Why you should support your local bike shop

Bike shops are often the backbone of community cycling. They sell bikes, clothing and accessories, offer servicing and maintenance and can provide a hub for all things cycling related in an area.  However, local bike shops are increasingly under threat and many are closing down, which is a real problem for families who want to test out a bike before they buy, or who need help with looking after their bikes.

I decided to ask an expert for more information about what's happening to local bike shops, what can be done to help them, and what they can offer parents looking for a bike for their Sprog this Christmas.  Gary Conway works for Tandem Group Cycles who produce various ranges of bikes (including Squish Bikes and Dawes) which are stocked in bike shops up and down the country.

Small Business Saturday - support your local bike store

[Karen] I keep hearing that local bike shops are closing down - is this really true?

[Gary] Not just local bike shops, the retail sector as a whole is suffering at the moment; it seems like every week we’re hearing about another high street retailer going bust, being sold or really struggling.  Unfortunately bike shops are not immune to that.  So yes, in answer to your question it’s true.  We’ve sadly lost some great bike shops over the last year or so.  That said, we’re seeing more shops becoming interested in stocking quality kids bikes all the time, especially with our new Squish junior bikes, so it’s certainly not all doom and gloom.

[K] Why is it important that parents support their local bike shop?

[G] I remember very clearly my experiences as a child picking a new bike from the local bike shops in my area.  Needless to say, I loved it!  Sure, circling a picture in a catalogue or looking at things online has its plus points - usually for the parents - but actually going to a showroom to look at and sit on different bikes will always be best way of ensuring you buy the right product, for your child or yourself!  It’s also great fun for your children!  It’s becoming a common phrase “Use them or lose them” and this is very much the case with bike shops, as well as all other local retailers, this is why it’s so important for everyone to show their support.

[K] Isn't it much cheaper and convenient to buy online these days?

[G] For many products I’d definitely say yes, but for bikes or anything of a mechanical nature, I’d strongly disagree.  Sure, buying a bike online in the comfort of your own home, when the kids have gone to bed is very convenient.  And yes, you might save a bit of money on the initial purchase.  But for the majority of parents who aren’t very confident assembling a bike, they’ll then also have the inconvenience and expense of taking the bike to a local bike shop who will charge anywhere from £30+ to assemble and check the bike for you.  You also have nowhere to then take the bike for after service or warranty if you buy online.  I’d say that the inconveniences of buying online outweigh the small saving you made to begin with, and especially when buying a bike for your child you really need to be sure it is set up correctly, and safely; something a website cannot offer you.

[K] Won't parents get a much better choice of kid’s bikes at a big national store, or on-line? 

[G] No, not necessarily.  National stores tend to push a lot of their own-brand products (where they make the most profit) and have a set range of bikes in store.  Also, most don’t specialise in just bikes; bikes are amongst camping, walking, gym equipment, car parts, car stereo’s etc, etc.  That’s great if you want to buy products across a few activities in one place but for me, service and knowledge will always be better from your local bike shop that live and breathe bikes.  As for looking online, this can very easily become a bit overwhelming for parents who need some guidance.  I know from my experience in retail that the majority of parents don’t really know what sort of bike, or what size would be best for their child, so buying online would very much be like taking a stab in the dark.

[K] What happens if they want a size or colour that their local bike shop hasn't got in stock? 

[G] Just ask for it.  9 times out of 10, the local bike shop will be able to order it into stock, and speaking for ourselves we could get the bike to that store the very next day.  Local bike shops are a lot more versatile than a website; it’s not simply a case of seeing if an item is, or is not in stock.  If it’s not there then your local bike shop can order it, offer you something different or advise on actual alternatives – not just suggest a bike of the same colour, price, or similar part number as a website might do.  You’ll find this is the same in most shops big or small; to showcase a complete range in all sizes and colour options can take up a lot of space.  Our Squish range consists of 22 different bikes if you look at it that way, so most stores won’t have enough space on their shop floor for them all….but they may have more in the back, so I can’t urge consumers enough to just ask!

Support your local bike shop this small business SaturdaySupport your local bike shop this small business Saturday

[K] Will a local bike shop charge extra for a kid’s bike to be assembled?

[G] No, not a penny.  Any bike purchased from a local bike shop will be assembled, checked and adjusted to fit you/your child free of charge.  Most stores even offer a free 6 week service to make adjustments on brakes and gears after the bike has had some use.  You’ll also find a lot of local bike shops will offer to hold the bike for you on the run up to Christmas, and in most cases even let you pay for it over time, helping you to keep that surprise present hidden, and spreading the cost of Christmas

[K] Do local bike shops offer the same guarantees and return services as the larger chains?

