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Building a relationship at the bike shop

I'm trying to remember if I fully blogged the details of my string of bike mishaps over the summer. It's relevant to a discussion of good bike shop service. Somewhere between Tour de Pepin and the Chicago Triathlon, I had a series of broken parts, flat tires, and half-finished rides...one ended in a low speed crash. It was frustrating. And one of the broken parts was the year-old Look clipless pedals--a small, snapped piece of metal. In retrospect, I should have sent those in under warranty. But it was the middle of summer and I wanted to get back to riding as soon as possible. Sending pedals in to the manufacturer would have meant lost saddle time.

So, instead, I bought whatever was hanging on the shelves at the store that matched my cleats. In this case, a very cheap pair of plastic Look Keo Flex. In some ways, I knew what I was getting into. I can't imagine why a pedal company would make plastic pedals. These are low-tension and aimed at beginners. Credit to Look, they not only said they'd warranty the pedals but offered to upgrade me or return the same model. I appreciate the upgrade--hopefully to a non-plastic version. A piece on the back snapped when I tried to clip in at an intersection. They still held my shoe in place...but barely.

Anyway, this post is more about the customer relationship with a local bike shop. I'm not going to name mine--the same store I purchased my bike from and a very good, supportive local chain--because it's not really about them per se. I have mixed feelings. They alternate in my mind between being super helpful and stumbling through the transaction every time I come in. I feel like they try but aren't always as knowledgeable or on top of things as they could be. The flip side of that, however, is that some stores that overwhelm you with smart, organized sales staff can be a turn-off to less than serious cyclists. Nobody wants to feel looked down upon. There's a fine line between friendly and guiding consumers to good choices.

I've been a supervisor and in customer service positions long enough that I also fully understand that not all staff members may be empowered to make tough, unusual calls on merchandise or policies. But I've also been persuaded by the chatter about LBS (local bike stores) that the main reason a customer would come in versus order online is the customer service/support relationship. If you want a consumer to order tires from you rather than cheaper online, your staff better be amazing at having an ongoing, working connection with the rider. The first tune-up free after a bike purchase is a move in the right direction. Most stores do that. But I also appreciate the little things like no labor charge for installing a new tube when you get an occasional flat. Or free chain cleaning when you drop by if they're not busy.

This particular shop went above and beyond on my strange request to review their records for proof of my purchase. I didn't know that the receipt was at home in my records drawer. So I initially was hoping they would work with me to re-print the receipt or confirm my purchase to the manufacturer for the warranty process. One employee was happy to try to search though I needed bank records on my end for a date.

On the other hand, thinking ahead to spring, I casually asked about possibly bringing in all 3 of my family's bikes for repair and cleaning and got a blank, confused answer when I wondered about a discount for doing a group of bikes at once. Never hurts to ask and you may get a "no." But I did just offer to bring in probably $300-400 worth of business in one sitting so I wasn't completely out of bounds. No discount, a customer may be less likely to bring in multiples and just keep riding that beat-up bike without service. Not saying that's me. Just talking about relationships in general.

At one point, a different employee asked--after removing my broken pedal--if I wanted to send it in for warranty myself or have them do it. Maybe they didn't mean it the way it sounded, but it came across as an inconvenience. I explained that my assumption was the shop had an ongoing relationship with the companies they carry so it may be easier to get the replacement. If they didn't mind, it would just be easier for them to do it since I'd have to bring the bike back to put the pedal on anyway. (Note to self, I really should buy a pedal wrench.) I also had to bring the bike back a 2nd time because they declined my invitation to take both pedals...I ended up being correct that Look wanted them both.

I'm hoping my upgraded pedals are the finish line of my pedal woes. In comparison, my Shimano SPD on my hybrid (that I pull the kids around on) continue to work perfectly after approximately 5 seasons of riding. The Mama is tired of hearing my conflicted statements about our local shop...if I don't like it, go somewhere else. It's partly convenience and familiarity. But also partly my frustration that as a newer shop it hasn't hit a stride after their break-in period. It's getting harder to see them as the local, neighborhood joint for bikes if everything feels a little arms-length. In the back of my head, I can't help but hear the voices in my head of those cyclists who have a beloved mechanic they trust or a know-my-name staff. We used to have a coffee shop that started making our order before we got to the counter when they saw us enter...there's something to be said for treating regulars right.

PS Thank you, Look, who promised a 24-hour turnaround time once they received the broken pedal. Estimate is about 3 weeks to get me riding again.

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