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Bike shop staff don't know their products

Old 06-25-19, 06:08 AM
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fidodido
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Bike shop staff don't know their products

I went to a LBS today to check out the Trek mountain bikes for a MTB multi day tour that I hope to do this year. I was surprised that I felt I knew more about the bikes just from looking at the Trek website before going to the shop than the staff that was showing me around. I asked the staff what drivetrain the bike come with and he wasn't really sure and had to look down and gave up trying to count the number of tooth on the biggest sprocket. One of the selling feature of the bike I was looking at was the Sram 12 speed drivetrain but he didn't mention it. There weren't that many bikes on the floor, and I would have thought if he works there everyday, he would know the bike specs off by heart. Because I felt he doesn't know his stuff, I stopped asking questions to save him the embarrasment.


I bought a gravel bike two years ago and the experience was pretty similar in a number of stores, that most bike shop staff don't 'appear' to know their products. So I have a feeling that this is prevalent in the industry. You would think a bike shop attracts staff who are passionate about bikes, but maybe a passion in riding bikes doesn't necessarily translate to paying attention to bike specs. Another possibility I can think of is that most people who buy bikes aren't too concern about bike specs so the shop staff don't try to talk about these details so as not to confuse the customer.


Whatever the reasons why staff don't know their products, I felt it was a pretty poor retail experience. I may as well buy a bike online and if I need things fixed, take it to a shop that are more mechanically inclined (usually small shops that focused on servicing bikes rather than selling bikes). I'm happy to pay full retail price from a shop that have knowledgable staff and can guide me to choosing the right bike. Is this really too much to ask?
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Old 06-25-19, 07:01 AM
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I'll preface this by saying... yes there are bike shops with very knowledgable staff.

That said, it's retail sales. I can't really even remember the last time I bought something at retail where the sales staff knew more than me. I've already researched a specific product that I'm interested in, that sales staff probably has 1000s of products to learn, well, at least hundreds. They are getting paid minimum wage and probably being asked to do the work of 2-3 people. I worked retail management for many years and watched the gradual trend of hire fewer, work them harder, and watch your turn over rate skyrocket.

The last year or so I have been unable to find anyone to answer any type of home improvement question at any of the big box places. Have you noticed an eerie lack of employees at Wal-Mart lately? Those places are are nearly devoid of staff these days. I trired to get some paint mixed at Wal-Mart a couple weeks ago. Could not find anyone to do it. Finally got a manager to attempt it, and he kept trying to call for help. He finally got someone to come and they complained the whole time that it wasn't their department (they were from automotive, which is usually well removed from the rest of Wal-Mart). The manager told them to get used to it because all employees would be covering all departments from now on. It's the way retail is going as business moves to an all online model.
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Old 06-25-19, 07:08 AM
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Retail in most industries is a tough business. Low pay and low, or no, benefits leads to high turnover and low quality interactions. It isn't just the cycling industry. It affects many consumer products.

Luckily for me, I live in a highly active cycling area with 4 or 5 quality bike shops.
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Old 06-25-19, 07:26 AM
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Originally Posted by fidodido View Post
Because I felt he doesn't know his stuff, I stopped asking questions to save him the embarrasment.
It sounds like you were only in there to prove you knew more than he did. If you already know everything about the bike, why all the questions?
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Old 06-25-19, 07:32 AM
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Wilfred Laurier
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Bike shops are a tough business, esp. in the area of finding and keeping knowledgeable and reliable staff. The turnover is often high, normally many students come in seasonally. Some people they hire will never get skills or knowledge beyond operating the cash register, but, from a management perspective, that's usually good enough if they show up for every shift and are sober.

The fact that the person you dealt with was trying to confirm specs (like counting sprocket teeth) is an indication that they were doing their best to not BS you, which often happens when they are trying to hide their lack of knowledge.

