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View Full Version : How far will you travel for a good indy bike shop?



BrokenSprocketGarage
05-24-2014, 5:31 PM
Considering moving the Broken Sprocket Garage down the road 9 miles. This would put me approx. 26 miles from the major metropolis of Buffalo, NY and a little less from the surrounding suburbs.

I currently lease my garage. I like where I am at, only 1 mile from home. My kids ride their bikes to come see me or bring me a milkshake. The location is quiet, secure, a little quirky/funky. I like it and feel at home when my customers walk right into my repair and work area.

The potential new location is in a slightly more rural area on a major road with lots of traffic. Previous use of the building was the same as what I am doing now (motorcycle and small engine repairs, with storage facility). Plus it has a real "showroom" where I could sell do-rags and stickers, helmet mohawks and leather jackets etc. Separate shop area, storage barn and parts room. I am sure I would get more passerby traffic, and customers from previous shop. Big thing here is that I can buy it for a decent price. Instead of giving my money to a landlord for eternity.

My question for the CC is: How far would you be willing to travel to get to a quality repair shop? Does the look and feel of the building matter?
Are you all buying goods (filters, jackets, gloves, etc.) from indy shops? Do you care if the shop works on other machinery besides motorcycles?

RetroRob
05-24-2014, 7:23 PM
Ok, I'll give this a shot, I'm going to my local shop 4-5 days a week when I'm in a build. I farm out stuff I'm not comfortable with, or are beyond my scope of expertise. Cylinder boring, wheel lacing,etc, I'm buying used parts, ordering new parts , picking up speciality fasteners, cables, gaskets, etc. the shop is nothing to look at, half cinder block, half barn. There's cobwebs and pike parts everywhere. No leather or gloves, helmets or Mohawks, they are busy as shit and know what the fuck they're doing. Sometimes I hang out and shoot the shit, most days I wait my turn talking to the owner, get what I need and get lost. It's about 20 miles from my house, I'd drive twice that and then some to find that expertise. It's on a small rural road, away from other business, it's got a shitty wooden sign. No window shoppers. People find him by word of mouth, reputation and internet. It's not a hipster hang out. He never advertises, he dosent have to.

EVILBLACKSABRE
05-24-2014, 7:53 PM
I'd travel a lot farther than nine miles for good service. As long as the owner and employees are cool and know their stuff I couldn't care less what the place looks like, or what other work they do. And as long as they are cool and know their shit, I wouldn't care if they sold collectable Barbie dolls.

In my opinion, traveling nine extra miles is nothing for anyone who is serious about motorcycles. If someone considers going an extra nine miles, or an extra nineteen miles, to be too far to get what they need for their bike, then I guess they don't really need or want it all that bad. Hell, I'm sure there are a lot of people who wish there was a bike shop anywhere in their town, much less nine miles away.

Personally, I would be willing to ride/drive at least twenty miles one way to buy something I needed from a cool shop. I like to support local shops whenever I can rather than order online. And if I'm riding one of my bikes to the shop, a 40 mile round trip just adds more enjoyment to the experience.

Good luck with your shop.

WingNut
05-24-2014, 11:53 PM
When I built my sportster chop I lived in south florida but we were working at a friends in Lakeland and then was finished up at FnA Custom Cycle, also in Lakeland in a little industrial complex. I made the hour drive over 3 or 4 days during the week and all weekend. Good work will make them come. I probably wouldn't travel that much for anything over an hour but for good work I'd put in the effort.

Arsenal
05-25-2014, 12:42 AM
You should keep your faithful customers but you're gonna lose any exposure you had to getting that random shithawk that's just passing by because you're in the "major metropolis". I'd buy the building. Consider yourself to be investing any of the lost profits from your previous location. Who doesn't want to actually own their own shop? All the guys looking for a good shop will seek you out, if you have a good shop.

drenfro22
05-25-2014, 5:18 AM
I wish I had a full service shop 9 miles from my house! I haven't been impressed much with what I have seen locally so far. Most shops around here have come and gone, and I'm in a "major" metro area. Seems like the vast majority of riders here just take there shit to the dealerships they bought their bikes from. He'll I'm still looking for a qualit machine shop to do a few small items for me.

