Opinion: “It’s time for the bike industry to have some self respect”

Failure, the ultimate price someone pays when it’s all gone wrong. But really, who’s responsible? I, James Stanfill, president of the PBMA, have been floating around the bike industry for nearly 30 years. I haven’t been around as long as those with grayer hair than I, but I have been around long enough to be able to recognise where clear failures exist.

A warning before I begin, If you don’t like reading a lot of words about training, qualifying dealers, and liability risk, perhaps stop reading here.

Our industry, in general, has failed at training, especially in the technical realm. We see now that everyone has a new emphasis on the importance of service, touting this fact, plus technical aptitude and also hosting costly events. I’ve been saying that for a long time and through the work within the PBMA have made it a nearly daily conversation that many others are now having, but we are still falling short.

Credit must be given to companies like Shimano for their pioneering work with online tech training and SRAM for their road show and always-full classroom training in Colorado Springs. Also to Park Tool for creating the Tech Summit “back in the day”. These pioneers of industry technical education helped create pathways for other companies and brands to engage the retailer and their tech staff. We (the PBMA) had a successful run of events and have now partnered those to places our industry is already gathering to save costs and resources for all involved.

Is it enough? Where are we today? How much extra hands-on training is available to the mechanic who’s thirsty for knowledge? United Bicycle Institute offers a world of education beyond just the basics, other companies like Campagnolo and Fox have invested in mechanisms to educate, Trek and Specialized do a lot for their dealers, but as an industry, as a whole, we are still failing.

In the world of e-Bike, the industry’s “saving grace”, we are so far behind on education that every insurance broker grinds their teeth when they get an insurance request and the box is ticked “we sell, or we service” e-Bikes. I commend Bosch and their vast resources for getting out there and ahead of it, but where is everyone else? Training doesn’t need to be expensive or flashy. Shops and mechanics simply need the knowledge to best serve your customers.

The bike industry is already hurting, we can’t afford an event of mega negative proportions to occur and hope to come out even. Training and education should be at the forefront of every company’s budget in this industry. Scratching your head and wondering where to get “more” money? Take your marketing budget and slice out 10%, give that towards education, that’s a good place to start. We need shops employing technicians who can speak and work competently on all the bicycles in the marketplace.

If you need help, we (the PBMA) are here. Despite being mechanics we are pretty gosh darn smart when it comes to getting the biggest bang for the buck and, believe it or not, mechanics look to us for direction when it comes to their education.

The typical organization (not our industry) spends $1,000 – $2,000 annually per employee on training.

The traditional shop model is shrinking, even our dealer representative recognises this and thus has now partnered with an outdoor expo to try and bring more to the table. While we don’t know what that looks like yet, there is plenty of speculation, regardless of what side of the fence you are on.

The fewer shops the fewer opportunities for your brand’s customer to receive qualified service, you’d better hope whatever door they walk through has some knowledge of your product. I hear too many stories of consumers being turned away because “we don’t work on that brand”. Yes, that reflects poorly on that business that turned them away, but it also reflects poorly on your brand and it’s lack of outlets for the consumer to receive support.

Consumers want options from shopping to food to service. Not a single customer coming through my doors cares if I sell your brand or not, they care about the quality of service they receive and the knowledge I have to provide them the great quality service they expect.

Open your minds to alternatives. I am sure some brand loyalist dealers don’t like this idea, but a rising tide does float all ships.

We have organisations focused on increasing ridership. We have no organisation focused on ensuring that, when ridership is up, safe and competent places for service, advice and cycling are also up. Through the PBMA we are doing our best and have to continually thank the very few companies that do support our mission and us.

Thanks to CABDA there is training and education available East, Central and West. That’s training on the technical side and training on the product education side. What’s best, it is priced from affordable to free for the mechanic and dealer and when you look at the overall cost it’s generally considered affordable for the brand too.

Does it take more time as a brand to be at three expo locations? Yes, but you get a lot more out of it, there is so much more opportunity. The venues offer affordable expo space, free parking and no fees to participate in programs that help bring customers to your booth, add to that you are at a regional show so your rep in the West can meet with their customers, or potential customers; the same in the Central zone and in the East. If your company hasn’t given it a shot and are still humming on about the lack of a “industry gathering place”, you probably need to rethink how you are doing business and how you want to go forward in the future. The PBMA will be there delivering even more education in 2021 and we really hope that you’ll join us.

We can’t simply count on good people being there when we need them. We are losing the best technical staff to other industries due to a lot of things. A few of the reasons:

A lack of training opportunities

A lack of respect for skill

A lack of earning potential

For most mechanics, earnings aren’t the only motivation, but they shouldn’t be subject to sub-par wages because of it. A living wage is what I consider minimum wage. When you pay a mechanic you are paying for their knowledge and ability; the governed minimum wage is an insult to those skills. Please consider that when hiring or talking to your employees. Training opportunity and respect can go a long ways in these negotiations for staffing. Don’t be afraid to have the conversation “what are you bringing to the table?” and at the same time staff should not be afraid to start the conversation of what they are bringing to the table. In our modern world, the metrics to support someone asking for more, or an employer offering to give more should be easy to track and monitor.

Here’s what I know. Not a single bicycle brand or distributor application (that I’ve seen or filled out) asks if the applicant employs, or even plans to employ a competent, qualified bicycle mechanic. They are very focused on your ability (or even inability) to pay for the products you’re purchasing. Some ask for photos of the service area, but do not seem to care if a person occupies it, or if it’s just a pretty backdrop for rad Instagram photos.

I am not exactly telling anyone how to do business, but I think looking at the root of issues dealers, brands, distributors and other mechanics find often comes back to businesses in the bike industry often employing unqualified staff who have the last “hands-on” bicycles that consumers trust their lives with. There are some companies and organisations doing things right, and we should all be looking to them and the models they are using to help ourselves.

If we all get together and preach the importance of qualified service to consumers we can all benefit, really.

Education won’t fix everything, but if we start respecting ourselves as an industry, providing the training and education we need and working collectively to then educate the consumer on the value they receive by going to qualified places, then we will all win.

The PBMA is part of a working group focused on helping to bring this message to the industry, creating measurable and tangible benchmarks for service personal. The outcome of that message and the work being done there will only strengthen the above message.

James Stanfill is the President of the Professional Bicycle Mechanics Association and the Founder of A Better Bike Biz