Sunday, April 26, 2009

Measuring "Value" In Bikes

I was skulking around a local bike shop the other day trying not to get waited on (yep, I'm that guy) when I overheard a conversation that really took me back. The sales guy had obviously been chatting up another potential customer for a little bit when he went to the greatest conversation starter there is in bike sales: "What do you ride?"

Before I let the guy answer, let me explain why that is -- without question -- one of the most outstanding sales pitch openers:
  1. It doesn't let the customer say, "No thanks, just looking." You want to hurt a salesperson who understands how sales work? Toss out a "just looking" and stop making eye contact. (If you want to stab that salesperson in the heart, wait a few minutes before you ask another salesperson a question.)
  2. It invites the customer to talk about his/her own bike. What bike nerd doesn't want to do that? Instant camaraderie/rapport.
  3. It tells the salesperson what the potential customer is interested in, bike-wise... what kind of riding he/she does, what he/she spends on bikes, possible brand loyalties, weird retro tendencies, etc.
  4. It creates openings for sales spiel that look natural/organic. Customer's riding something from one of your brands? "They just came out with a new [whatever's hot from that brand]... you gotta check it out." Customer's riding old steel? "Wow, that's a classic. Those bikes are really making a comeback, like this [whatever company happens to be jumping on the retro bandwagon this year]." You get the idea.
So I was duly impressed that Sales Guy knew how to open, especially since I was in one of our less-impressive local bike purveyors. His potential prey's response?

"It's a Trek. And it's like a $3,000 bike, so it's a really good one."

I confess, even though I've been out of bike sales for a decade now, a little bubble of drool formed in the corner of my mouth. It's just not often that you encounter this particular species in the wild. It's the rare "brand plus cost equals value equals respect" shopper, i.e., "I have a bike from a reputable company that cost me a lot of money, therefore, it is awesome, therefore, I am awesome, so please like me! Please really like me!"

If you're a sales shark who has to pay your rent with commissions, those guys (and sadly, they're usually guys) are absolutely GOLDEN. They don't know what's good or bad, and probably don't even know what they like or dislike. They just know brand and cost, and know that the more expensive one must be better somehow. We had one in my last shop, a big-fish/small-pond lawyer who I was taught to know on sight and immediately direct to the most expensive thing in the shop, because he simply wasn't interested in anything he didn't perceive as the best of the best. We actually used his name (which I'm leaving out to protect the innocent... and the guilty) among ourselves as a shorthand for that kind of customer.

Ever hear the story of the guy who had a cheap old bike that he loved, rode it for years and years before he finally treated himself to some Amazing New Vunderbike, but when dosed with truth serum and/or post-ride beers, he admitted that the ANV wasn't as comfortable or fun to ride as his old junker? Welcome to the "brand plus cost equals value" mentality. I wish I were immune to it, but everybody falls into the trap (heck, read my recent post fawning over a Vanilla for just one example). I can't count the number of bikes I've bought (and subsequently resold) that were supposed to be better than what I already had just based on reputation or cost or magazine hype. I had a carbon race bike that beat me senseless and could be (and often was) rendered unrideable by one broken spoke, but damn, did it look sweet hanging in the garage. I had a gorgeous lugged frame from a small U.S. shop that never fit me right, but I just kept sticking different stems in it, desperately trying to sew that sow's ear into a silk purse. Even when you think you know what's good and bad, what you like and dislike, the bike placebo effect can kick in. You change something -- raise a saddle, change pedals, rewrap handlebar tape -- and feel like you've just channeled Lance, at least until the novelty wears off.

I thought I was stumbling toward a point there, but no such luck. Consumerism is weird? Humans are complex and not always rational? Don't trust a salesperson who asks what kind of bike you ride? I dunno.

For the record, $3,000 Trek Guy didn't make any purchases. Guess he was just looking.

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