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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Loyalty... what the bike shops are lacking.  Customers feel less and less need to consistently take the lumps of higher prices.  Shops see customers drawn away by other shops with lower prices.  There has a to be "middle ground".  At what point does the consumer realize that if they keep buying everything for 10% less yet have to pay to have it installed, they will soon no longer have someone to pay to install it?  Shops are constantly riding that bubble of holding on to those few that will pay a bit more but there's always room for improvement.

Improvement #1 - Education.  There is a HUGE need for more education by paths other than trial and error.  I, myself, am a trial and error mechanic.  I have fucked up almost as much stuff as I have fixed.  Almost.  However I know there are things I don't know...which makes me a bit more valuable.  Just the other day, I was hunting for a singlespeed cog.  Meghan and I walk into a local shop and ask for help.  I explain what I'm looking for - singlespeed cog for a modern freehub body.  I get asked a few questions.  The guy comes out explaining I need to hit a BMX shop.  I reply, no...those usually thread on.  He goes back again.  Comes out with a cog.  I start to pay when I threads on.

Yea, part of the problem there was the guy wasn't really listening.  The other problem was he was only thinking of BMX and bikes he was familiar with as being singlespeed.  The idea of a converted freehub for singlespeed was foreign.  Now this was on a Sunday and most shops in AZ run a skeleton crew on this off-day when the regular full-timers are resting.  There were four people in the shop and the one guy who I think had some experience was swamped.

Some would say this is poor staffing....but I think the problem is deeper.  I have been that person telling someone something with my limited knowledge only to be corrected.  Yea, this goes on EVERYWHERE....but in a business with limited margins to begin with, this is where there are gains to be made.  Not only on the retail front but in the more expensive, high-tech/high end side as well.

For example, I was working for a shop as a part-time mechanic when a "revolutionary" new bike came out.  I was tasked with working alongside one of the full-time mechanics to put this bike together.  I worked at deciphering the instructions while the full-timer wrapped up some regular work.  4 hours later the bike was assembled but was tuned miserably.  There were all kinds of small design flaws, flaws that when compounded with other flaws led to a bike that felt and rode like shit.

We called for technical help....which was miserable.  In the end, almost the entire bike was disassembled and reassembled with liberal amounts of grease and shadetree ingenuity to get by.  6 months later, the next versions of the same bike had looser tolerances.

Alot of PAID time was wasted in those first days.  At a (low) average of $10 per hour, the shop spent $150-$200 for the mechanics to gain insight.  Sure, building that intuition is part of becoming a good mechanic but a little bit of education would have made that less expensive for the shop itself.

Shimano offers a good example of moving forward.  The last shop I worked at required you become Shimano certified within a year.  I was taking the online tests at least weekly before they closed.  I still hold onto my account just so I can see what's new. They have a HUGE database of step-by-step videos on how to work on their products.  It doesn't explain why...they usually just cover the proper steps and when followed in order, you can usually pinpoint where something is going wrong.

It's no wonder... shops around the country are dying.  They are being bombed and pillaged from all sides.  In Phoenix alone, I have seen 12 (or more?) close since I've been here.  Some of it was poor management of money...some of it was just lack of opportunity.

Whose to blame?  Everyone.

I could go into some lengthy discussion of what each set of people are doing wrong (and what they're doing right!) but it's been beat to death.  I think the key is to look forward...or at least from my perspective what I would do as a shop owner, a manufacturer or a customer.

The relationship between the shop owner and the manufacturer has to become more reliable.  When a customer can buy the same brand for $100 less right across the street, it forces the shop to either offer a cheaper price, better service or both.  The best ones do both.  It is also what is driving the margins DOWN for the shops while the manufacturers continue to develop and grow (in some instances).

Improvement #1 - Develop a system to be REIMBURSED by the manufacturer for warranty labor.  I think there are some instances where a shop owner can chase after this money, but it's pretty involved.  What I imagine is a system much like the auto dealerships.  When you consider the fact that the retail price of some bikes are within $1000's of cars with legitimate 5-year bumper-to-bumper warranties, the shops need to be reimbursed for their PAID employee's time when things go wrong.  From the short time I worked at a Chevrolet dealership, I became acquainted with how streamlined the system was....and how well it worked for both parties.  Our dealership had some intelligent, well-paid employees who rarely had comebacks or disgruntled customers.  When the bike shops begin to account for those hours WASTED on "just doing a favor", they may realize they can keep the doors open a little longer.