BrokenSprocketGarage
05-25-2014, 5:54 AM
http://www.weichert.com/52395411/?ldview=ldphotos
This is the building in question.
I think that I would keep the loyal customers, lose some customers who aren't willing to travel, and gain some new ones in the locale.
There is no H-D dealer anywhere "near" this location. There is a Yamaha/Polaris dealer nearby. Previous owner of property was a multi-dealer of European brands and Husqvarna forest and garden line. I think I would pick up some of that customer base.
Still not sure about the location...
What are the shop labor rates in your areas?

howard
05-25-2014, 7:33 AM
i live in syracuse and travel to phoenix ny for my service that i cant do - its over 15 miles and the shop is in the boonies-

seen guys from binghamton come up for service-thats over 80 miles

know guys who go to utica hd because they hate performance in syracuse-again its over a hour away

bikers will travel for good service

Hubbard
05-25-2014, 7:53 AM
If the people in your area are seriously in need of a good dependable shop I wouldn't think distance would have much to do with it. And speaking from a lot of personal experience having a shop either at home or very close will eventually come back to haunt you. Unless you don't mind giving up your personal privacy.

spidr
05-25-2014, 10:34 AM
Is 9 miles really that far?

The towns I grew up in and started riding and buillding, the grocery stores, and when I was lucky the bike shops, where 40-60 miles away. Locally we could buy beer and gas.
When I moved to the city, it took between an hour and two to get to any of the bike shops I dealt with.
Closest place I deal with now is at least 2 towns over, and about 1/2 hour drive.

I have my own shop, pay rent, and given the chance would take the buy in any day, wouldnt even be a question as long as it was within an hour. My customers travel over an hour on a regular basis.

Leiffireeater80
05-25-2014, 11:25 AM
Yeah I would think people would be willing to drive an hour to and hour and half for a quality indy shop. I know I would.

BrokenSprocketGarage
05-25-2014, 2:14 PM
Wow, unanimously, all are in favor of moving. I wish all you fellas were my customers, loyal bunch here on CC.
Location is everything, IMO. I work hard to cultivate my customers, develop a relationship with them. I know there spouses, kids and dogs. Many have been with me since I started doing this work, from the back of my truck, in their garages and mine. My motorcycle customers are the best!

So, are all of you guys buying merchandise from your local indy shop? Biltwell helmets, Barnett cables, Drag Specialties products, hard parts, oil, riding gear etc.? Or do most riders buy online? Can I expect to make some sales from a "showroom"?

spidr
05-25-2014, 2:25 PM
Wow, unanimously, all are in favor of moving. I wish all you fellas were my customers, loyal bunch here on CC.
Location is everything, IMO. I work hard to cultivate my customers, develop a relationship with them. I know there spouses, kids and dogs. Many have been with me since I started doing this work, from the back of my truck, in their garages and mine. My motorcycle customers are the best!

So, are all of you guys buying merchandise from your local indy shop? Biltwell helmets, Barnett cables, Drag Specialties products, hard parts, oil, riding gear etc.? Or do most riders buy online? Can I expect to make some sales from a "showroom"?

Up here, I can say that most people, even if they are buying a corporate part, buy from the indy. Myself, and several of my good friends have shops, and although they are not motorcycle, (slightly differant industry), we've all got a pretty good following.
I can say, that if your client base is that loyal, they WILL follow you. They're not buying the parts, they are buying into you. I have customers that have moved a 1000 miles away and still call me for parts, since I dont retail stuffd and its all custom, its a little tougher to coordinate, but we make it happen if we can, and they continue to deal with us because of it. My experiance says that the US is a much more internet based community than we have though, just from what I experiance, but if you've got the customers now, a move wont lose them.

I dont think that a showroom will gain you sales though, just personal opinion. Your customers will understand that overhead costs, and sitting on inventory sucks. Dont run out and outfit a showroom trying to gain sales, wait and see what the market bears. Make it known that you can get the stuff, talk to the customers about what they would like to see on impulse racks, and if you find yourself ordering something every couple weeks, repeatedly, bring in an extra or 2. Let it build as your market grows, and it wont bankrupt you if you've made a wrong assumption on what you believe is wanted

Coffins
05-25-2014, 2:27 PM
I also vote for the move. Getting out from under the landlord alone is worth it. Nine miles is nothing to fret about. Oils, cleaners and riding gear will probably sell okay at the shop. I'm always breaking sunglasses and shit. A local shop around here also keeps some space for a showroom, and they've sold the bikes they had in there last year. In the off-season, the showroom space is used as winter storage for customers.

krisc1008
05-25-2014, 4:39 PM
I'd say go for it. Gonna be a heck of a bike ride for your kids though!

