How to Support Your Local Bike Shop: Stop Wrenching at Home

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.