I used to work with an older guy who was a manager at an established shop and he didn't have a lot of knowledge about the individual products, so he would pull out a bike to show a client and go through the features of the bike visually... "Let's see... this one's got SLX derailleurs and hydraulic disc brakes..."
People loved dealing with him, and his sales numbers showed it, because he was obviously not BSing anyone.
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Old 06-25-19, 07:37 AM
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I have not ridden a mountain bike before, the only thing I know are the specs from the website. What the specs mean practically for actual riding, I have no idea. I was keen to talk to someone who can explain whether the bikes I was looking at were suitable for the type of riding I want to do. The disappointing thing was the interaction didn't fill me with confidence.
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Old 06-25-19, 07:40 AM
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Well it's retail and the guy working the floor isn't always the most knowledgeable. That said, sometimes they're right and it was my knowledge that was incomplete.

Personally I'd much rather that the guy looks something up than try to bluff his way through it. You don't necessarily have to be an expert, just be honest.
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Old 06-25-19, 07:49 AM
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Originally Posted by TakingMyTime View Post
It sounds like you were only in there to prove you knew more than he did. If you already know everything about the bike, why all the questions?
There are a large number of people who play a game I like to call "Stump the Bikestore".
People playing STBS might come in with tricky questions about obsolete parts ('you don't know the different between EA3 and S6 tires?!' or 'don't you sell skip-tooth chainrings?!'), looking for obscure parts that they believe a shop could not possibly have in stock, but that they have no intention of buying (Customer: "do you have a titanium left-handed adapter for a Brand X patch kit?" Clerk: "Why yes we do! We got a box of them yesterday and they are fifteen cents each!" Customer: "Oh... Well I'll keep that in mind.") or asking for prices on random disparate items they have no intention of buying ("how much is.... <looks around the store> ... that wheel?! ... those snowshoes?! ...that tool kit?!... that pair of gloves?!")

My sense is that you win at STBS by leaving the store feeling superior to a bike shop employee.
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Old 06-25-19, 07:50 AM
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I understand your frustration but the currently offering from most manufactures is insane. Nevermind if the LBS is a multi-brand dealer.

I purchased a Trek Checkpoint a couple weeks ago. I knew more than everyone at the shop including the two owners who I know are avid and knowledgeable cyclists. The check point comes with 3 frames and they are all very distinct. Add that every frame level (AL, ALR and SL) have several builds and women specific builds and sizes (some smaller sizes have different mounts) and you end up with 30+ combinations. Now add that some builds have 2 or 3 color schemes and it's impossible for a sales employee or even the owner to know all the nuances. And we only talked about one model.

If I was managing a shop (or any retail store ) I'd train my staff to know where to find the info and know the generalities. I'd never expect them to know the details like an enthusiast buyer who has been researching a specific model.

Another mistake us, bikeforums nerds make is to assume we represent the majority of cyclists/consumers out there. We are a minority, we are nerds who not only like riding but like to read about, talk about and discuss at nauseum. I even have some doubts if some here actually go out and ride.

Now... if the employee didn't know the difference between a presta and schrader valve I would be very concerned.

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Old 06-25-19, 07:55 AM
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Originally Posted by Wilfred Laurier View Post
There are a large number of people who play a game I like to call "Stump the Bikestore".
People playing STBS might come in with tricky questions about obsolete parts ('you don't know the different between EA3 and S6 tires?!' or 'don't you sell skip-tooth chainrings?!'), looking for obscure parts that they believe a shop could not possibly have in stock, but that they have no intention of buying (Customer: "do you have a titanium left-handed adapter for a Brand X patch kit?" Clerk: "Why yes we do! We got a box of them yesterday and they are fifteen cents each!" Customer: "Oh... Well I'll keep that in mind.") or asking for prices on random disparate items they have no intention of buying ("how much is.... <looks around the store> ... that wheel?! ... those snowshoes?! ...that tool kit?!... that pair of gloves?!")

