You tell us what needs to be changed!

This latest problem has been mailed into us from the owner of a bicycle shop in California. I think this post has particular relevance for a lot of small business owners that are struggling to keep the doors open, let alone focus on making profits.

Hi,

My name is Albert, I run a modest business selling bicycles in a college town in California. I have been in the game for sometime now, too long some might say but I enjoy my work. My wife told me about this site and suggested that we write in to you as we cant see how it can hurt. I know this is not really an industry problem, but it is an issue that we are having that we need help with.

Our problem is that we just haven’t been selling as many bikes as we used to, we used to do twice as much business in the good times. We are losing a lot of business to people buying bikes online. I am well into my mid seventies so I have no plans to set up an online business. My wife is more up on the technical side of things as she has set up our website and our Facebook.

Basically we are just stuck in a rut, we would be happy to sell to the right people but in the current environment it doesnt look likely. I have put my life into this business and I believe that we offer a great honest service. I would really value any opinions people have and thank everyone in advance if you decided to post this for us.

God Bless,

Albert

This may not be a problem facing the bicycle industry today but struggling to keep a business up and running certainly is something that is affecting business owners all over the world.

What would you recommend for a small business owner in this sort of environment?

Is there anyway for older business owners to keep in touch with a changing environment or should they just stick to what they know and hope for the best?

Leave your thoughts and advice in the comments below, and dont forget to share among your networks.

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Comments on: "Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks.." (4)

  1. Gareth said:

    Got a couple of things that I have gotten from advice over the years to get you started, hope it helps

    Website:
    Your website needs to look sharp, very simple and very to the point. If you were selling bikes online I would say you need a more complex site and probably to hire a professional. The main things I would put up on the homepage maybe in a sidebar if you can get one is the opening hours. The first thing I want to know as a customer is when your open. The second thing I want to know is how can I get to you, maybe include a google map plugin showing your location. Who ever set your site up should be able to do this in about 5 minutes, if even. The most important part of your interaction with customers will be from the Facebook page. When ever reviewing your website or Facebook or even an advertisement just put yourself in the shoes of the consumer, if you are looking for a bike what would be the things you would look for. Even asking a family member or friend who don’t own a bike and ask them if they were to buy a bike how would they go about buying one, besides the obvious going to your bike shop..

    Facebook:
    This is probably one of the most important part of generating your business. What you have to constantly remember when dealing with any aspect of your business is that you are promoting a brand. A brand for people is a promise, it’s a promise that every time they go with your product they know what they are getting, (its up to you to inform customers what exactly they will be getting) Its hard to manage how others perceive your brand, but ultimately it will be why they will pick your shop over another one. In relation to the brand have a look into designing a more professional page on facebook
    http://www.pagemodo.com/ If you don’t like the look of it or it isn’t working for you drop it, the only thing it will cost you is time. This is just the first site a came across that offers a free services for this.

    How to behave on Faecbook;
    As I said before it will all be about building your brand with customers. Interact with people, if they post a comment on your page reply back to them publicly. Don’t delete negative comments it will only anger people more, how you handle negative comments can do a lot more for you than positive comments. Example if somebody writes up that the bike they just got has a flat tyre and that they think this is a joke of a service and are really not happy. This will be difficult to deal with but if you respond politely and efficiently other people will see this and recognise if they ever have a problem this will be how it will be dealt with. Now if the customers problem is outside of the warranty given you can for this purpose say that if he comes into you that we can sort something out for you. This way you can give the customer a replacement of whatever it is without announcing it to everyone that you are willing to go outside your warranty/repair agreement. For this example when the angry customer comes into the shop explain that X are not covered but you will replace X for him in this case, and that the only thing you ask is if he could just post on facebook a reply to the conversation saying thanks Albert for sorting out everything for me.