Improvement #2 - Dealer Exclusivity.  I know THIS already exists on some levels.  Trek does it.  Specialized does it.  I have also seen it get some BIG shops in trouble.  I think it needs to be tighter.  I think territories need to be LARGER, where the customer will have to drive more than a hour to get more than one option.  In Tucson, you can quote prices on any Specialized model by driving 20 minutes.  Just here in Scottsdale, we found four Trek dealers in a matter of 3 hours...none of which had much in the way of inventory (yet another problem).  Once A shop becomes the authority on a brand (or brands), they will have a better chance of not having to cut their nose off to sell a bike.

Improvement #3 - Financing & Inventory.  I think any bike shop owner will tell you it's a HUGE investment to get into this business.  Buy-in's get more and more expensive as the brands become more popular.  And the loans they take out just to get into the business are what get many in trouble.  I've seen it happen it before...and it'll continue to happen.  However, what if...

The manufacturer were to "stock" his exclusive dealer.  The inventory on the floor is supplied by the manufacturer on the condition that when it sells, the shop is reimbursed for assembly at a discount rate (...maybe $12 per hour...or a SET price for each model) plus however much they get over an inflated wholesale price.  This price allows the dealer to essentially make a "commission".  Sure, it's higher than if they bought the bike outright.  However, let's say the shop only buys the ones it KNOWS will sell outright - entry-level mountain bikes, cruisers & hybrids.  The rest of the HIGH END stuff is there on "commission".

Need more incentive?  Sell it QUICK - let's say Specialized sends a Tarmac to my shop.  Let's imagine outright wholesale is $3000, retail is $6000....and "commission wholesale" is $4500.  I stand to make $1500 for my floor space.  I've already made $50 for assembly.  For every month it sets on my floor, Specialized raises the CW price by 5%.  If I don't move it in 3 months, I lose even more money.

What this in turn creates is a need for a network of dealers working together.  If the shop in the next town needs this specific Tarmac, we work together.   Maybe the network is organized by Specialized and after the transaction has taken place, I get my $50 for assembly AND 20%.  The other selling dealer with a satisfied customer gets $80 minus my $50.

But what if it's a smaller brand?  Say....Cervelo or Pinarello - companies with representatives going around hawking their brand.  In the past few months, I've seen Cervelo go from a semi-exclusive brand to one with "new" dealers popping up all over.  They're flooding this market with as much product as they can to try to establish a bigger presence.  While consumers are getting discounted prices, the shops are suffering because they are being forced to accept smaller and smaller margins just to keep their money flowing.

This is where the shops and manufacturers will have to work together.  Establish territories, create a network.  With the internet and all the online systems, it would not be a huge task to get the ball rolling.  There will be snafus and shady deals....but that's where self-policing will be important.  I hate to call it a "union" but that's where it could ultimately end up.  Ugh. brain is fried....but more later.   

Friday, January 6, 2017

Wednesday in NC...

...was planned out:

8-ish: meet Mike B at his house...

12-ish: pickup Taylor at his house in the Brevard...

til about 4 or 5-ish: drive around Brevard touring all the bike shops with beer...

Taylor was one of those friends I made just before leaving NC that I woulda spent ALOT more time riding with if we still lived there.  Maybe twice before we left for AZ, Taylor was always down to hit my favorite loop - Montreat > Old Toll > Heartbreak.  We shuttled it both times we did it.  He'd pick me (and Eastwood...or Mike B) up, drive into Montreat then we'd take off on one of the more grueling routes in those woods.

Anyways, he now lives in the Brevard, gateway to the Pisgah.  He and I had been texting about getting together....but I wasn't bringing a bike.  So we drink.  He'd enlightened me that the bike shops were basically like mini-pubs now, serving beer at a few of em' (...well, 2.)  I figured it'd be a fun trip....and since Mike B and Taylor had been riding together alot (when they can), I figured a menage a trois of beer was in order (....damn, that sounds bad any way ya put it.)

So we roll into the Hub.  I remember when the Hub was a tiny shop on the left side of the road - few new bikes, lots of repaired bikes and a good assortment of hiking gear.  I even had Jimmy fix my brakes and replace some handlebars after I destroyed em all in a rain-soaked, kitten-killing DuPont trail ride with Mike B & Christine.

Well, I guess with surge in popularity down there in mountain biking, the place expanded.  I mean, EXPANDED big-time.  My best description after sipping on my beer (some Wicked Weed IPA) and walking around was this was a huge, bro/brah-oriented REI knockoff.  That sounds mean...but it did.  The familiar bike shop feel has left and the box store-with-beer aura has settled in.  Everyone was nice...but distant, kinda.

