Successful bike shops don’t just happen. Most shop people work really hard to make their shops financially viable as well as culturally relevant. Shop owners and managers in particular must wear a lot of hats. Most spend lots of time figuring out how to make their shops more efficient, how to manage their people, how to merchandise better—the list goes on and on.
Clayton McLagan understands this. McLagan spent six years creating and developing service processes and strategizing optimal customer experiences for Best Buy. As a vendor sales manager for QBP, he draws on that experience to help shops develop better, more efficient, more profitable practices. He talks to a lot of shop folks to see how they do things. As QBP’s sales manager for Finish Line, he is particularly in touch with the repair side of shops’ business practices, and he’s a garnered a lot of knowledge about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to making your service center more efficient and profitable. In this article, McLagan shares some of what he’s learned.
It’s no secret that one major factor that sets any business apart is its ability to consistently provide a great experience for its customers. It also clear that bike shops face a unique set of challenges, from thin margins to fickle weather. Not only that, but the bicycle business at the retail level is made up largely of independent local businesses. Bike shops can’t weather bad times as easily as larger companies. It is crucial, then, that bike shops in particular make great customer experience a cornerstone of their business strategy, and this is as important in the service area as it is on the sales floor.
The first step to delivering a great customer experience in your service area is to create a consistent experience for all your customers. Your shop’s ability to take care of your customers in a consistent manner will leave a lasting impression on them. McLagan advises a regular check-in process for repairs. Ideally, he says, shops will have dedicated check-in people who know bikes. Having a single person as the service writer keeps your process consistent and provides a single point of contact for your customers. For many shops this simply isn’t possible, but in these cases McLagan recommends keeping the pool of service writers as small as possible. Regardless, developing a process that works for you but that puts the customer first can drastically reduce customer call-backs and allow mechanics to do what they do best: work on bikes.
Create a process you follow every time someone brings in his or her bike for repair. Don’t just write down what the customer tells you is wrong with the bike; ask questions. Do a quick inspection. If possible, put the bike in a stand and go over it with the customer. Recognize that no matter what kind of bike it is, each customer’s bike is important to that individual. It might be the only way he or she has to get to school or work, or to decompress and relieve stress after a tough day. Taking the time to go over it demonstrates that you’re proud to work on the bike and that you’re glad that customer came to you. Point out things that also need work, and things that might soon. Don’t push customers to spend more, but do inform them of safety concerns, as well as things that could be done to prevent small annoyances, like rubbing brakes.This not only shows you care about that customers bike and business, it also helps to avoid an uncomfortable phone call later if your mechanic finds something else that needs to be done. A thoughtful check-in process develops trust in part by giving customers a fair and accurate estimate of the work up front. They know what to expect, and so do you.
Another key to building trust with customers seems simple, but lots of shops don’t do it: “Make sure your shop has a clear point of view on the products you sell and use,” says McLagan, “specifically in the stuff you use in the shop, like lube, cables, tubes, etc.” Sure, your shop probably carries different kinds of lubes to give customers a choice depending on their bike, where they ride, weather conditions, and personal preference. But when it comes time to recommend a brand, pick a product that everyone in your shop can get behind, know why you recommend it, and go with it.
“Consistency is key,” says McLagan. Your whole strategy from the sales floor to the shop should line up. It is not a great customer experience when your sales people sell and recommend one thing and your mechanics are servicing bikes with another. A clear point of view will send a unified message to your customers that will help build a repeatable, sustainable customer experience. It will clean up your assortment, make it easier to order, and ensure your customers aren’t getting mixed messages. In short, from tubes to lubes, sell what you use and use what you sell.
Finally, says McLagan, make sure you’re showing your customers the same attention when they pick up their bikes as you did when they dropped them off. Put each bike in the stand if possible, and walk customers though everything you’ve done. Use the opportunity to teach them how they can protect their investment. Yes, this takes a little extra time, but your customers want to see what they’re paying for, and this gives you an opportunity to talk to them about all the products they need to enjoy their bikes even more. Talk about service intervals, bicycle care, saddle bags, extra tubes, locks, and anything else that will improve their riding experience. It’s not about upselling as much as education. Attune yourself to their level of knowledge and provide them with a little more. Your interest in their riding will go a long way in earning their business.
There are challenges running a bike shop but, says McLagan, if you take the time to focus on your customers’ experiences, you’ll build loyalty—and income—and have more time to focus on other parts of your business.