One of the challenges of selling directly to consumers is customer support. Because we can't be everywhere at once, some perceive a deficiency in our ability to support customer. After two and a half years of doing this, we actually feel pretty good about our ability to provide customer service, to the point where we think it's a big benefit.
The diversity of support we offer is pretty incredible. From finding geometry charts of bikes that were built while Mike and I were in college (and let's just say that the socks we wore in college wore out more than a few months ago), to trouble shooting issues with equipment both ours and from other suppliers, to talking a shop mechanic through re-truing a wheel that got tweaked in a crash, to offering tire advice and training advice and congratulations after good results - it's pretty darn close to what you'd imagine some idealized shop would be like (heck we even recommend good beers), except that we aren't there in person. Except when we are...
Imagine you broke your chain in the last laps of some cross race, and when you got to the pit some guy insisted that you take his shiny new carbon bike to finish the race. If someone from "the shop" did that for you, you'd think it was the greatest thing ever, especially if the lender cut his own pre-ride short to do it. Suppose you really wanted to try out a bike for size, but "the shop" wasn't going to be open at a convenient time, but "the shop" left the bike locked up out back and gave you the combo so you could try it out at a time that worked for you? Pretty neat, huh? Suppose you flatted at a crit and didn't have wheels in the pit, and a guy who was watching the race, a guy from a shop you'd never heard of, took the wheel off of his bike and handed it to you?
I'm not claiming we're the be all and end all of the way things should be done. We aren't. Our thing at the outset was that we aimed to be a great solution for people who are comfortable enough knowing what they want to be able to get it without a lot of direct handholding through the process - basically a mail order "figure out what you need and order it" kind of a deal. Our goal strengths were performance and reliability of product, excellence of execution, and price advantage. Through our history, we've come to offer a whole lot more than that. Whether it's what we write on the blog, or how we answer emails, or say in the newsletter, or when we see you at a race, we put a lot of effort and credence into helping to educate and support bike riders and racers.
We've been called to task for not "supporting" local racing. We do that primarily in one really simple way - by making it about half as expensive as it would otherwise be to buy good stuff to race with. We may not have the resources to load up the truck with neutral wheels at your race, but a big reason for that is that we're charging you a pantload less for the wheels you start the race on. If the calculus of paying three times as much so that you can get 10% back in "support" works for you, I can't argue with you. Dad talked to me about that one a long time ago.
There are A LOT of great shops out there, but there are also some really bad ones. It will still be a long time before Mike and I have had as much experience at being vendors as we did at being consumers. We've been through it from both sides of the desk, and our business was inspired by a classic "there's got to be a better way than this" response. We still regard every customer contact as a good thing, we're excited every time we see a new "Contact Us" submission from the site. We're not in a position to answer every question under the great blue yonder, and we're ultimately happiest helping people better equip themselves to help themselves ("teach a man to fish" and all of that), but we're happy to share our perspective, experience and opinions.
Have a Happy New Year and may 2013 be your best season yet.