I came across this letter (below) on the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association’s email list. Written by the owner of a very successful local shop. I think it speaks clearly the idea and belief I share about putting back into your community. Specifically the racing community. Though the lines between “evil” internet mail order shops and “local” brick and mortar bike shops are getting pretty blurry here in Portland as I also came across this tonight: an article about a local Internet-shop pledging to put $50k into local mountain bike trail advocacy.
Holy crap! I’ve made it a point to personally go out and work on the trails that I ride every year all over the Portland-area. Each winter has seen me hiking around with a chainsaw and shovel in the woods. But, $50k?
“Open letter to OBRA members,
Having just passed our 14-year anniversary, I have spent some time reflecting on River City Bicycle’s position in Portland and the biking community. I’d like to thank all of you for the support that you’ve shown River City over the last fourteen years. While we are proud of what we’ve done so far, we would not have been able to give back to the community in the many ways we have if we did not have the support back from the bike community.
Racing sponsorship is a very tricky proposition for businesses. This should be obvious to any fan of the sport, considering the revolving door of trade teams that come and go at every level. From my perspective, it can be a very difficult expense to justify at times, particularly if one just looks at the numbers or at the direct return on investment. But for River City, what we count on most to justify our continued support of racing sponsorship is the fact that each and every one of you is considered to be the expert on bikes to all of your friends and acquaintances, and that you will suggest to them that River City is, indeed, a good bike shop, and worthy of their business, whether or not we support your specific team or event. We do our best to live up to the recommendations that we get from our good customers, and are constantly improving what we do and how we do it. We have a very high caliber of staff here, true bike shop professionals who take their jobs as seriously as you take yours. As the bike industry gets more technical and complex every year, we are able to maintain a high quality of staff for many years, some almost from our inception. This should be considered an asset to the biking community, as I’m sure most, if not all of you, have had bike problems that have had to be fixed by an expert.
To conclude, I would like to thank you for continuing to support not only River City Bicycles, but also all of the sponsors of Oregon bicycle racing. This is a difficult business environment for everyone and we all need to recognize who we count on for support. So when you are thinking about that next bike related purchase please consider that the internet company or national chain that may offer a perceived lower price is doing so without the service or contribution to OBRA and our local biking community that we all benefit from and enjoy. We all vote with our wallets, and we all decide what is important to us in the long run.
To the road,
Either of the above businesses are easily doing 10x the amount of $ both of my businesses combined do. And both are reaching out to the community, which is a good thing. I feel good about directing business to fellow shops like RCB (rivercitybicycles) and Sellwood cycles because it is clear they both share my vision for the greater riding community and maintaining very high retail and service standards. When I read something like the link above about Universal, I feel conflicted. I should make it clear that I don’t know much about the shop and maybe that is part of the issue, the only people I know who have shopped there order online and go pick it up at the location later. I’ve never heard anything about their culture or commitment to quality and high service standards. What I hear about is a business that undermines a “standard” retail operation (like mine) by selling parts online at very low prices (undercutting standard retail margins?), donating more money than I could fathom putting into anything. $10k a year? That could send a couple juniors I know to Belgium to race cyclocross for 6 months each year! That is a lot of cash.
And I wonder… why do I keep at it? If internet sales are that profitable, I should close up the retail shop and switch to a web-based specialty service.
But, it breaks my heart to think about that. And then I re-read the owner of RCB’s letter. It tells me they must be feeling the pinch too. The letter speaks directly to their customers: “hey, think about us.” As far as I know, RCB does not have much of a web-sales presence. And everything I know (which is a lot) about that shop is mostly great. Great service, great sales selection, great staff. Like I said, if I did not already own a bike shop, I would probably spend my cash there. Or at least get on one of their sponsored teams so that I could get all the sweet deals and hook ups they offer to their teams.
And, what would happen if that shop was to close. Or go web based?
Portland has the unique distinction of having an overabundance of great bike shops. (and framebuilders, and coffee roasters and coffee shops and record stores and movie theatres and organic grocers and food carts and massage therapists and independently-owned everything liberal white folks like.) So, I don’t expect many of the better shops are going to go belly up anytime soon. But, we have to respond to the changes the internet and the web-based way of business bring to the current way of doing business. (writing a letter to the 4000+ OBRA racing community email list is one way)
I wondered what prompted the letter to OBRA from Dave. Was it hearing for the 1000th time “I saw it for sale cheaper online…” in his shop? Or was it just a passing thought in the reflection of 10+ years in the community and the changes he has seen?
I am rambling and digressing. But, mainly wanted to concur. The final paragrah of his letter says it: “please consider that the internet company or national chain that may offer a perceived lower price is doing so without the service or contribution to OBRA and our local biking community”
It is the perception of a lower price. And sadly the perception from behind the computer screen is only dollar signs. And that is only sad because, it is so convenient. If we need info, we google it. If we need to buy something, we google where to buy it. And, there are a couple of those “evil web-based” bike retailers who would be the downfall of small shops like mine, right here in town! So you can buy cheaper and still buy local!
I ask myself: how do we as “non-web based” bicycle retailers. Increase the value perceived in our existence/services? And clearly express that value to our customer base? (I can answer my own question here)
Customers (whether we like it or not) will search out the best value. I have seen loyal, long-time customers become bitter when they feel they are being “over charged” for something they have seen for much cheaper on the ol’ internets. (they will leave and not come in again if they perceive that they have been cheated) I have had loyal customers bring in bikes, brands I sell in my shop, that they have purchased off the web, for less than retail, to have my employees build them. In their mind, they are “supporting local” because they are giving us the work. If they can find the parts cheaper somewhere else, that is not wrong is it? At the end of the day, it is all the same Taiwanese crap, no?
I should stop writing but, clearly this is on my mind. Has been for years. Thanks for penning that letter to OBRA Dave.