Words by Jay Townley of the Gluskin Townley Group
As we have watched in growing amazement the emergence and expansion of New-Wave and Outlier bike shops in North America and the UK we have become aware that there is a fundamental retail truth that is driving the New Fourth Era of Bike Shop Retailing – people!
In my last column I mentioned an excellent new book – The Endangered Customer – penned by Richard Shapiro that makes the case that there is a fundamental difference between “consumers” as shoppers and “customers” who purchase and then repeatedly come back for more because of their experiences with a retailer.
While technology is important and has its place, particularly because it has been embraced and favoured by consumers, the basics of retailing and retail transactions and customer satisfaction are rooted in the human contact and interaction that is at the heart of the shopping experience.
This human contact and interaction is in two parts. The consumer and the bike shop sales associates who provide the human portion of the retail shopping experience and develop the relationship on behalf of the bike shop.
The bike shop channel of trade needs to take full advantage of technology and the consumers growing use of all forms of technology to shop and buy when and where they want to – but what New-Wave and Outlier bike shops have discovered is the human contact and interaction is equal to or more important to many consumers.
This is important to understand as more bicycle brands move to consumer direct business models that require authorized dealers to become Omni-Channel.
As bicycle brands increasingly turn to technology to automate and expedite sales transactions, Richard Shapiro points out that: “…there is an increasing danger consumers become traffic counts to be converted into sales tickets.”
As a result, there is a real and present danger that retailers who are product focused, that is focused on selling bicycles and related products at a price, will not develop a deep engagement with those customers who value the relationship beyond the product price.
As Chris Zane points out in his book Reinventing the Wheel, it is these long-term relationships which deliver repeat business, life time value and substantially more profitability!
The Endangered Retail Sales Associate
It is obvious that the major bike brands are changing their business models to emphasize omnichannel, the technology and “mechanics” of multiple channels for today’s empowered shoppers. Though we’re not necessarily talking about it the evolution of the business as much as we perhaps should.
It seems it is the intent of the top tier brands to redirect the retail pendulum and swing it to what Shapiro calls the “technology of sales transactions.” In the case of the bike shop channel of trade this swing to technology is rapidly centering on mechanics and training wrenches to set-up and service electronic and CPU driven systems and Ebikes, which is the evolving future of Cycling 4.0 – totally overlooking sales associates.
Given the problems bike shops have had in focusing on being consumer-centric, including attracting and holding on to the best customer service professionals, it is understandable that the top tier brands are moving at increasing speed to advance the technology of direct to consumer sales transactions and direct their authorized dealers to embrace omnichannel business models.
The bike shop retail sales associate has been an endangered job category for a number of years, and the danger is prematurely giving up on changing the way bike shops do business to be able to afford the best retail sales associates – and continually recruiting customer service naturals!
We have written for years about the power of customer service naturals working in bike shops. We have also mentioned Apple’s retail approach of “hiring for smiles.”
In recruiting for its retail stores, New-Wave and Outlier bike shops have taken a page from Apple, and have taken the approach that is far easier to train a sales associate about the technology, than it is to teach them how to smile and connect with customers.
Apple’s retail stores’ repeat business and revenue per square foot are testimony to the value of developing and sustaining loyal relationships with customers – and will have to do until there are more financial metrics available from New-Wave and Outlier bike shops.