Ever had one of those days when you’re soaked and freezing and your tyre goes down?
My mate had one last week. It was a rotten day, the wind was howling and the rain that carried horizontally along the sea front had broken through his jacket. He’d got beyond shivering and into the first stages of exposure.
We caught the train home, faces pallid, fingers wrinkled. It was an honourable defeat.
I was OK. I hadn’t had a puncture. But my mate had used his spare tube and mine as well and yet again his tyre began going down. But no worry. Near the station was a bike shop and a stock of new tubes.
A few days later he told me his story.
“I left the bike outside and bought a tube. It was raining and they could see I was cold. There was no one else in the shop so I nodded at the workshop and said ‘I don’t suppose I could just change the tube in the warm, could I?’ And the guy said ‘No, I’d rather you mended it outside.’”
Workshops aren’t for customers. Bike shops employ mechanics and charge for their work. My friend had paid for an inner tube and he’d had value for his money. He could replace the tube, ride home and feel grateful a miserable day had ended. Story over, you think.
The key is that I wasn’t there and nor were you. But I know what happened and now so do you. The only reason I don’t tell name shop is that you probably live a long way away and it wouldn’t trouble you. But I know it and you can be sure bike riders all over the area know it. Even people who’ve never been in the shop would now make it the last place they’d go for a new bike or a bit of kit.
“This is the shop that turns away cyclists in distress.” That’s what they say. It’s burned on that shop like a curse.
And you know what? The shop doesn’t even know it. That one act has given it a reputation of wanting money more than customers and it will never have the chance to put it right. You can’t explain to people who don’t come in.
As it happens, the shop has always had a reputation for being more interested in selling bikes than bits.
“They’re not interested unless you’ve got your cheque book open,” the lads say. And that could be sound business judgement. But imagine my mate had been allowed into the workshop warmth with the tube he’d bought.
What would he now be saying?
“You know that place we thought didn’t want you if you weren’t spending hundreds? Well, I’ve changed my mind. I went in feeling really rough and they let me change the tube indoors. It rescued a rotten day.”
Imagine the salesman had even said “Well, things are quiet and you’re obviously in a bad state – why don’t I do it for you?” Things would be different. That would be advertising you could never buy – word-of-mouth recommendation.
It reminded me of a man in another trade, a man who sold electrical goods in a small way, up against the giants. And you know what he said?
“I get people complain that a kettle they bought here doesn’t work. So I give them another one.”
“And so?” I asked.
He smiled. “The point is that I hadn’t sold them that kettle. It’s not a brand I sell.”
“So why change it for nothing?”
“Because a kettle sells for, what, £20? It costs me less than that. Maybe I lose a tenner. But what do I get? I get a customer who thinks I’m a great guy. He’ll tell people he knows. I can’t get advertising like that for a tenner, can I? You can’t buy goodwill and you can’t buy loyalty. But I get it for the cost of a kettle.”
Maybe the bike shop should have thought of that. It made ten bob on the tube. But it’s lost thousands in the long run.