We are used to anonymous, self-serve shopping.
There was a time when, before you purchased any garments, you had to strip down and get measured for fit. Although this may have been a fine idea, and many people ended up with well-fitting and flattering garments, most of us today would find that intrusive, unnecessary and time consuming when shopping for everyday clothes. Self-serve shopping, and certainly on-line shopping, is convenient, fun and economical for a whole slew of items.
However, certain specialty products don't lend themselves well to self-serve buying. Like bicycles.
And the very fact that a successful purchase of a well-fitting, comfortable and appropriate bicycle requires the active and engaged participation of a skilled and competent salesperson may scare off some novice buyers.
At Rapid Transit, we strive, and are generally known for, having friendly staff and a non-intimidating shop atmosphere. But the fact that we are a specialty store may be enough to discourage not all, but certainly a good portion of prospective novice buyers from ever setting foot inside and finding out what we are really about.
Let me illustrate with a real-life example.
I've never had any formal musical training of any kind and never played a musical instrument. But I love to sing, and a couple of years ago, I decided to take guitar lessons so that I could strum along while singing. I needed to purchase an instrument. With encouragement from a friend who is a musician, though not a guitarist, I paid a visit to a specialty guitar store.
Let me be perfectly clear: without my friend's company, I would never, not in a million years, have set foot in a small specialty guitar store. More likely, I would gotten someone to help be buy a used guitar. Or I would have gone to the music equivalent of a sporting-goods superstore, where I could still maintain a degree of anonymity.
The question is, why was the prospect of shopping at a dedicated specialty store, which turned out to be staffed with caring and able counselors, so paralyzingly intimidating to me?
For starters, it is often difficult for us as adults to admit that we are new at something. Particularly if that something requires years of intensive practice to gain any type of mastery. You feel like you're breaking into an enchanted circle of the initiated, only you haven't earned your stripes yet. You may have to ask questions that reveal this lack of knowledge and experience. Or you may not know what questions to ask at all, what to look for, or what reasonable expense to anticipate. You may be drawn to something aesthetically, only to find out that it is much too expensive, too technically advanced for your needs or abilities, or otherwise unattainable.
To top it off, many specialty products, including guitars and bicycles, are tricky to display in a way that encourages touching, trying, and side-by-side comparing that many novice buyers might prefer. To try a bike, for example, you may have to openly discuss aspects of your physique with a perfect stranger, who may be fitter, younger, taller, or a different gender from you. So, even testing these products requires a level of commitment that people new to the process are unwilling to make.
Additionally, many excellent specialty stores naturally become gathering spots for the committed enthusiasts. So, musicians hang out at music stores, bikers at bike stores. And, while they are hanging out, they may chat with the store personnel about topics or in a jargon that to the uninitiated may sound like a foreign language. So while this community building is a wonderful, desirable and precious thing, it may actually create an additional obstacle to a novice taking first steps toward becoming a participant.
Are there stores in any specialized field that reinforce those novice buyer fears? No doubt there are.
But my point is, that even those that do not, have to struggle with the perception that many novice buyers carry with them.
As a bike shop, we want to foster the relationships we've built with existing customers, many of whom have become dedicated cyclists. At the same time, we want to help grow biking, and for that, we have to reach beyond the ranks of current cyclists to those yet uninitiated.
And, somehow, we have to let those uninitiated know that there is no secret handshake. No prior knowledge is required or expected. There are no wrong questions. All you have to do is express your desire to start biking, and we will welcome you into the enchanted circle, because you are helping it grow.