I’ve mentioned my buddy, Jordan, before. He used to run a little Cannondale shop not too far off from where I’d had my own shop. Not long ago, due to a huge rent hike, he was also forced to close the shop space down, moving his tools home and running his operations remotely. It was nice getting out with him alone today because it gave us a solid opportunity to talk. Prior to this, we haven’t spoken too much about our experiences running bike shops, but today we played a little catch up and got to discuss some of the common experiences we had.
It being very nearly a year since I closed up shop, I figured I’d share some of the things that I miss, and don’t miss about running a bike shop.
Things I miss:
Community. I miss having built up a little army of idolizers that wholeheartedly supported the vision of the shop. It was fun and inspiring to have absolute strangers hop onto the tandem and help push the pedals with us. It was all the people, regulars and new-comers, that made running a shop all worth it. It still brings a smile to my face to see someone who got into the bike life after being introduced to it via the shop.
Bikes. It’s awesome constantly being around all kinds of bikes. Running a shop, you get to live vicariously through others’ rides. You get to test ride bikes you’d never dream of owning. You see all sorts of cool pieces, parts, and jury-rigged mechanical solutions.
Business. Running a small business is tough. If it’s in retail, it’s likely a waking nightmare. That said, spending years toiling away at it, it’s really wonderful watching a shop mature, seeing how its business vision is interpreted by people that interact with it, and become something unique and impactful.
Repairs. This is something I took for granted. Any time I needed to sort my bike out, I had a complete, comprehensive work space to screw with my bike. I had a paid mechanic whose job it was to sort my bike out, if I wasn’t interested in doing it myself. Now a nagging issue is met with a decision to put off fixing it.
Things I don’t miss:
Customers. By rule, most customers are actually pretty awesome. But as they say, it only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch. I still get super pissed recalling my interaction with a few specific assholes. Business is a two-way street, but more and more in today’s world of on-demand, cheaper-than-cheap, and shrink-wrapped-in-a-glittery-smile type customer service, there’s little room for a small business to make a mistake. And sometimes if you’re unlucky, like in dealing with that shithead, Thomas, you don’t even have to make a mistake to inspire someone to blackmail you and threaten your livelihood.
Shop hours. The biggest misunderstanding I had about running a bike shop, was how it would affect my own personal efforts to ride. The shop hours were fairly lenient, but it took years to be able to step away, get out, and ride. I did alright, but damn, was it a lot of time spent in that shop. Furthermore, despite clear hours, a lot of people felt more than happy to hit me up, at any time of the day, to ask about things like, “Why is my tire flat again?”
Employees. This is tough to say, because watching an employee come into their own and do their job affectively is super cool. Regardless, having employees makes me recall a whole series of long-lost memories of being a shitty employee myself. It feels karmic. See, people paid to do a job are more than happy to figure out how to not do it, or, do it using the maximum amount of time they can. That’s if they do it right, otherwise you’re looking at paying them out to create added work for yourself. As for mechanics, the capable ones generally figure out that they can be doing something more worthwhile then wrenching in a bike shop, so there’s a constant cycle of teaching new dummies how to change a tube without pinching it or whiling away half an hour to do so. No bueno.