop until I moved. They also got Lots of money on maintenance from me.

      As for my current LBS in Bryson City, NC I know I have a couple of friends in the owners and if I need a quick fix on my bike he will go out of his way for a loyal customer or ANY customer for that matter. I also know I will always get honest advice. That may not be true for every shop but that is the advantage of getting to know those at your LBS.

      I for one will always bring my bike in for repairs but I can’t blame someone who knows how to wrench their bike at home. If we don’t support them in some way the LBS will disappear.

  • Doomed

    Business’ call these loss leaders. the bike gets the customer in the store and a relationship is formed no matter how short, depending on the business, and money will be made on other purchases, the service, or accessories. This is the same way a gas station, convenience store works. They make little to nothing on gas but make it up on other sales

  • Timothyfluegge

    Sorry, dont get the whole “support your local bike shop” deal.” I’m all about supporting my family. Punto. If they can’t stay profitable under their current business model then they need to figure out a different way to run the show, or find another line of work.

    • reidsvillebikes

      Your correct, and bike shops and the industry are evolving. However, the bike shops are the ones who are the advocates for cycling, host races, hold weekly rides, build trails, etc. I really believe “every town needs a bike shop” and therefore the support of their community.

  • alexworthy

    Good timing on this Jim, as I am torn over this issue. To wrench or not to wrench. To buy that tool, wait a few days and DIY or take it to the LBS. Yes I recently ending up taking my issue to my LBS, because: TIME. It was a tough decision for me b/c one of the main reasons I love bikes is the technicality, thus I like to wrench, dial it in. However any DIY mechanic or “mr fix it” personality type knows that doing things yourself can be incredibly frustrating and even destructive, yet the empowering feeling of fixing something or getting is just right is worth it to me. It certainly helps that I have a garage and have been collecting tools for several years, as when I didn’t I simply took it to the bike shop. (I ruined a white couch once b/c of my attempts to clean a chain in my apt) There is no doubt, especially now, after recently becoming a dad is that “dialing it in” takes time, and “me time” is precious, so I am actually starting to off load more work to my LBS, but I really dont like it, cause I know I can do it! For me, in the end, nothing beats pandora, a beer and tuning my rig in the man cave.

  • AJ711

    Supporting a shop or not, the larger question is, “Can I be arsed enough to attempt this on my own?”

    Truing wheels? Nope, I’ll gladly pay them. Turning a couple of screws to make sure the derailleurs line up properly? Yup, I can easily and gladly spend the time in the garage doing this.

    The same holds true for cars. I’ll change my oil, rotate tires, change transmission/differential fluids, change a clutch, rebuild a motor, and a few other things. Mainly because I can make the time, I have a second car (that hauls my MTB around, too), and I enjoy wrenching. Now, my center differential is crapping the bed on me, so off it goes to a well respected local shop as I don’t have the time or ability to attempt that fix.

    If I’m in over my head, I’ll gladly fork the money over to the subject matter experts. Most of the time, I want to go riding, and not have to wait to get my bike back. For the most part, I don’t mind the time spent in the garage, as I am better prepared to handle issues trailside.

  • PJAmore

    That’s a great looking chain whip, can I get one online? Coffee, craft beer and community is something I can’t get on the ‘net.

  • burnedthetoast

    I agree with AJ711. I just paid my LBS to do an annual tune-up/replace seals etc. on my fork. I budgeted for that and I don’t mind paying them for the work. I haven’t done it before and I don’t want to screw my fork up.

    I try to buy parts from the LBS when I can, and I’ve referred a ton of people to them – within the last couple weeks they’ve sold 2 bikes, a trailer, and some accessories because of people I directed there.

    However… I’m not paying the LBS to do stuff I can do myself in 10 minutes. If it takes longer to drag my bike to the shop than to just do it, AND I have to pay someone… that’s just silly. I’ll save that for when I don’t have the tools or the know-how. They have plenty of other customers who don’t know how to do a dang thing and bring the bikes in to get a tire changed… I don’t need to bring my bikes every time I need a $10 adjustment.

    • skibum

      There’s a lot I’m perfectly happy to leave to the “experts.” A reliable wrench is a good find and well worth my support to keep around. Like you, I’ll let the shop do all my fork overhauls.

      Wheel truing on the other hand (unlike AJ711 in this case), is something I actually like doing myself, which is weird because it’s such delicate, finicky, detailed work and I’m mostly the impatient “bull in a china shop” kind of guy. But whenever I break out the truing stand and sit down with it, I get into my Zen state and emerge from the task relaxed rather than frustrated. I won’t pay the shop to take that experience from me.

  • Bubblehead10MM

    I’m sick, I tell you! I can’t quit. I just got to play with the wrenches and little screws and spokes, and stuff. I feel like a sucker when I end up paying for work that’s within my abilities. I’m glad they’re there. I shop LBS when it’s good for me. That should be enough. This isn’t a good place to jump on the basic econ hobby horse, but the free market produces exactly the right amount of goods and services.
    I think the best thing I can do for the LBS is to support bicycling.

  • Icyrus

    I believe in supporting my LBS but not going to give them my bike for routine maintenance I can do on my own. My decision to not do this is not a financial one. I find wrenching on my bike almost as therapeutic as riding itself. I will however take it to them for things I don’t know how to do myself or I don’t have the tools for. I value my LBS for what it brings to the community, group rides, trail advocacy etc. and will on a regular basis shop there when I know I can get the same item cheaper than online. They do need to look at their business model though and figure out how to change it or I fear their days are numbered.

  • tarvisg

    If I felt my lbs could get my bike to me in a reasonable turnaround time it wouldn’t bother me. But when I go in and need a quick adjustment they can do right there and they tell me it will be ready next week, thats a problem. When I ask if they can come close to matching online and they tell me no. I have to go where the cost benefits me. Bikes are expensive and I ride, train and race. If I had to take my bike in and get service and parts regularly at lbs prices I’d be flat broke. I have had great experiences with bike shops in other places than where I live. However if your lbs mechanice talks down to you as if you have no clue about what your talking about. I’m sorry I have better things to do and better places to spend my money. I’ll get a tube or a co2 there when needed but thats about it. If there ordering process takes as long as the online order, guess where I’m going. My best experience with a bike shop where I live is REI. I love REI but thats not a lbs to me. But at least their mechanic acts like a proper mechanic and is competent and trained to take care of issues promptly and properly. When you go to a bike shop to ask for some compressed air to set your bead and they turn you away because it doesn’t say tubeless on the sidewall, that urks me real bad. Support your LBS please but they have to be supportive of you as a rider or its not worth it IMO.

  • Pro_Fetus01

    I’d love to purchase my bikes from the lbs however, I’m always price conscious and want the bang for my buck. I’m also the type that will spend for quality. The lbs’s really can’t compete based on price spec for spec. They’re value to me is in servicing and knowledge. I’ll pay a hefty margin for that but it’s worth it to me.

    If you’ve been biking for any length of time you’ve probably had a bad experience with a lbs. It’s entirely reasonable to have a certain amount of skepticism when it comes to the sales or service process. Doing your home work is essential. Knowledge is power. Use the internet to research your local bike shops. Keep in mind that reviews don’t tell the whole story, especially with the invent of digital marketing. Remember the goal on online marketing is to spread awareness about a local business. Manipulating reviews does come into play. After researching it’s best to pay a visit. Take note of how long it takes them to acknowledge you. Ask questions and see if they’re really interested in providing great customer service or if its all about getting a sale.

    At the end of the day it all comes down to relationship building. It’s up to the lbs to prove themselves to you. They have to earn your support.

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