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“There’s no money in bikes” - discuss

The markup on the wholesale price was 100% at the local bike shop I worked at one summer on parts and a more flexible 50% for new bikes IIRC - so there must be. Last time I used a shop was when I'd got into difficulty with with a stuck seat tube a couple of years ago. 
I think bike mechanics are in general under appreciated and underpaid.  I was interested in the price list here. I guess I'd accept £45 for a check over, report and minor tweaks of a bike. But I was less keen on a further £40 for doing the B/B and another £65 (£140 total) for the full service. And I'm thinking there of my sort of bike - high end, clean, mainstream manufacturers.

I rapidly Learnt a lot about the sheer variety, condition and quality of bikes in the LBS as opposed to basically checking new Raleigh's for sale at Halfords - I don't think we encouraged repairs. Maybe if you've got your workshop really geared up for all that cleaning and degreasing, it works ok. - you get to sell some necessary parts at shop prices too. 

Thinking of repair cafe jobs, even with no labour costs you rapidly approach what a donated bike will sell for. The last one I did had new pedals, bar tape, brake shoes and chain all for £15 - we might get £60 for it. The current one is having £7 on brakes, ideally wants a new chain (£5) which we're not doing this time because it will probably only fetch £35.

If you're new please join in and if you have questions pop them below and the forum regulars will answer as best we can.

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Jimmy Ray Will | 3 months ago

Having spent a bit of time in the world of selling people and also in selling business services, I have a fairly different view to hourly rates than most. For me, a decent mechanic is going to be charging between £40 and £60 an hour. Less than that, and I can't really take their mechanical attributes seriously.

Why? Because I'd expect a decent mechanic to be earning a reasonable wage, at least the median full time average of £34k. With on costs, that's getting on for £28 an hour.

Then factor in things like tools, productivity (they can't realistically be billing for every hour they work), training, marketing, premises and I'm struggling to see how someone has a business for under £40 an hour. 

If you are paying less, than somewhere down the line, someone is cutting corners, and that corner cutting is likely to be around the biggest cost - salary. i.e. you are not getting real expertise. 

Now for a chain swap, or a puncture, you don't need real expertise, but I don't think many on this site would be using a mechanic for those jobs. 

But going back to the cycle industry, I'd say that there is a distinct lack of money, or more accurately profit, swilling around at the coal face. 

When looking at reasons why this is, I circle back to an old sales mantra I firmly believe in; "You get the customers that you deserve". 

So, if you sell on price, you get price centric customers, if you sell on flexibility, you get needy customers, if you sell by being easy to buy from, you get fickle customers... etc. etc. 

The cycle industry at an LBS level tends to sell on a dangerous mix of price and friendship. The friendship sell is particularly bad, as the customer will give you loyalty and trust, but in return expect to be looked after (price). If you don't consistently give the consumer a great price, they'll take it as a betrayal and you lose their business. It's all too easy to find yourself giving away far too much profit just to maintain an ultimately unprofitable customer. 

Many LBS's need to revisit how they sell and the way they manage their consumer relationships. 

Bigtwin | 3 months ago

I've just finished running a bike business mid last year.  Business rates were crippling, parts prices and availability got stupid and beyond what customers would pay, and there wasn't enough profit in it to pay people properly.  The public, save for a small minority of "serious" racers etc, just expect chains to be £5 and a service the price of a round of drinks tops.  And if I ever hear the phrase "Halfords only charge..." again there will be a death.  If they are such a bargain, why are you bringing it to me to fix after they've had at it - again?

pablo | 8 months ago

I do not understand why people think just because it's a bike it would cost practically nothing to service.  Your paying for the staff, the workshop,tools, and all the other admin that goes with running a business.  Realistically it's not much off the price of servicing a small car.  MTB's are even more complicated and require more time and parts.  I think many businesses should breakdown the costs so customers can see where the 'mega money' really goes.  