My sense is that you win at STBS by leaving the store feeling superior to a bike shop employee.
That scenario happens ALOT in guitar shops.
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Old 06-25-19, 08:02 AM
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Originally Posted by riverdrifter View Post
That scenario happens ALOT in guitar shops.
I bet. When I go to look at guitars (always only out of curiosity as I would have to get special dispensation or a divorce lawyer if I want to bring any more home) I am very sensitive to the fact that I do not wish to waste the guitar shop guy's time. Luckily all the information I am looking for is in the strings, and the shop guys let me browse and strum to my heart's content.
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Old 06-25-19, 08:08 AM
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In my experience with many bike shops in many towns throughout the US, about half the employees I talk to are either ill-informed, BSing, or both.

Some towns are worse than others. It can also vary a lot from one employee to the next in the same shop.

I don’t mind an employee not knowing something if they just say so, and maybe let me know they will look into it.
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Old 06-25-19, 08:09 AM
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Originally Posted by riverdrifter View Post
I'll preface this by saying... yes there are bike shops with very knowledgable staff.

That said, it's retail sales. I can't really even remember the last time I bought something at retail where the sales staff knew more than me. I've already researched a specific product that I'm interested in, that sales staff probably has 1000s of products to learn, well, at least hundreds. They are getting paid minimum wage and probably being asked to do the work of 2-3 people. I worked retail management for many years and watched the gradual trend of hire fewer, work them harder, and watch your turn over rate skyrocket.
Yeah, the kind of people who tend to know a lot about "stuff" tend to be able to sell better-paying skills elsewhere. The last time I worked retail I had a pretty good handle on things but that was only because we had a very limited focus (shipping / packing related goods and services).

Originally Posted by riverdrifter View Post
The last year or so I have been unable to find anyone to answer any type of home improvement question at any of the big box places. Have you noticed an eerie lack of employees at Wal-Mart lately? Those places are are nearly devoid of staff these days. I trired to get some paint mixed at Wal-Mart a couple weeks ago. Could not find anyone to do it. Finally got a manager to attempt it, and he kept trying to call for help. He finally got someone to come and they complained the whole time that it wasn't their department (they were from automotive, which is usually well removed from the rest of Wal-Mart). The manager told them to get used to it because all employees would be covering all departments from now on. It's the way retail is going as business moves to an all online model.
I don't go into my local Wal-mart much, but I had noticed over the years that there were fewer and fewer compared to how I remember it being as a kid. Back then, there were department specialists - my mother even had a friendship with one who ran the crafts supply section. That doesn't seem to be the case, now, as I've definitely seen the same lady pushing carts of petfood to one section as I've seen handling the groceries and baby supplies. Probably not really any time to oggle the goods and develop any working knowledge of them.

I also noticed this at Lowes, too - a decade ago, my Lowes had some dedicated lumber guys who did cuts and other stuff like that. Now I just kinda have to find a guy, and the last time I was in there I went through two people who weren't confident in using their saw enough to do cuts for me. I knew a guy who worked there - for about three months of the year he was lawn and garden - the rest of the time he was in the loading docks (and this year he was only in lawn for a couple of weeks before having to cover some other section). Can't say I'd bother to learn much either.
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Old 06-25-19, 08:14 AM
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Replace the words bike and shop with the name of any and EVERY other retail business in the world and it is the exact same.
What’s your point here?
Felt the need to bash bike shops on a bike forum while providing no real data?
Nice...
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Old 06-25-19, 08:14 AM
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Originally Posted by MEversbergII View Post
Yeah, the kind of people who tend to know a lot about "stuff" tend to be able to sell better-paying skills elsewhere. The last time I worked retail I had a pretty good handle on things but that was only because we had a very limited focus (shipping / packing related goods and services).



I don't go into my local Wal-mart much, but I had noticed over the years that there were fewer and fewer compared to how I remember it being as a kid. Back then, there were department specialists - my mother even had a friendship with one who ran the crafts supply section. That doesn't seem to be the case, now, as I've definitely seen the same lady pushing carts of petfood to one section as I've seen handling the groceries and baby supplies. Probably not really any time to oggle the goods and develop any working knowledge of them.

