As the bike retail industry continues to evolve at speed, Martin Wilkins, founder of Cycle Tech UK’s large national network of independent bicycle repair specialists, provides us with the view from the mobile mechanic, the opportunities there are from working more closely with bike shops, and the need for more, ongoing, workshop training…
The big question: Does the bike trade know which direction it’s going? To me, I would say it is hedging their bets, or worst still living on hope! There will always be cheap bike ‘BSOs’ (bike shaped objects) in the marketplace as people like to think they are getting a bargain.
To some extent, there is money to be made from cheap bikes. Even if the BSO is checked over and advice is given, it’s your time and knowledge and should be chargeable, or you sell them a bike for their needs, or you can even point them to an online dealer. You have to decide and let the customer know that you have a minimum charge to inspect bikes before offering any advice, options or repair.
There are options for mobile mechanics to partner with a dealer or supplier so you can get a percentage of the sale, including wheels, groupsets, and accessories. Many cyclists would rather buy a £600 wheelset than replace a worn out chain and cassette or even buy a new bike. We are at that buy and throw away attitude, you see that bikes have gone up in price and the quality has dropped – just look at bearings, in particular.
This takes me to bikes that are brought online and not assembled by a qualified mechanic. I am seeing a lot less new bike builds from a box, with customers looking to save along with that “I want it now” attitude. But I am getting an increasing number of enquiries from customers who have just bought their new bike and are asking me: “It’s just the gears, can you take a look?”
With those kinds of enquiries you usually find the bike has not been set up correctly. With a visit, the mechanic visually notices all too often that the bike is the wrong size – usually way too big for the rider –and also frequently finds that the bike has not been assembled correctly with the headset/stem loose, brakes not aligned and so on.
This has been a common theme for many a bike shop owner for years, but now it’s more prevalent with bikes getting more technical, requiring mechanical knowledge and the correct tools to do the setup correctly. Training/learning/product knowledge needs to be ongoing, along with experience and support from a network of mechanics.
The bike trade can move in a direction to help get more people cycling, by helping them onto the correct bike, sized and delivered to their door and handed over by a qualified mechanic, setting up the saddle, bars, shown the gears, advice on basics and booking in the first service. We are experiencing many a bike shop owner contacting a mobile bike mechanic to assist with bike builds and repairs as they cannot find a skilled mechanic or don’t trust their mechanic with PDIs.
Some trade distributors do not want to sell a bike to a mobile mechanic unless they buy a fleet of bikes for an activity/hire centre. But would it not make sense? It’s recognition for the bike brand, the customer is getting better value and reducing returns. A correctly setup bike is more enjoyable to ride and safe.
A bike shop can open and sell new bikes with no qualifications or having any skills learned from working in a bike shop. Working with our partners, the customer thinks it’s a great idea.
Having good relationships with suppliers & distributors
Many distributors have been working hard to offer free delivery days or free delivery on certain products. I have dropped the amount of stock I now carry and only keep the essential fast-moving items as parts normally come next day and many jobs have become overhaul jobs and require complete drive chain, bearings, etc… you can’t stock everything.
This helps with cash flow. Still, you need a good stock of parts and some accessories that need to be better managed/controlled. The question to ask yourself, are you selling as much as you were five years ago? If not, why or what are you doing differently?
It’s all too easy to say prices are cheaper online and you can’t match. What I do know, we used to make a minimum of 30% on parts (tyres were double) and this was a big turnover/profit and would also help with buying more stock. Some distributors will even post parts and accessories direct to the consumer on your behalf, so now you can recommend products, take payment and it’s taken care of. Right here right now, as good as it gets, so if you don’t like the current situation, wait until the downturn hits!
There’s more from Martin Wilkins in the next edition of Cycling Industry News.