huntswheelers | 8 months ago

I tend to lean towards the "Enthusiast" end of the cycling market..... the vast majority of my customers (90%) are serious cyclists and pay whatever I tell them it will cost....some provide parts and I am happy to fit (or not if they get the incorrect part(s)) whereas many won't fit customer sourced components. Much of my work are customer builds and often we meet and discuss and then they source the frame and components to what we have agreed and to their budget and spreading the costs. I do the run of the mill Halfords bikes via recommedations and that furthers more recommendations so that 10% of my work is helpful. I don't just specialise in Road or any paricular genre. So far I've had through bikes which have done KAW, Rebellion,Wolf,Canti, West Kernow, Lejog, Old Chalk Way, LEL and Paris- Brest..... today I've just prepped a Salsa which is heading off to Georgia....not the U.S

Pricing is always an issue as many do not see Bikes and their parts being "expensive" and as if they are a throwaway item. We do have a local council run charity type upcycling scheme where they have disable people putting bikes back out there for the community to buy....some are awful frankenbikes when they come in after no-one else will even look at them.  There is money in the workshop side of things but you need to make sure the customer understands the costs that they face before they have their bikes in for work..... I'm fully booked until November and then the Summer bikes come in for service and pre winter lay up...then Christmas....and so it goes on....   Ride Safe and look after your machines, then they will look after you

Simon E | 8 months ago

I think you have to have run a business (or seen their accounts) to understand it fully. Running a bricks & mortar operation is expensive. These days the aggressive pricing by the big online operations makes it harder for dealers to justify RRP, as is the case for virtually all retail nowadays.

Bicycle mechanics are generally paid poorly but then so are many other 'low grade' unskilled and semi-skilled workers whose work is not valued as much as 'professional' workers, tradesmen etc.

I think my LBS workshop charges about £20/hour. I think that's pretty reasonable considering the overheads, stock and other costs they incur to run a workshop for someone to walk in and request repair work, new chainset or whatever and work on anything from a neglected BSO to a £12k AXS/Di2 carbon bling machine dropping with integrated proprietary components.

My one-man-band technophobic (or 'traditional') car mechanic charges £40/hour but I believe that's a lot cheaper than most. IIRC a routine 10,000 mile/annual service on my son's Skoda Rapid at an independent garage costs more than £200 yet only seems to take 2 or 3 hours.

Glassdoor says a Halfords bicycle mechanic earns £13K - £17K. Mind you, that page also states that "The salary trajectory of a Bicycle Mechanic ranges between locations and employers. The salary starts at £54,041 per year and goes up to £54,600 per year for the highest level of seniority."

Bigtwin replied to Simon E | 3 months ago

Simon E wrote:

The salary starts at £54,041 per year and goes up to £54,600 per year for the highest level of seniority."

They just need to shift the decimal point one place along and they have nailed it.

IanMSpencer | 8 months ago

What is a reasonable cost per hour for a job? I think one of the problems is how you value a job, and how the outside world doesn't know how to value time AND tools.

So, a puncture repair - how long is reasonable for a repair? It is certainly on average a 15 minute job just to replace an inner tube, becuase it is not just the replacement time, but assessing the source of the puncture. As a professional, any time spent repairing an inner tube would be outweighed by the (trade) cost of a new inner tube - and the risk of failure. Amazing how many people would wait for a repair rather than replace themselves - and of course get picked up by the side of the road by their other half. What will a customer pay - what should they pay?

Fitting tubeless - you don't know ahead of time if your customer's wheel set are going to be a breeze or whether you are going to suffer the agonies of getting a tyre onto the rim. If it won't go, you then may have to spend time discussing with the client on what alternatives to try. All time and also knowledge of what is likely to work. Is that chargeable time though?

When it comes to BBs, there is a raft of extra hidden cost and time - in the days of external BBs it was generally easy if it was Shimano, just the occasional trashed frame where a customer didn't know about reversed threads. These days there can be significant time just identifying what BB or bearings are needed - even the brand of bike doesn't help as different groupsets or chainsets have different parts. Then there are the tools - a BB press is big money and is the tool that will get amateurs paying you a visit. So say 30 minutes for the actual job, but then you either need a rate to cover for the tool use as well or you need to think in  terms of a tool hire charge. If you have a Campag, you might need a special tool to remove the chainset (was that UltraTorque or PowerTorque that had the impossible to remove crank?). Some BBs need special setups - SRAM have had some peculiar tensioning tricks. You need to cover for having to go and read the manual - customers think you are supposed to be an expert with every variation held in your head. 