I also noticed this at Lowes, too - a decade ago, my Lowes had some dedicated lumber guys who did cuts and other stuff like that. Now I just kinda have to find a guy, and the last time I was in there I went through two people who weren't confident in using their saw enough to do cuts for me. I knew a guy who worked there - for about three months of the year he was lawn and garden - the rest of the time he was in the loading docks (and this year he was only in lawn for a couple of weeks before having to cover some other section). Can't say I'd bother to learn much either.
Yes, that is the sad state of retail, and it will only get worse.
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Old 06-25-19, 08:18 AM
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Originally Posted by TakingMyTime View Post
It sounds like you were only in there to prove you knew more than he did. If you already know everything about the bike, why all the questions?
This.
Why in the world would anyone waste time asking questions they knew the answer to?
You weren’t interviewing a doctor for open heart surgery. You were buying a bike that you already researched online
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Old 06-25-19, 08:54 AM
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'Trek University' has a number of modules that teach young people in the stores, the product line
(and upselling ).
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Old 06-25-19, 09:10 AM
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Originally Posted by cb400bill View Post
Retail in most industries is a tough business. Low pay and low, or no, benefits leads to high turnover and low quality interactions. It isn't just the cycling industry. It affects many consumer products.
This I think hits the nail on the head. Add to it the fact that most people can't afford these new bikes on the salaries that the sales staff make, and you have a recipe for creating this sort of situation.
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Old 06-25-19, 09:17 AM
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Originally Posted by downhillmaster View Post
This.
Why in the world would anyone waste time asking questions they knew the answer to?
You weren’t interviewing a doctor for open heart surgery. You were buying a bike that you already researched online
OP probably researched online and the store offering was very limited compared to online. OP probably couldn't remember all details and wanted sales person to verify..... but apparently it is too much to ask that sales person knows the 10 bikes on the floor.

Which is why I buy online. Last time I stepped in an LBS there was a sales person who I think doesn't even ride or sold jeans a week before. Then the owner who is knowledgeable, but only acknowledges you if you look like buying the most expensive bike.

But support your LBS, no matter what.
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Old 06-25-19, 09:41 AM
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Originally Posted by HerrKaLeun View Post
OP probably researched online and the store offering was very limited compared to online. OP probably couldn't remember all details and wanted sales person to verify..... but apparently it is too much to ask that sales person knows the 10 bikes on the floor.

Which is why I buy online. Last time I stepped in an LBS there was a sales person who I think doesn't even ride or sold jeans a week before. Then the owner who is knowledgeable, but only acknowledges you if you look like buying the most expensive bike.

But support your LBS, no matter what.
Yeah... Nope...
OP referenced asking only one question and that was SPECIFICALLY about Sram 12 speed which he referenced that he already knew was the drive train on the bike.
Nothing about your verification of detail theory which is pure conjecture.
Thanks for playing though!
Not sure where you came up with only 10 bikes on the floor either. How did you deduce the size of the shop?
I have more than a half dozen shops within 50 miles of me and they all have ALOT more than 10 bikes/models on the floor.
You need to get out a bit more maybe?

Last edited by downhillmaster; 06-25-19 at 09:45 AM.
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Old 06-25-19, 10:27 AM
  #21  
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Originally Posted by fidodido View Post
I went to a LBS today to check out the Trek mountain bikes for a MTB multi day tour that I hope to do this year. I was surprised that I felt I knew more about the bikes just from looking at the Trek website before going to the shop than the staff that was showing me around. I asked the staff what drivetrain the bike come with and he wasn't really sure and had to look down and gave up trying to count the number of tooth on the biggest sprocket. One of the selling feature of the bike I was looking at was the Sram 12 speed drivetrain but he didn't mention it. There weren't that many bikes on the floor, and I would have thought if he works there everyday, he would know the bike specs off by heart. Because I felt he doesn't know his stuff, I stopped asking questions to save him the embarrasment.


I bought a gravel bike two years ago and the experience was pretty similar in a number of stores, that most bike shop staff don't 'appear' to know their products. So I have a feeling that this is prevalent in the industry. You would think a bike shop attracts staff who are passionate about bikes, but maybe a passion in riding bikes doesn't necessarily translate to paying attention to bike specs. Another possibility I can think of is that most people who buy bikes aren't too concern about bike specs so the shop staff don't try to talk about these details so as not to confuse the customer.