Slosh
05-26-2014, 12:55 PM
By now I think you know the answer. I think you probably already new the answer and just needed a little reassurance. So go for it.
All I can really add is this. I live in Sharon, PA and I have a local indy shop about 2 blocks away from me that I deal with because they do incredable work and the guy that owns it and the guy that works for him are really good people. The look of the place is what I would describe as organized caos but that's one of the things that I like about the place.
All that being said, once my bike is all back together, I'd have no problem going for a ride to check out your place and that's about a 3 hour ride.

Slosh
05-26-2014, 1:12 PM
Hit the wrong button. Ya, it's about a 3 hour ride from here to there. I'm used to long rides though. Where I grew up it was at least a half and hour just to get to the grocery store and an hour to get anywhere else. It was an hour and a half just to get to the city. We used to take day trips to Lake Erie and that was a two and a half hour ride.

BrokenSprocketGarage
05-26-2014, 7:14 PM
By now I think you know the answer. I think you probably already new the answer and just needed a little reassurance. So go for it.
All I can really add is this. I live in Sharon, PA and I have a local indy shop about 2 blocks away from me that I deal with because they do incredable work and the guy that owns it and the guy that works for him are really good people. The look of the place is what I would describe as organized caos but that's one of the things that I like about the place.
All that being said, once my bike is all back together, I'd have no problem going for a ride to check out your place and that's about a 3 hour ride.
Wow, that is cool that you would take the ride, heck you could do it anytime. Come on up for VBR II on June 21.www.voodooandburntrubber.weebly.com
And, you're right I do need reassurance. This would be a big step forward. Much more pressure on me, and the wife. It's just us, and occasionally my son comes in to do lawnmowers. More expenses, more property upkeep, like snowplowing and lawnmowing. Glad to hear lots of you don't care what the place looks like, this new place has no bathroom or running water currently! But there is lots of potential, and a lot of potential new customers.

Phail
05-26-2014, 7:34 PM
I drive 50 miles to my "local" bike shop. And almost the same to my "local" 4x4 shop.

But everything is 50 miles from me.

Buellbomb
05-27-2014, 5:20 AM
Riding nine miles is nothing when the shop experience is what you're looking for, good service and knowledgeable advice are worth it.

I like to support indy shops but don't have a problem going to a dealership if I need to.

Good luck!

IronManJr
05-27-2014, 8:20 AM
I say, like everyone, make the move. The quality of your work as well as the customer service quality is MUCH more important than distance.

As far as a showroom goes, spidr makes a good point, the most common way for a shop to fail (aside from shitty service & work) is to get to big for their britches and trying to do everything at once. I'd say some of the most important stuff to carry is: oils, filters, chains, bulbs, batteries, etc. Think: what does everyone need at the beginning of the riding season.

Also, it never hurts to have the "Hey Joe" shit for quicks sales; stickers, hats, do-rags, gloves, sunglasses, and shop shirts.

Just my observation from being heavily involved in a successful indy shop around here, mainly focus on not trying to do to much at once. Take it slow and give your customers what they want.

farmall
05-27-2014, 6:22 PM
I are not a shop owner but work off and on at one and observed what worked, and did not, at many others.

People happily travel to shops which welcome and treat them respectfully. Hardly any shops are nearby in my area, but the good ones do well.

Don't break your wallet flooring a lot of stock since what doesn't move can easily hang on the walls for decades. Sometimes good wall decor, particularly interesting USED parts, adds delicious ambiance and gets people talking. If you have banners or posters, make them interesting. Customer eyeballs should roam your store and be engaged. A large photo board of run pics, customers, customer bikes, etc can become a piece of local history.

Do have enough common parts for quick fixes to get people on the road. Gaskets, gasket kits, Viton O-rings, and seals which will eventually move anyway may as well be stocked. Jets and cables and parts to build custom cables are winners not so much for what they sell for but for expediting minor jobs which bring back customers for other work.

Straight weight oil and common battery sizes are winners.

Arrange showroom areas so they are defined by counters or other "barriers" which unobtrusively keep visitors out of where they should not wander without escort. Low counters do that while being visually friendly. Have interesting things in the counters. Common upgrade parts such as carbs can be a quick sale. Literature from bikers rights orgs and other groups of interest are good counter material, as are "outward facing" catalogs in catalog racks (you keep the dealer parts price lists stashed elsewhere for lookup).

Have an interesting shop shirt, well made and attractively designed. If one side incorporates a map that's a bonus, and business cards should have a map too. It's a nice old touch and it works.

Have a soda vending machine up front. If people can quench their thirst they hang around longer. You can hide beer on top of a large pile of soda for your own consumption...