Our next stop was Squatch Bikes.  Smaller place tucked off the beaten path but still close to the trendy downtown area.  And when I say trendy, I mean the whole flannel-wearing mountain-man-wannabe stage after hipsters realize they need to get back to their roots.

This place was cool, though.  Although the one employee seemed very, very focused on inventory, the owner made a point to come out and chat.  Shit, it was apparent we weren't there to buy bikes or get anything fixed.  We were there to drink not a surprise, they weren't focused on us (at either shop).  We drank beer, we talked bikes.  I even bought a shirt 'cause it really was the coolest shop of the trip.

Off for Mexican food, stop at a pretty stuck-up guitar shop....then off to Sycamore Cycles.  I've been in Sycamore plenty of times.  It's always felt cool....but never welcoming.  The whole "locals only" vibe resonates....especially if you're not spending money on much other than coffee.

Yep, coffee.  Only.  No beer.  We didn't stick around long.

By now, it was late in the afternoon.  Mike B and I said our goodbyes to Taylor and his awesome place in the woods after looking at potential downhill training grounds.  Then it was the 3 hour trek back to W-S, blaring Slayer and Fu Manchu most of the way.

Fun as shit day...

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Crusher in the Tushar... paid for.  Last night around 9:30 or so I remembered registration opened.  A few weeks ago I was WAY more excited to sign up than I was last night.  Wrapping my head around the Belgian Waffle Ride has been hard enough - all 146 miles of it - so adding in one more gruesome ride adds on more.  More what?  I don't know: pressure to train smart, stay motivated, stay interested.

So far, I'm signed up for three "big" races:
Chino Grinder (May 6th)
Belgian Waffle Ride (May 21st)
Crusher in the Tushar (July 8th)

All of em' gravel.  All of em' with reputations for being tough.  I have friends who have ridden Chino & Tushar....and they all come home telling me how they were shelled by the end.  No one I know has ever done BWR.  I have met friends that have been there, lived there actually....but they're not riders.  

I'm not SO worried about gaining the fitness to do em' as much as I am keeping the mental fitness & fortitude.  The last week or so I have been reading Rebecca Rusch's book.  She talks about NEVER quitting and the rewards.

I can't say I've been that dedicated.  I have more DNF's and DNS's than I care to admit.  A few of em' were ones in my control...but looking back, I could have dug in a little deeper.  Let's dredge up some bad memories here:

2007 Swank 65 - DNF.  I was climbing Pilot Mtn Road to Farlow Gap when my seatpost collar failed.  The bolt has already stripped...but when the bolt BROKE and my saddle slammed, I quit.  I think I was 2 miles up, my quads were SPENT and trying to stand the whole way would have been a joke.

2008 PMBAR - DNF.  Okay, this was kinda funny AFTER the fact.  I had been training for this and felt GOOD.  The weekend before though Mike B and I were riding in G'boro when I felt slightly sick - sinuses, achy.  He suggested Bendaryl.  So....I bought Benadryl (since Mike B is a pharmacist!) and took it according to the directions.  For a week.  We roll in Friday and ride up Black Mountain to loosen up.  I feel AWESOME!  On the way back down, my head was so blurry though I swore I saw a monkey on the side of the trail!!  When I walk back up and see it's a stump, we both laugh out loud (and so the "trailmonkey" was born!)  The next day I am dying a slow death.  When I reach Turkey Pen, Christine exclaims, "you're as red as you're bike!"....which was my Chi Red Top Fuel at the time.  I suffer through Turkey Pen, make checkpoint #1....and bail.  I can't breathe.  My legs are shot.  I head for the hotel room and go to sleep.

2008 ORAMM - DNS.  Bought my spot feeling GOOD.  I had been training for Assault on Mt. Mitchell and I was riding well.  Finished AOMM, got a girlfriend with big boobs....and promptly lost most of that fitness.  Tried to train back into shape after dumping the gf a month later.  Developed some IT band issues that would reduce my training rides from 7-8 hours down to 2 before the pain set in. 

2009 Dragon's Tale - DNS.  Wake up dizzy as shit!  Nauseated, it was the first time I called Mike B and said, "I'm out."  I sat there on the couch trying to slow the room down.  Later learned I had a sinus infection that only some good antibiotics could get rid of.

2010 Weds Night XC race in G'boro - DNF.  I was finishing my 2nd lap of the race....and I felt flat.  I was STRONG but I was in no race-fast.  I had ridden HARD for the first lap...then it went away.  When the 5th place guy (outta 7) passed me, I knew I was just riding at this point.  Going hard wasn't motivation to try was drained.  I bailed before the 3rd lap.

