Why do my local bike shops suck so much?
Don't get me wrong...I love them. If I've got some spare time and I'm not riding, I'm probably visiting one of my LBS's. But individually, they suck. It would take a good 10 - 12 of my local shops combined to come close to the ideal bike dealer. And even then it would come up short.
So what's wrong?
The biggest problem is that the stores are too small. Retail space can be very expensive and typically represents one of the largest monthly expenses for any shop. As a result, the average store is less than 5,000 square feet. An 18 pound bag of fertilizer can cover the floor space in a store this size.
By the time you fill this space with a service area, back room for shipping/receiving/storage, bath-room, and check-out counter, you've cut the available retail space by about 20%. This barely leaves enough room to stock an adequate supply of bikes. Which brings me to the next problem...
Yes, the lifeblood of any bike shop can also present the biggest dilemma for the shop owner. The average shop has to carry about five bike brands to have enough variety to serve their locality. In addition, multiple types of bikes must be carried as well. Hybrids and cruisers at the low end. Road and mountain at the high end. Except these days its not so simple. There are more categories or types of bikes then ever before. Road bike categories include, race, plush, commuter, cyclo-cross, etc. In mountain bike categories you've got, hard-tail, full suspension, freeride, all-mountain, cross-country, downhill, etc. Not only that, but you've got to decide if you want 26" wheels or 29." Not to mention singlespeeds.
This means that shop owners either need to focus on a single niche or they have to carry only one or two bikes within the entire range. Most try to do both, carrying an entire range with the focus either being mountain or road at the high-end. Since there is more volume in sales at the lower end, what you usually get is a shop with a whole lot of hybrids and a handful of bikes at the higher end.
This creates a vicious-cycle (pun intended) for the shop owner. You see, bikes are the lowest margin item sold at a bike shop. Bikes at the lower-end have an even lower margin then those at the high-end. So most of the prime retail space is made up of low margin low-end bikes, leaving little room for high margin items like apparel and accessories. Now I hate to generalize, but I will. Low-end bike consumers are least likely to be regular return customers. They either give up on their riding or ride only occasionally. They have demonstrated that they will not invest much in the sport.
Mid to high-end bike buyers are your regular riders. They are willing to invest in the sport and will be more likely to continue. As a result, they will return for high-margin upgrades, accessories, winter clothes, summer clothes, tools, etc. The problem is, the shop's got nothing for them, because their too busy selling low-end bikes to "dead-end" consumers.
So fundamentally, the economics of the industry are stacked against the LBS owner. What seems intuitive to the owner (selling high-volume, low-end bikes) is actually counter productive. Nonetheless, the owners passion for the sport keeps them working hard allowing them to eke out a decent living. Meanwhile the enthusiast must turn to the Internet to find the variety and selection they crave.
There's more wrong with this model, but I'll have to go into these issues in additional posts (there are good things as well - but they are not as much fun to write about). Maybe if you're good ;-) I'll let you in on my super-secret business plan for the ideal bike shop.