Is it Time to Fire Grumpy Bike Mechanics?

They're surly, they're grumpy, and they hate anything that isn't within their tight criteria of a legitimate bicycle. I'm talking about the angst-filled bike mechanics. 

Stored in my closet I have a small, but obscure collection cycling movies. One of my favorites is the 1998 French-Canadian film, 2 Seconds. The movie follows Laurie, a professional downhill racer who loses her job due to a string of irresponsible behavior, and returns home to Montreal to become a bike messenger. There she struggles for acceptance from other messengers, is confused by the job, and questioned by her brother if she is doing anything productive with her life. After crashing her bike Laurie finds a nondescript bike shop hidden in an alley and there befriends Lorenzo, a cranky, surly, ex-pro roadie who is owner and operator of the shop.

The two characters have a wonderful back and forth banter throughout the movie. In one conversation they play a game of one-ups-manship by sharing war stories from their life as professionals. Lorenzo show his scars, Laurie shows hers, Lorenzo shows the tan lines that have permanently burned into his skin. Laurie describes how lackluster sex is with her girlfriend thanks to the saddle sores.  If you haven’t seen the movie, it is worth hunting it down.

I bring up the movie because the character Lorenzo was portrayed perfectly by Dino Tavarone. His portrayal of the character embodies this idealized vision of what many people believe a bike mechanic is and how we should expect one to act. Lorenzo is older, likely in his 50s and has a salty demeanor. While he appears to be working a disorganized clutter, you have a sense that everything has been put in its proper place. He communicates in grunts and stares, and if you dare walk in with a non-Italian bike he will lash out at you for such an insult to his craft.

His social manner aside, Lorenzo does have some skill. He displays an air of knowledge and experience so deep that no one would question the quality of his work. Some would even go as far to say that Lorenzo is a master mechanic or even a guru. Yet even with these skills it’s hard to ignore the one glaring truth- Lorenzo is an asshole. In a garage all by himself he does fine but he can be a nightmare in a retail business with a mixed bag of coworker personalities, customers bringing in department store bikes, and riders who are repeatedly asking to borrow his tools. Modern day bike retail would be Lorenzo’s nightmare.

What will be Lorenzo's future? Will he learn and adapt or will he be replaced by a new generation of technicians?

Thank you for reading this far. If you found this interesting I would appreciate it if you shared it on your social channels. Thanks - Donny. 

Hiring People in Bike Retail is a Nightmare. Unless You're Cheating the System.

Finding the right person to work in bike retail is about landing on someone with the right personality and skill set to do the job and move the business forward, In order to do that many retailers may have to search deeper pools of talent and begin courting people respectfully and professionally. Hanging a sign in the window isn't good enough any more. Here are some of my tips for finding great people. 

Get it posted. Put the job description up on your site. List out all the duties, who they will be reporting to, what will be expected, and all the benefits of working at the store (list benefits all the way down to “free socks” if you do it). Pics of the store and their work space would be nice if you have them. As would general information about the city and the cycling culture.

Widen the search. The more qualifications you want, the wider the search has to be. Finding someone who is awesome in your city can really narrow the talent pool. You’re usually left with the 2-3 people that no one else wanted. Be prepared to hire from out-of-city or out-of-state and have people relocate. This is expensive on the front end, but done right the return can be made back within a year. Relocation packages usually require a moving and living stipend.

Hit Linkedin. Doing a search for “bike fitter” on Linkedin has more than 100 results (you have to upgrade on Linkedin to see more). You could also search "bike mechanic" or "bike technician". I would message all of them with the link to the job and ask if it seemed like a role for them. This is a hook to have people start researching you, and ideally beginning the interview process. If they tell you no, ask them if they know someone qualified, and increase your search by 100x.

Hit Twitter. A people search for “bike fitter” or "bike mechanic" on Twitter brings in a couple hundred more results. Send them a direct message similar to your LinkedIn message. It’s ideal if you didn’t message the same person twice.

Look for the person in second place. If you start looking to hire from other shops, I would look at look at the number 2 person doing fitting or service there. That person is usually being blocked from growth by the number 1 fitter, they are generally more open to opportunities elsewhere, and likely to be cheaper.

Once hired, pay accordingly. First, establish the level of service you want given. With that done, I would build a pay structure around the profit from the that area of the store (not sales, not margin- but profit). If this person doesn't have a fit or repair to do, they will want to be in the store selling it. 

Train heavy. For bike fitters or technicians, I would want them trained everywhere and build them up to be one of the most knowledgeable people in the world when it comes to their skill set. I would want this person to have every certification possible. However, the better they get the more money they deserve. 

Don’t forget bedside manner. Technical knowledge only goes so far. People in bike retail need to have an amazing bedside manner and an eye towards creating an amazing experience. 

I hope this helps you out on your next search. 

Thank you for reading this far. If you found this information valuable I would appreciate it if you shared it on your social feeds. Thanks again- Donny