2010 SCMTB Dark Mountain - DNF.  So the Weds Night race inspired me to get a coach, take what endurance fitness I had and turn it into something faster.  I started this race riding hard, just holding wheels but by the 2nd climb, I was GONE!  When I flatted after casing a jump, I had time to get my wheel off and yank the tube before 2nd came through.  I had time to find out my spare tube had a hole before 3rd rolled by.

2011 Pisgah Stage Race - DNF after 2 stages.  In May '11, I decided to do PSR with Mike B.  I trained HARD, too hard.  I had already limped through one injury and pushed hard to get close to where I was.  When we rolled in, I was nervous and tired....from training all the way up til 2 weeks to go.  It was pouring rain the first morning and didn't let up.  My bike was TRASHED by 3/4 of the way into the ride.  The brake pads were down to metal and I couldn't safely go down ANYTHING.  Climb, yes.  Down, no.   On the 2nd day I was climbing Pilot Mtn Road and could not breathe.  ANY effort sent me reeling into deep Zone 5 and recovery was futile.  On the morning of the 3rd day, I didn't line up.  I decided to rest.  We bumbled around Asheville all day (since Mike B decided to rest, too).  On the 4th morning, I was coughing.  Whatever it was was deep in my chest.  I bailed.

2012 ORAMM - DNS.  Bought my entry early.  Trained hard....too hard.  Same issue as 2009....except I didn't lose the girlfriend (who was actually my wife at this point!).  Sold the ticket to Wes.

2012 W-S Crit @ Old Salem - DNF after 18 laps.  I was having a good year really racing crits.  I didn't do MANY...but I was having fun at the ones @ Dixie (a pancake flat course with a headwind at times).  This race started with a downhill into a sketchy corner then back UP a hill with a few cobbles.  It was gorgeous but I was not ready to attack that hill but 18 times.  Every lap I was falling further and further back.  I would close the gap by drilling it into the corners before the hill.  Where more than a few people would brake hard, I'd just dive in....and close the gap.  When I looked down at my HR monitor BEFORE the corner, I was still at 175 bpm on Lap 16.  On Lap 18, I went to surge again up the hill and it was like I had nothing.  No legs, no air....I was spent.  And dropped.  Done.

2012 'Cross Races - DNS the T'wood singlespeed race....'cause I was fixing my bike (with no luck).  Did show up for the Cat 4 race...and had a blast!!

Pretty sure I missed some of the Snake Creek Gap races...'cause travel.  And I missed one or four SCMTB XC races...'cause travel.  There's a trend there that I hate driving early in the AM.

2015 Whiskey 35 - DNF.  This was the race that started my trend in AZ.  Since this race, it's been a few DNS's.  Mainly 'cause my nerves get the best of me.  I remember being in a FOUL mood late in the evening.  Nervous 'cause I didn't know what to expect.  I didn't pre-ride...figuring "this" was my chance to scout it out....yet I rolled in with expectations of racing.  Why....I do  not know  because I felt this need to prove myself to the guys at the shop, friends I had made that I could race, had some fitness and just fit in. Well, it wouldn't matter that day....'cause at mile 12 or so, I wadded the bike up on a techy descent, jamming the bars into the top tube THROUGH the top tube and making a hole.  I rode the bike out, made the aid station....where no one was really willing to give me directions or a ride out.  I finally said fuck it, and made my own way out.  Meghan picked me up, we drank some beer and got the hell outta there.

2015 Tour of the White Mountains - DNS.  I signed up because reg was cheap on this one day.  I began plotting a plan to train.  So I even decided to go pre-ride....not the whole thing but just what I heard was the good part.  I roll in to ominous clouds looming in the distance.  Still I suit up and roll out.  I was bored outta my mind!  The trail just wasn't entertaining.  There were a few good spots but was this worth the extra $200 for a hotel room and the nervousness I knew would creep in?  At the time, I said no.  I didn't change my mind.

2016 Some Road Race in Prescott - DNS.  Signed up 'cause I was stoked to ride my new road bike HARD.  2 months prior, I'm thinking I'll drive up....then the week prior, I realize I have to get up at 3 am.  Which I was learning was not a good plan for me.  I'd already felt the misery on a road ride I did down in Tucson going up Mt. Lemmon (....but the bike I was riding had more issues than I did that day!)  I put off getting a hotel room....til the rooms were upwards of $180 a night.  Wake up to the alarm.  Roll back over and go back to sleep.

Don't get me wrong.  Back in NC, there were lots of GREAT races in between - XC, endurance, road, crits, 'cross.  I would show up to many wanting to bail....but didn't because my friends expected me to be there.

