This article first appeared on http://www.bicyclingtrade.com.au on 30th March 2017
As the proprietor of a bike shop, you sure have to wear a lot of hats: retail manager, stock controller, sales person, mechanic, personnel manager, accountant, marketing manager, web administrator, social media manager, cleaner, ride leader and more. But what you most need to be is business manager, sales strategist, leader and mentor.
But you rarely get to work on your business, because as the saying goes, you’re always working in it. You push on, wearing all those hats, because you believe there’s no one else who’ll do all those tasks. You think you can muddle through it, that you don’t need professional help, or you can’t afford to get help with many of these roles.
I would argue that you can’t afford not to get help with many, if not most of these important functions; especially in areas where you may lack the knowledge, the skills or the ‘tools’.
And in today’s open source economy, we can outsource most tasks, more affordably and reliably than ever.
Here’s 8 affordable outsourcing suggestions for bike retailers;
I know, you already have a mechanic (or several); but what do you do when you get booked up during peak periods? What about when a new season or Christmas bike delivery turns up on your doorstep which you’d like on the floor before the weekend, but also have repair jobs to honour? Or you get a request to fix an issue or component that you neither have the knowhow or the tooling to deal with? Do you say, ‘No’? Of course you don’t, because you never willingly turn business away, as you may never see it again.
The solution? You know those mobile mechanics you were possibly worried about when they first started going around? They could very well be your new best friend and secret weapon to deal with all that workshop overflow. Many, if not most, mobile mechanics will happily work with IBDs and already do. On the whole, mobile mechanics tend to be very passionate, well trained and reasonably priced. It’s silly to ignore this readily available resource and have to say no to business, handing your customers to your competitors for no good reason.
Digital Design, Content Creation & Social Media Management
If I could conduct an industry wide intervention, it would probably be on this topic. You know the intervention where caring friends get together to sit you down and give you some home truths or to stop you doing something unpleasant or damaging. As a friend, most of you need to stop doing your own digital design, content creation and social media. It’s not only pretty much a science and an art form. It’s critical to the success and viability of any modern retail business.
A quick Google search will throw up pages and pages of affordable and professional companies who will remotely handle your design, content and social media output. It will be infinitely more effective, engaging, slick and business generating. There will be well thought through strategy and regular reporting.
Yes, many of these companies will be based overseas in places like India, the Philippines or Malaysia. But just like an industry that had to get over its preconceptions and prejudices when the Taiwanese and Chinese started making most of our bikes, you will need to do the same on this front. Most of these countries are brimming over in highly trained, skilled, friendly and above all, super affordable, digital media personnel. As Molly used to say, ‘Do yourself (and your customers) a favour!’
Web, Mobile & IT Management
Another crucial aspect of modern retail where most of you try to manage internally, but generally suck at. Have you ever mentally added up the time and energy you spent trying to manage your own website and IT issues?
You may even find that some of the same companies you employ to manage your social media, will also be able to help with your web management. Whilst we would all prefer to deal with a local provider, most bike shops will struggle to afford them so they revert to muddling through it themselves. This is simply too important an aspect of your business to play amateur hour with. It could cost you your business in today’s world.
Bookkeeping & Payroll
Not staying on top of your accounts is pretty much the shortcut to business failure and financial doom.
You don’t really need to go online or off-shore for this, although you can. Your local suburban bookkeeping business will be much more affordable than you think and they’ll do a significantly better job in about a third of the time and save you money, stress and relationships.
You can outsource stock takes to professional inventory management companies. They’re awesome and surprisingly affordable. All you do is set a date and send them some files from your retail management system. A team of people appear and in a couple of hours, they’ve swept through your building and completed a task for which you probably set aside a couple of days. Plus they’ll happily do it out of hours and allow you to keep operating and keep taking money.
One of my retail clients took my advice on this idea last year. Now he wonders why they’d do it any other way. Trust me; you’ll want to add me to your Christmas card list once you’ve followed my advice on outsourcing your stocktakes!
The obvious place to start here is with your own suppliers and the brands themselves. They will generally jump at the chance to provide your staff technical or product training, if and when you ask them. Take as much advantage of this as you can. They will know more and be more passionate about the products you sell than anyone else. As well as giving your staff more confidence with the products you stock, there will be the added bonus of further cementing relationships with your suppliers and your staff, who will appreciate the investment of time and knowledge.
Beyond the bike industry though, there’s a myriad of training providers, who can up skill your staff on everything from retail sales, to emotional intelligence, team building, public speaking or IT skills. Remember, people make the difference. Investing in your staff is not only the smart thing to do from a turnover and profitability point of view, but it’s also one of the best things you can do for both staff and customer retention.
One of my favourite quotes is, “What’s worse than training your workers and losing them? Not training them and keeping them.” – Zig Ziglar, author & motivational speaker
Shop rides are one of the most common and popular customer engagement activities. But days on the floor or on the tools can be long enough, without throwing a bunch ride in at the start or the end of the day. You may choose to join the occasional ride so you can join in the fun and maintain relationships with your customers and staff, but not having to be there every time is certainly a good thing.
Contact your local club or cycling federation and ask for a list of local accredited cycling coaches. Having a qualified coach run your rides is smart for a number of reasons and good for your brand. Between an agreed hourly fee and a bit of contra, you should have no issue finding someone to run your rides. Plus it might even give you the option of offering more rides during the week and across more disciplines.
Business Strategy, Improvement & Transformation
And here goes the shameless self-promotion bit. Yes, this is what I do. I offer bike shops and indeed businesses all along the bike industry food chain, advice on strategy, business improvement and business transformation. I started Better Bike Business for the very reason that there were so many operators at all parts of the industry looking for ‘big picture’ guidance, partnership strategies and business improvement.
It takes some gumption and honesty to admit you’re not seeing the forest for the trees as you navigate your business forward. Especially during the eye-watering pace of change the industry has been going through in recent years.
Whilst I may one of the few bike industry specialist business consultants, there are of course plenty of professional business consultants who can help you improve your business on all fronts. Don’t be too proud to ask for help. It’s a sign of strength and ambition, not of weakness and giving in.
Focus your time and energy on the aspects of your business where you can make the most positive difference. Identify and admit to your weak points, in terms of knowledge, capabilities or resources and farm out those tasks to specialists in those essential aspects of your business. Start outsourcing key tasks and finally start working on your business and not just in it.
Bicycle Industry Consultant & Commentator