[G] Yes.  In most cases, bikes/components are guaranteed by the bike/component brand themselves.  So where the consumer buys them from makes no difference to the guarantee. Buying bikes online however can bring with it the headaches we touched on earlier so even more reason to buy local.

[K] I know some people don't feel very confident going into a bike shop, because they worry they won't understand the lingo, or be pressurised into buying a particular bike. Do you have any advice for first timers?

[G] I can appreciate that and agree, not all bike shops have always done a great job of making their store seem inviting to non-cyclists.  As with anything in life, there’s some good, some bad and inevitably some ugly.  I think bike stores have started to recognise that they can’t afford to be so picky on who they sell to now though, so hopefully you’ll see a change in attitude  in those places that needed it.  If a consumer visits their local bike shop, has a chat and asks questions, I think they’ll be surprised at how valuable that local contact can be.

Also, stores that offer a lot of kid’s bikes are there for local families.  Their business depends on them.  So hopefully you’ll be pleasantly surprised how well they treat you and your children if you visit.  In larger chain stores or online, you may sometimes feel like just another number.  I like to think smaller, local bike shops treat their customers better and with more personality as they want to see them in their store again and again over the years.

[K] What should parents be looking for when they buy a bike for their Cycle Sprog this Christmas?

[G] A super lightweight Squish bike of course!  You walked right into that one!!  Parents are now starting to recognise the benefits of buying a lighter weight, better quality bike.  They last longer (making hand-me-downs great for younger siblings), they’re easier to use, more fun, and retain their resale value better.  If parents aren’t 100% sure what they should be looking for, I’d say they should be looking for their local bike shop!  If they’re not aware of any, they should put their postcode into our online store locator.

[K] What do you think the future holds for local bike shops?

[G] I think there’s still a way to go, and I’m sure they’ll be some more closures before we’re out of the woods.  But I’m hopeful that the future is bright for those local bike shops that move with the times.  Products and services are continually evolving to ensure local bike shops have an offering to rival large chain stores or websites…but they need the support of their local community for that hard work to pay off.

Small Business Saturday is on 7th December 2019, but your local bike shop will welcome your business all year round!  

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  1. Stephen says:

    After reading the article I felt compelled to write and endorse this view. Im not in the bike trade or even a major cycling enthusiast (sorry) but I am an avid online nerdy researcher when buying a technical item. After many (too many) hours researching my 6yo son's 1st geared 20inch wheel bike I settled on one based on weight / components / quality / reviews / price and fun factor and potential supplier online..
    On Saturday I had to go to a local bike shop for a new tyre for my bike and took my son. They happened to have chosen bike so I asked if my son could try for size, the owner looked at my son and said whilst a great bike he didnt think the geometry/dimensions would suit and explained why, he said try and see and was completely correct, the reach was long and low for his build and the ride consequently unstable. He suggested an alternative that was as light (or lighter), better suited geometry, similar price/quality and.... a much happier 6yo was flying around the store with instruction on using the gears, he loved it. The manager couldn't quite match the online price but worked hard to get close and we struck a deal. I collect this week after they adjusted brake levers to suit my son and set up correctly. You simply cannot get that service online or be 100% that what you get will give years of happy cycling. Now that smile is a great return on investment!

  2. Stephen says:

    Unfortunately my experience of cycle shops has been somewhat disappointing.
    After resisting the temptation to buy online I bought an ebike from a nearby cycle shop. On the positive side I was able to test ride the bike that I had chosen.
    Disappointment set in a few months later when I tried to arrange for the free service that was promised when I purchased.
    The assistant was quite dismissive when I told him that I use the bike just a couple of times a week, and without examining my purchase he suggested that I could defer the service which could be done at a later date if I had any warranty problems.
    I've had the bike for nearly two years now but it still hasn't had that all important free service, and it's 100% reliability is a credit to its German manufacturer.
    From looking at the cycle shop's showroom stock it's quite apparent that their main business is based around expensive road bikes.
    As a 70 year old returning to cycling my feeling now is that I have been patronised by a cycle seller whose sole aim was to shift stock that was clogging up his showroom.
    I could have saved a couple of hundred pounds by purchasing online from a no frills box shifter and I would have been no worse off for the experience.
    Cycle shops beware.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Stephen - so sorry to hear about your experience, and thanks for the word of warning. I guess it's like everything in life - there are good and bad examples of everything. If local bike shops want to thrive they need to ensure that they excel at customer service (and the maintenance service they provide). It certainly sounds as if your local shop has a lot to learn. Thanks for sharing your experience - I hope you have more success online in future. Karen

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