Death of the LBS?

On my way into work on Monday my maintenance free commuter failed me for the first time.

The bike had developed a strange tendency to drop the chain over the last week. With horizontal dropouts and burly 1/8″ drivetrain, this is something that just shouldn’t happen – I had to put it down to a loose back wheel, despite tightening it carefully on three occasions.

Then, while heading downhill (of all things) onto Picardy Place roundabout, disaster struck! The chain came off, but wait… it was dragging on the ground… it was broken in half… :(

lbs_dead2

Packing away the world’s tiniest violin, the real point of this story is not this sad mechanical failure but the oddness that follows.

I’m fortunate to work not too far away from one of Edinburgh’s bike shops (I won’t name it). I’ve dropped in on my way home from work on numerous occasions, not including the time I coerced a colleague to buy a new saddle and tyres for his very reasonable 26 mile round-trip commute (he subsequently resigned – no, really).

When all’s said and done, I buy a fair amount of stuff from the big online stores, like Chain Reaction or Wiggle (regular readers probably notice that I often provide links to them from reviews). I’m not totally insensitive to the plight of the small business and the value of the local bike shop, however, and do like to patronise them when I can.

So, you may imagine my surprise when I was told that, although yes they did have a suitable SRAM chain to get me back on the road – they wouldn’t let me use their shop chain tool to fit it. Que?

Perhaps they were angling for me to pay some expensive labour charge to do a job that I can manage in two minutes flat with my eyes closed, but I didn’t hang about to find out.

I ordered a pair of chains from Chain Reaction Cycles instead (in fact, I bought them for a scandalous discount – over 50% at the time of writing). I did it while pushing the bike, so I saved a wad of cash while at least minimising the opportunity cost of the whole sorry saga.

lbs_dead_feat

Is it any wonder that the small local bike shop is suffering if they won’t even trade in the one area that they really shouldn’t need to worry about mail order competition?

Some shops charge what seems like a punitive rate for bit jobs like puncture fixes, and I can understand that if you want to reduce the amount of time your staff spend working on that type of repair and not, say, a full annual service for a heck of a lot more money.

But refusing to let people use a simple and cheap shop tool for a couple of minutes and losing a sale on something with at least a 100% markup? That, I do not understand.

What do you think? Am I being a bit harsh here, or is there an obvious answer that I’m just not seeing? Drop a comment with your thoughts…

8 Comments

  1. I have to sing the praises of East St Cycles in Farnham. I was “upgrading” an old MTB and slowly acquiring tools to do so. At one point I went in needing a pin spanner. They didn’t have one, but let me borrow one from the workshop to take home! They know my face fairly well, but sounds like the same goes for your LBS.

    They also advised me on a cheaper chainset alternative to what I was planning. I bought it from them, but looking at the internet afterwards, it hadn’t cost any more. All-round bargain.

    They seem very unlike the usual LBS, much of the kit they sell is high end, whereas many LBS take the view that no one would possibly want to spend more than £20 on a lock, which is putting them in the Halfords market, not SJS.

  2. Andrew Harrington

    Hi Dave,

    Having worked in the bike industry. one of the reasons tools are not given out is because people dont return them or break them. However I do take your point some LBS’s are their own worst enemy in terms of attitude.

  3. Rodger

    Having moonlighted in an LBS for a while then tool lending can be a nightmare so I expect it was just ‘policy’. Doesn’t mean that common sense can’t prevail, one of my LBS would have fitted it for you gratis. Most of my LBS are awful.

  4. The charge for fitting a chain shouldn’t have been anything severe. You’re not going anywhere in a hurry without a chain so can’t see why they wouldn’t have lent you. The fact that you could order online via phone is one thing but it should have been an easy and profitable sale for a local business.

  5. I’ve been lucky – one LBS let me borrow (for 24 hours) their pedal spanner – on my first visit!
    My more regular LBS is always happy to come and fettle with me, using their tools, for no charge.

    It’s just one of the reasons I keep going back – I know I could have got my new brake pads (must fit them soon) cheaper online, but these guys deserve some trade for the work they do!

  6. Dave

    Thanks all.

    To be clear, I would have fitted the chain at the shop (I didn’t want to take the tool away). When chain tools cost less to buy from Wiggle than the profit made from a single chain sale at the LBS it does seem odd to me. Perhaps everyone else caves in though?

    I couldn’t be much happier with the Bicycle Works on Argyle Place as an LBS, unfortunately by the time I get to them I’m so local I may as well walk home :)

  7. Martin

    My local shop has proved brilliant in sorting all manor of things including punctures and bottom brackets falling out when just popping in. Again, as others, I go back and don’t mind if I end up paying slightly more than stuff on line. However they are struggling due to a “chain” store moving in recently and discounting heavily. Several local cycle groups dropped them as thier sponsor and went over to the new store siting costs then are upset when they limp back due to poor service expecting special treatment and have to wait in line. Goof service is worth paying for in my opinion.

  8. Joel

    I now always have in my backpack and/or seatbag a set of foldable bike tools that provide almost any possible tool. Including a mini chain tool.
    Saved the day once ot twice already, when my chain would fail…

    So I can usually replace/repair my bike by myself.
    And for the extra parts I cannot handle by myself, the LBS I know won’t charge anything for bit jobs lasting only a couple of minutes.

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