Car garages have this problem - diagnostics and bays are expensive, but if they simply load the labour rate you get stupid rates for jobs that don't need the bay or diagnostics.

Wheel bearings another nightmare - firstly simply identifying the hub - many are anonymous, and some brands don't consistently use the same source. Once you've identified the hub, you then need to look up the method of opening it up - is it a bang with a hammer, is there a hidden circlip, is there something that unscrews with an odd sized Allen key, and which way does it turn. Does the freehub drop off when you sneeze in teh wrong direction or is there some cunning fixing holding it together? Are the bearings standard, or are they specific to the hub, or even the position within the hub and freehub? Can you get them out with the bearing extractor tool you have or do you just use the axle to hammer them out and so on. Have you got a suitable bearing press or are you going to have to jury rig something (sockets out of sets usually make good substitutes for getting something to press in the right place on a bearing). So you could spend half an hour Googling before you even can start the job, and another half hour ordering up the right bearings.

So there are lots of issues which make what customers think are simple jobs for mechanic  (and therefore cheap) become expensive, both in extra time, tools and risk. 

David9694 replied to IanMSpencer | 8 months ago
1 like

This is the range of repair issues I'm thinking of. £140 for a full service doesn't cut it for me, even if there were only 3 or 4 types of b/b or hub we'd ever encounter.

IME, the wheel hubs* I encounter on repair cafe bikes are pretty consistent, it's the b/bs that present the most variation and issues and there's also the worry that the whole thing is held together by grime and if you open it up, you won't get it back together again. On the whole, it's the newer/ high end components that are needing the individual tools.

*The best bit is getting a bench vice - I'm 95% undefeated on removing old freewheels. 

mtbtomo | 8 months ago
1 like

Maybe I'm lucky to be mechanically minded and have done all my own repairs, bike builds and fixes since it cost me all my month's spare earnings to get a pair of wheels trued and bearings done when I was 18. That was 25 years ago.

I think genuinely skilled mechanics who will think beyond what the manufacturer's manual tells them [when the repair isnt a standard activity or problems are encountered] are few and far between. Requires much more knowledge than any certificate you might get to prove you can fit a new derailleur and index gears; or bleed brakes and fit a fresh set of pads. Hence I'd rather save the money and know I can do as good a job.

I think someone is making a lot of money somewhere in the industry but it's perhaps unfortunately not the guys who work in the actual bike shops.

Cugel | 8 months ago

This is the age when anything for sale is worth what you can get someone to pay for it. The notion of a "fair exchange" of £N for a certain amount of materials and the work to make it into a thing is very old hat.

This gives rise, sadly, to the immense advertsing and PR machines designed to persuade us that a particular thing is worth far more than we might have decided it was worth without the advert glamour-spells. Much of the adverts and PR are complete lies, as the so-called advertsing standards authority is rather a sham so the naughty liars get away with it.

For details of the general degrading effects of this way of establishing worth, price etc. in cycling stuff, see websites such as those of Hambini and Zero Friction Cycling. Both have discovered hugely expensive items that are complete dross; or less expensive items sold by the million that tell outright lies about what they can do but can't.

On the other hand, some services retain a labour-price as the basis of their cost. That's quite a good model - as long as the quality of the labour is not dross or lack of competance dressed up as expertise when it isn't. The common Blighter term for that sort of price-raising spell is "cowboys".

It would help if we went Teutonic and had many more hard & fast rules and laws about who can claim to have this or that skill. £25 per hour to fix my bike? Show me your certificate proving skill level and competance. No cert, no thanks.

ktache | 8 months ago

That is a fine website.

Especially the Build Gallery.

David9694 replied to ktache | 8 months ago
1 like

"The man who works for free has gone on holiday and the man who lends tools has gone with him" would normally be my watch-word, but I might make an exception if the task was one of those builds. 

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