Your advantage over the internet is KNOWLEDGE and EXPERIENCE, plus customers need not fuck with returns.

Have a worksheet the customer signs off on to keep things clear and honest. SAVE your copies, preferably forever. Include things such as "customer declined X repair" to cover your ass. Don't be shy about refusing to work on utter disasters which will lose you a shitload of time unless you REALLY need the money, and then brief customer that their particular bike (for example old, fucked up, yard-sitter Yamaha Ventures or other garbage barges with wiring and carb problems) will take extra time to track down oddball parts and troubleshoot inevitable problems found during examination.

Have an attractive, large sign visible from the road in both directions as well as a logo on the shop. Signage is key to new customer awareness.

Track parts and expenses very carefully. It's easy to bleed money and not quite know where it went. "Friends" are happy to pay for work to keep a business going. Shit, I often work for free or modest barter at my buds shop and he does me favors in return. (That only works with reliable people carefully vetted over time, since if they fuck up you eat the comebacks.) I once dented a customer tank and promptly paid cash to repair and paint it. Any mechanic should be willing to eat their fuckups just as you'd eat yours. That's part of being professional.

You don't need to go apeshit on hardware, but I'd stock useful items including stainless. I order my personal stainless allens, locknuts, and washers off Ebay as they are stoopid cheap compared to hardware store prices.

danoldchevy
05-27-2014, 6:32 PM
Depends on if there are any closer shops. The one I go to is a five minute walk from my house. Pushed my first bike home from there. There's another one about 3 miles up the road. And another one a few miles after that. So for me I'd probably go to the closest one that's reputable. Out of the 3 I listed there's only one of those I probably wouldn't go to. But I hear they do good work. You should probably see how much competition is in the city

BrokenSprocketGarage
05-27-2014, 6:51 PM
Farmall, as always, your post is spot on and even entertaining. Some day I gotta shake your hand,
I don't question if my customers will travel 9 miles. My loyal customers will follow. I question if the people on the north side (or farther) of Buffalo would travel out to the "sticks". Ya know, 25 miles or more.
I have always grown my business in increments, adding a major service here, new storage space, building customer base. Not even thinking of blowing a bunch of Alpinestars leather or icon helmets. Basic service and repair items, yes. Maybe a monthly parts swap in the showroom. A couch and a coffee pot. Biker rags and a customer bulletin board for bikes they are wanting to sell.
Anyway, started poking around the property yesterday. Asked a few questions when I talked with the realtor today. I hate all this lawyer, banker, realtor b.s.

spidr
05-27-2014, 7:06 PM
One more thing.......Think about a BBQ or a swap meet if you've got the space.
Everywhere I've ever been, swap meets are lacking. and BBQs make for a great time for potential customers to drop by and hang out foor a while without feeling out of place, or wasting your time. If you're chasing new customers, its a good way to get them out, whether or not they keep coming out will be up to you at that point.

BrokenSprocketGarage
05-27-2014, 7:13 PM
I already do two events at Broken Sprocket Garage

www.voodooandburntrubber.weebly.com That one is fast approaching.

The second is a free hot dog and hamburger cookout, customer appreciation day every August. Live music. Totally free for my customers.
Good advice spidr.

spidr
05-27-2014, 7:18 PM
I figured you had that one covered already, but it was worth mentioning again.

farmall
05-27-2014, 8:13 PM
A couch and a coffee pot.

Couch bad, stools good, which is why bars have barstools.

Stools keep people vertical and engaged in conversation. They position customers where they can read catalogs or contemplate stuff for sale. Couches eat floor space and because they lower their occupants don't facilitate social interaction. Hide one in the back office to crash on if you must have one. Everything up front should encourage thought, movement and personal interaction.

Classic bike shops thrived and thrive on the mutually supportive social scene which the unreliable two-wheeled grenades of the time required to keep running. The custom scene thrives on the same social bonds and the social nexus of a solid scene is usually a true motorcycle shop. Sounds odd put in those terms but it's da fuckin' truth. Broken rides encourage human interaction. Happy repairful outcomes are emotionally rewarding. (I didn't write da rules, I just observe 'em.)

Side bank besides lawn equipment:
Dunno what the seasonal golf cart market in your area looks like, but in SC some shops make fat dollahs repairing and upgrading them for rich gummers to cruise their gated communities. Those people aren't shy about buying accessories or new repair parts. Some golf courses may sub out their work. Golf carts are simple compared to mcs.

BrokenSprocketGarage
05-28-2014, 6:06 AM
:killerjob: Farmall, you are genius.