Here in AZ, no one has expected anything of me.  Whiskey 35....well, that one I had friends to seek out.  MARC in the Park, I was on a relay team so damn right, I showed up.  The rest of em' one.  After my shitty hotel experience in Flagstaff (prior to the Prescott race), I wasn't too enthusiastic to pay for another $200 room with 85-degree AC and midnight phone calls.

But now...I'm trying to turn this all around.  One, I have a coach (again) who is expecting me to show up at the things I say I'll show up to.  I've already bailed on one ride (with her posse!) because of house-buying commitments....but I don't need to have anymore.  Two, all the races I've signed up for NOW are expensive.  Yea, two of em' still require even more expensive hotel stays and LOTS of gas...but I've committed.

I have two things to overcome: fitness and starting line nerves.  The fitness should be taken care of as long as I follow Melissa's plan.  The starting line nerves is on me.  I need to "practice".  So I will....beginning next week.

Next Saturday is the McDowell Meltdown, a XC race here in PHX.  I've not lined up for a XC race since...Danville 2012.  When I somehow ended up flatting out with a 6" nail through my new 29-4 Bontrager tires (...I forgot that story!)  Anyways, I'll either race RockCrusher (the west coast version of Clydesdale) or singlespeed....since the only bike I have (that I want) to race is the Juice.  The Epic is squish-less right now with those components sent off to Specialized for service.

Anyways my plan (as of the moment) is to sign up and race as much as I can this year.  XC, crits, endurance stuff.  If it's less the $40....I'm pretty much in.  If it's over $100, I'll have to plan for it.  There never seems to be any races in between $40 and $ that territory is up for discussion.

Maybe I'll gather my schedule, post it here.  Maybe I'll forget it shortly. 

More later.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

It seems long ago...

...that I was in NC for the holidays.  But it wasn't THAT long ago.  The first day was blurry-ish:

Monday - fly into C'lotte...realize my phone hasn't reverted to EST til I've already missed my flight into G'boro.  Put on stand-by....get on the plane LAST.  Fly into G'boro, get a car....go home.

Tuesday was a bit more fun...and kinda set the tone for the week.  I basically rolled out in my Hyundia Electr-antra(!!) in a direction and stopped where I remembered it would be fun. 

I rolled into King (my hometown) to see Kyle, maybe help install some sign stuff....but he was already on the road.  His schedule does not run on AZ time.  My body still did. 

Stop at Jacob's new coffee place, grab a mocha and hit the road.  Not hungry yet so I roll into Oldtown.  Stop at Biscuitville, chat with Meghan (who has just gotten up back in AZ) and talk about what to get into.

I'm rolling into town now with the intention of taking non-highways to Salem Lake.  All the trail running stuff was in the car...and that was my sole plan.  Then I pass Ken's Bike Shop.

I circle back...'cause I've not been in there in 3 years or so.  Ken's was my "home" shop for a long time til....changes. I walk through the door and...

It was definitely like being "home" again.

The shop has changed a ton.  I hung out for the quickest 90 minutes of the week, catching up with Matt & Bob.  Even got to see Ken a few minutes before I left....

Drive down Reynolda and see MOB.  Wheel in, walk in...and immediately it's a barrage of questions about AZ, the riding in AZ and what Meghan and I have been up to.  We talk shop, I toss the ball for the puppy (over and over)...but it's getting busy.  I bail out.

Grab lunch...and head for Salem Lake.  Roll into the obscure (and sometimes sketchy) Linville Road/Old GSO Road parking lot.  Suit up and head out for a quick run in the cold air.

It didn't take long to regret NOT shipping a bike out there.  I do miss the trails there...maybe not the ones buried in leaves but I miss the grippy, gooey dirt.  I miss the log piles.  I even miss the roots.

As I run I begin thinking about what it is that makes the trails here so different.  When I lived in NC, I took for granted the twisty trails.  In AZ, the trails tend to be open and LONG.  Of course, the topography is different but when I looked around, I could see WHY these trails were different.

When you peer from a high point at Salem Lake, you can barely see 300 yards ahead, where you want to go....for all the trees.  In AZ, you can see for miles (almost).  It's easier to imagine LONG stretches.

Or so this is my theory.

Anyways, I noticed it was never uncommon to turn back in on yourself in those woods.  Switchbacks aplenty, I weaved around for a little over 3 1/2 miles but never made it too far from the car.

I also went deep in my head, thinking about the past - trail building history, the ups and downs.  Somehow I musta left it out there 'cause right now I can't remember much more than why I didn't make it out to the Moores Springs', Trail.

More later.