Wednesday, May 9, 2018

How to Find and Keep Good Bike Mechanics

How the industry is losing it's best mechanics, and things they can do to keep them.

These days a bike purchase can be a great financial commitment. When a customer purchases a bike from a store, they are at times spending upwards of thousands of dollars. Their expectation is that their hard earned money serves as an investment for great service down the road. However, when it comes time to fix something complicated on their bike, there isn't a skilled mechanic around to address their issue. Warranties on bicycles have a lot of fine print on them that will cover only very specific types of situations. So when a customer's bicycle breaks down after five years, they are the ones left holding the bag.

There are a few reasons why this is happening. First of all, there is a severe lack of disposition to train every employee at the shop. This stems from the competitive nature some people have to not train their replacement. They are not thinking in terms of what is best for the company, rather they are trying to safeguard their own employment. Unfortunately, in many cases the one journeyman at the shop has already earned the trust and respect of the shop owner, who is usually too busy with the shop operations to train their employees or even know what is going on at their store. So this usually results in one knowledgeable employee and an untrained staff who cannot assist with the workload when the shop gets backed up. In addition, that misplaced trust and lack of oversight usually leads to time and monetary theft when such employees feel that they can do whatever they want and get away with it. I have seen this play out at small LBS's I have helped out in the past, over, and over again.

The other scenario that occurs is that an experienced mechanic oftentimes cannot find a gig that pays according to the experience that mechanic has. When trying to get back into a bike shop gig, I once  experienced negging* from a shop owner who looked at the things that I couldn't do rather than the years of experience I had providing excellent customer service. He then proceeded to belittle my experience because I wasn't up to par with the latest technologies. He offered me one day of work a week at entry level pay while I gained the experience he said that I didn't have. Needless to say the opportunity to work in a professional level bike shop, with wholesale distributor access, online training modules and other industry access was too much to resist so I bit my lip and tried it out for two weeks. After two weeks of not even being in their payroll system or even being brought in as a formal employee of the company, in addition to not receiving the training I was promised I then could no longer continue to work for that company. I had potentially lost about 5 times more in personal revenue than I was making at the shop in the two days that I worked there. 

If my experience speaks for other experienced mechanics out there, it's no wonder many of us are becoming entrepreneurs. When you are good at something, you know your worth despite what others may say so that they can buy your talents out for a bargain. Many of us just don't want to do anything else, having come from other industries and even professional backgrounds. And, to be honest, a cargo van, some vinyl lettering and a basic set of tools is relatively cheap to acquire or finance. So as time goes by, more and more mobile bike shops will be popping  up, this being in direct response to the hiring and training practices of the established LBS. It's too bad wholesale distributors or manufacturers usually won't work with standalone mechanics, because there are many good ones out there and it really shouldn't matter as long as the money is green.

How to find and keep good bike mechanics? I think the issue comes down to respect. It's a very fundamental thing. This unfortunately will continue to be a problem for as long as bike shops and the systems that keep them in place continue to exist. The loss of talent in the bike industry will lead to some unanticipated consequences. Only time will tell what those damages will be.

*Negging is a word used by millenials to describe an action when one person starts to dissect and demean the value of another individual. This word comes from the dating scene when an inferior guy tries to get a girl out of his league by jokingly demeaning her. 

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