Buy It From Your Local Bike Shop

Over the last few years I’ve spent a lot of money buying, building, and fixing my various bikes.  Too much money, really.  But if you have to have a vice, I guess one that makes you healthy is the best kind to have.  And being a local business owner, I always try to shop locally if possible.

As I began writing this article, I decided to check Quicken to find out exactly how much I’d spent.  I was astounded to find that I’d spent $33,239 supporting this addiction of mine over the last three years or so.  Fortunately I’ve sold quite a few bikes and lots of extra parts.  I also pulled up the receipts from the two local bicycle shops that I try to support, although truthfully one has received the bulk of my business.

Again, I was surprised to learn that my local bike shop purchases totalled $16,625 or right at 50% of all my bike related purchases.  The vast majority of my non-local bike expenditures went to licenses, race entry fees, and other race-related expenses.  But some went to online bike suppliers like Amazon, eBay, and a host of others.

Some purchases even went to private parties as did my sales of bikes and parts.  A few went to bike swap shops and some went to non-bike stores like Walmart, Lowes, Hurst Anahoe, and retailers like that.  Still, the lion’s share of all my bicycle related purchases went to my local bike shops, and one in particular.

I think that when one local bike shop has received half of all my bike related expenditures, that should be applauded.  Still reports frequently come back to me through various friends that I’ve somehow cheated on my local bike shop if I happened to purchase a part online, as if the local bike shop is somehow “entitled” to my business and doesn’t have to earn or compete for it.

Last week, I tried to purchase a pair of Shimano winter mountain bike shoes.  The local bike shop I frequent has no winter mountain bike shoes in stock, so I sent the manager a link to the shoes I was interested in purchasing asking him for price and availability.  He emailed me back that those shoes were out of stock and that if I could get them online to do so.  I did and they arrived two days later, no sales tax and free shipping.  Still, I first tried to buy local.

Several weeks ago I needed to purchase a SRAM PC 1071 chain.  The local bike shop didn’t have it in stock, although I was told it is a normal stock item.  I waited until their weekly stock order came in and there was no chain — neither mine nor the one for stock.  I returned a week later and still my chain had not arrived.  Today, I stopped in to see if they had it yet and sure enough, they did.

SRAM PC 1071 chain, showing list price of $69.99.  The name of the local bike shop has been whited out so as not to embarrass them.

SRAM PC 1071 chain, showing list price of $69.99. The name of the local bike shop has been whited out so as not to embarrass them.

They handed me the chain and when I saw the price on the box I asked if it was correct since it was higher than what I had remembered.  I was told that it was correct.  So I opened the Amazon app on my iPhone and in a matter of seconds pulled up the chain.

Amazon App Screenshot

I pointed to the manufacturer’s suggested retail price ($54.00) — not to the discounted price that I could purchase the chain for with a single click and receive it in two days freight free and no tax — but the MSRP.  The clerk said the website was wrong and that I could buy it online if I wanted.  I was frustrated — not so much by the price, but by the attitude.  I gritted my teeth, I paid for the chain, received my club discount of 10% and came home.

Name of local bike shop is whited out on both receipts so as not to embarrass them.

Name of local bike shop is whited out on both receipts so as not to embarrass them.

I thought maybe I’m wrong, and maybe Amazon didn’t have the correct MSRP.  It didn’t make sense that Amazon would show a smaller discount by understating the list price, since they were selling it at the sale price of $45.99, but still I wanted to know, so I went to the SRAM website.

Sure enough, on the SRAM website the current MSRP is $53-56 (depending on which number of links you purchase, either 114 or 120).  Amazon had split the difference.  But the local bike shop had inflated the MSRP by a full 25% putting the price at $69.99.  Then they gave me a 10% discount and the employee was clearly perturbed that I had even questioned the price.

Screenshot of SRAM.com showing current MSRP of $53-$56

Screenshot of SRAM.com showing current MSRP of $53-$56

Did I buy local?  Yes.  Was I a happy customer?  No.  And they clearly weren’t happy either.  I waited over two extra weeks for the chain, then paid (after tax and discount) a full $21.41 more for the privilege of buying from my local bike shop.  That’s 47% higher than shopping at Amazon and I had to take the time to get in my car and drive to the store three separate times to buy what would have been at my door in two days with free shipping if I had bought it online.

I wish they’d just said, “Look, times are tough and we can’t offer you a club discount on this part.”  I would still have bought the part from them but I would have been happy knowing that I was supporting a local shop that supported me whenever they could.  Instead my local bike shop made what could have been a pleasant transaction into an unpleasant one by choosing to first misrepresent the list price, treat me like a mark, and then act snotty to me when I dared question them about it.

Now I feel used and cheated when I want to feel good about paying extra to support my local bike shop.  I’m happy to give them my business and help keep local people employed and keep the money in our community, but I don’t believe that any business is entitled to my patronage.

I’m sure that in a few days or weeks I’ll hear something back through the grapevine about how I spend all my bike money online when the truth is I probably spend far too little online.  I’ll continue to trade with my local bike shops and I’ll probably continue to pay a premium to do so.  So the next time you start to think about how I bought some part out of town, now you’ll know the rest of the story.