Whatever the reasons why staff don't know their products, I felt it was a pretty poor retail experience. I may as well buy a bike online and if I need things fixed, take it to a shop that are more mechanically inclined (usually small shops that focused on servicing bikes rather than selling bikes). I'm happy to pay full retail price from a shop that have knowledgable staff and can guide me to choosing the right bike. Is this really too much to ask?
Tell that LBS employee to come to bikeforums and learn.
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Old 06-25-19, 10:41 AM
  #22  
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If the shop has 100 bikes on sale, I wouldn't expect the employees to know every sprocket on every bike.

However, in general, I'd like to see detailed spec sheets on the bikes, so a person isn't sitting there trying to count sprocket teeth.

The employees should be familiar with major differences such as groupsets. 1x, 2x, 3x, etc. Or, if you ask them to show you a SRAM 1x bike, they should be able to find it reasonably quickly, or confirm whether they have one.

I am pretty good at finding general locations of items in stores that I'm familiar with. But, there are those occasional item, for example in a hardware store, that can be hard to classify, and I find it amazing that many employees are quite good at giving directions down to an aisle number (I tend to think about locations in store without memorizing aisles).
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Old 06-25-19, 10:44 AM
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I recently bought a nice bike. The local bike shop here is extremely knowledgeable. All of the employee's are, near as I can tell. That said, when I bought the new bike, I had narrowed it down to the exact bike I wanted by searching online. In other words, the floor guy had no influence on the bike I bought. I say... Study the specs on paper. Study the geometry. Ask questions here.

I walked in and I said I want to look a Specialized E5 Comp in size 52cm. He showed me the bike. I stood over it. Perfect. I asked for the specific color I wanted. He disappeared for 5+ minutes and showed up with the exact bike and color I wanted. I stood over it and said.... Sold.!!

It's up to the buyer to decide which bike he wants to own. In this day and age, if you have the basic smarts to decipher specs and geometry, you can decide on which bike will fit you best on a computer sitting in your den. I'm a dummy but that's how I decided on the exact bike that would fit me best.

Further more.... It came down to a Trek CheckpointALR or the Secialized E5 Comp, online. I wanted the Trek but I could see on paper it wasn't going to be a good fit. Guess what.?? I was right. It didn't fit. On the other hand, I KNEW the Specialized would fit just by reading the specs and geometry, online. I went to the Trek shop first, ruled out the Checkpoint, it didn't fit, then headed over to see the E5 Comp and I was sold on it in 15 minutes.

I literally didn't have any technical input from the guy on the floor. I did my homework. And NO test drive other than on an indoor trainer on the shop floor.

Oh my, what a bike..... Wow. Love it.!!
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Old 06-25-19, 10:50 AM
  #24  
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Originally Posted by fietsbob View Post
'Trek University' has a number of modules that teach young people in the stores, the product line
(and upselling ).
I would be surprised if 'upselling' is a main component of TrekU... the easy way to increase margins on a bike sale is not to sell a more expensive bike, but to ensure the customer leaves with every accessory they could ever dream of. A $300 bike + $200 worth of accessories looks better on most balance sheets than just a $500 bike.

I admit this is sometimes taken too far - full fenders, front and rear racks, lights, reflective frame tape, kickstands, handlebar bags, computers... bikes can start to look a little gaudy. My bosses certainly never complained, though - it just offended my sense of style.
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Old 06-25-19, 10:56 AM
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its some of it ,


Maybe not the central focus.. teaching how to present the feature gains in the more costly model ,
can be construed any way you choose..


A European bike shop may have been more fully equipped for daily transportation,
shipped that way from the OEM factory, to Rotterdam or Bremerhaven, container ports..

Where a different spec bike is unloaded in San Pedro/Long Beach, or Tacoma, for US sales..






/..

Last edited by fietsbob; 06-25-19 at 11:03 AM.
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