    Increasing numbers of likes and fans:
    Here is an example of a large bike company that have a successful facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/R-A-Cycles/166198542839?ref=ts look to these guys and what they are posting don’t be afraid to copy them. The only thing that you have to be carful of is posting too often, informative posts should only be done once a week maybe twice. Competitions however can be posted about more often. The main way to really increase your numbers is to have a competition. Have a really good prize for this, if you can afford to put up a bike it will be definitely worth the return. How I would propose to run this competition would be to put out that the competition will run till the end of a month that you start it on. An example of a status you could post is
    “Like our page and place this as your status for a chance to win (type of bike) with BIKE SHOP CALIFORNIA (insert a link to your FB page here).” This status doesn’t have to be the one you post but you get the general idea, what you want is people liking your page and then sharing it with their networks. At the beginning you will just have to pester people like friends and family who are on facebook to share it with their networks, cause at the beginning you will have very few checkins so the amount of people in that network would be very small. With a little pestering at the start from people what you should create is a great deal of momentum of people sharing and liking your page. This has become a very popular way to advertise as people are willing to post and advertise your business amongst friends for the chance to win something that they want. Depending on the success of the campaign you could consider doing something like that every month if you found it to be worth your while.

    Check Ins:
    Think of something small in the shop that costs you next to nothing, what you can offer to people is that every time they check In to said bike shop they will get a free (eg. Light for their bike). Same principle with this but basically your paying for people to check into your store, so maybe its costing you 50cent per check in, but you are getting your name out amongst all of this persons friends. The way they collect their gift is by showing you they have checked in on FB. Just put terms and conditions on your ad in your store and on facebook so you can avoid smart arses checking in a few times in one day just to collect a free light or whatever it may be.

    This has just been my experience and I have found it to work for me. If others feel this is ill advice than please offer your reasons as I too would be interested in knowing better ways to market my business.

    All the best

    Gareth
    Music store owner

  2. Caroline Pierre said:

    Why dont you step outside the box a little and think of ways to use your years of experience to your advantage. Here are two ideas I had:

    Bike repair classes, Why not set up classes whether for kids or adults on bike repair.
    This may seem like you are teaching people how to look after it themselves and that you lose business, but anyone willing to take a class in it was probably going to teach themselves anyway. Your customers will always be the people who don’t want the hassle of fixing bikes themselves. This can be interesting because it can make you active in the community where your meeting people on regular basis. Each of which the people you meet will recommend you to others.

    Or why not even have a build a bike competition, this could be done at the end of your classes or just completely separate. Put up on the shop window an advertisement for a build a bike competition, what you do is get people to sign up to enter. Make a big deal about it set a date and say that on this day the competition will take place. So how you run it is that you have people come in throughout the day who have signed up and have been given a time to come in. You put a bike up and you get them to assemble it, time each person. The person who can do it in the shortest time by the end of the day will win the bike. What you can do on the day is put up balloons etc bring attention to your shop, get all participants to return at the end of the day for the presentation of the winner, maybe have runners up prizes if you manage to get a big crowd.

    There is a lot more that can be done and a lot deeper you can go with each of these aspects but why dont you try a few things first and see how you get on. Its important to discuss ideas with family and friends, tell them what your doing and ask for feedback, and remember to asses feedback logically, you will meet people who will say they don’t think something will work when really they have no idea and they just would rather give you safe advice than good advice.

  3. Christopher said:

    I think at your age you should probably just put your efforts into finding a buyer and try sell it off. Obviously you dont want to make a loss but at the same time no point bustin your chops for the last remaining years of your life.

  4. Hi Albert dont worry everybody is chasing technology today it is the thing to do, but if you are happy dealing with local people and offering a local personal service then that is your strength. focus more on what you do best rather than chasing others, many of the large internet based companies are looking at you and wondering how they can take your business so do the same. Most small business cant compete on price but they can offer a personal touch, cheap and anonymous is not to everyone’s liking. you can use facebook but use it as your word of mouth especially in a college town. all the best

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