CHAIN REACTION: Shipped bikes are not axles of evil

Learn to love bikes-in-boxes, argues an anonymous independent retailer. Bike Spanner says the customer has moved on, so IBDs should follow...
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MANTRAS. The bike trade loves them. For a while it was ‘location, location, location’ then as the rents on prime premises went through the roof it was dropped in favour of ‘service, service, service’. The level of service in the trade has been improving on a daily basis, so it was time for a change.

The new mantra is ‘bikes-in-boxes are bad’. Admittedly it’s not as catchy as the other two, and if you talk to the average IBD the message is more rant than mantra.

And it’s not only the new war cry of the IBD either as some big brand names are adding a slighty different version of the phrase into their terms and conditions. But it all boils down to the same thing: selling bikes-in-boxes is wrong, and anyone who does it is evil.

The problem with this new mantra is it means different things to different people, and to some it’s just plain wrong.

To some, ‘bikes-in-boxes’ represents anyone who dares to sell a bicycle of any description over the internet. To this IBD, the type of box, how the bike is pre-assembled and the actual type of bike is irrelevant. It’s the fact that the bike is not sold face to face with the end user that is important. For this group of IBDs the thinking is that no-one other than their highly trained and exceptionally skilfull workshop mechanics could possibly put the bike together safely, therefore bikes-in-boxes are unsafe and so wrong.

To others, bikes-in-boxes represents the big discounters, be they online or bricks and mortar. Supposedly this type of retailer not only doesn’t care about the safety of the end user but also doesn’t care about the reputation of the brand they are price shagging. These retailers are also shagging every other IBD too because they are only able to sell at a discount because they don’t PDI the bike, so saving on workshop costs.

Allegedly.

The one thing that both these groups have in common is that they all refuse point blank to help out the bikes-in-boxes customers who find themselves faced with assorted nuts and bolts. The thinking is largely that this type of customer will see the error of their ways, dump the box of bike bits, return to the IBD with his tail between his legs and buy a fully PDI’d bike at full RRP.

The big question is which came first, the bike-in-a-box, or the customer who does not want to visit a shop, does not need the sales assistants’ advice, is perfectly capable of putting a bike together themselves and either wants the convenience of having the bike delivered to their home, perhaps even save a few quid?

Ah, but what about the unsuspecting customer who does believe there is such a thing as a free lunch, who genuinely did think they bike they bought cheap off the web would be arriving fully built, ready to ride, with a free tune-up after the first week?

Well, there are a growing number of entrepreneurs who think bikes-in-boxes are not bad, they see them as a very positive thing that helps to put money in their tills. In the same way that a whole new army of furniture assemblers has been created by the proliferation of the flat-pack coffee table and shelving units; new businesses aimed squarely at the end user of the bike-in-a-box are starting to spring up all over the place.

“Bought a bike in a box cheap off the net?” they say in their advertising. “Need it putting together?” they ask. “No problem, bring it to us, we’ll set it up for you and sell you lots of add-ons at the same time, all for less than the money you saved buying it in the first place.”

The reality is the general public is not as stupid as a lot of retailers think, and fettling bikes is not rocket science. And even if Joe Public was mechanically inept, is it really the job of the bike trade to manage this? Does a car dealer check on the background of every buyer of a fast car to make sure they have no pending speeding tickets? Does the DIY store check the competence of everyone buying a power tool? No, of course they don’t, they are in business and the purpose of a business is to make a profit.

The retail market is changing, it’s changing fast. You either change and adapt to suit the customers’ demands, or you fade and die.

‘Bike Spanner’ owns a high-end bike shop. To protect himself from flak he preferred to remain anonymous for the purposes of this article.

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