Friday, June 8, 2007

Substance vs Flash

The shop was small, crowded, spider-webby and downright scary. And loaded with charm and history. I spent a little extra money for my new bike – probably $50-60 more than I had to. But what I got in return was priceless.

My first stop was to a big box store, Dick’s Sporting Goods, because of a promotional ad I found in the newspaper. They had several bikes on sale; so it was a good place to start. My daughter was lured into the 2-story rock climbing apparatus and the trampolines and tents on display. It was practically a playground. I stood in Dick’s for about 30 minutes and not a soul came by to say hello or lend me any help at all. (Even if they had, I doubt they’d know any more about the bikes than I did. Still, a little help would’ve been nice.) I tried my best to decipher between the bikes in stock on my own and left without buying a bike that night. My experience at Dick’s was all flash and no substance.

From the beginning I was uncomfortable making a big purchase at a big box shop, but my experience at Dick’s confirmed it. I wanted to spend my money at a local shop and support a local small business. The big box stores, being run by big corporations far away from my home town, could really care less if I get the right bike. They only want one thing – my money - as much of it as they can possibly get.

The next night I dragged went to a little bike shop downtown in my home town. In the end I spent more than I might’ve at Dick’s. But I’m sure I bought the right bike for me because the shop owner clearly had a passion for bikes and 40 years of experience. You’d be hard pressed to find 40 years of experience at Dick’s!

The Geneva Cycle Shop has been in existence since the mid 1970s. The owner, Ellis G, first opened the shop selling motorcycles. His shop looks virtually unchanged since 1970. Before I entered the shop, Mr. G had already greeted me and asked how he could help. He quickly located two bikes that might meet my needs and told my why, all the while, serving two other customers. A few minutes later he had the tires pumped and ready for me to ride around the parking lot. (Where would I have tried out the bike at Dick’s?)

I selected a bike and promised to return a few hours later to give him time to prepare the bike (adjust the gears; tune up the brakes – would Dick’s have done this?) We returned later and while we waited, we chatted about service at big box shops, politics, the history of his shop. He told me about some great bike trails nearby. And when he was finished he promised to take care of any problems concerning the bike – just bring it back if I need help.

We also talked about technology – Mr G’s technology consists of a telephone and mailbox. That’s the way he likes it and that’s the way he plans to keep it. He takes cash and checks only. Simple. And fabulous.

In the end what I got was all substance and no flash. The extra money I spent bought me an interaction with a new character in my town; a bike that truly fits my needs; info about some great bike trails and a promise to fix minor repairs if I have any problems with it. Priceless.

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