New York Daily Photo Analytics

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Get Well Curve

There is a peculiar variety of retailing in New York City. This is where sales people are actively involved in an anti-sales approach. I'm not talking about ignoring customers. I refer to a sales person who actually argues with a customer, preferring that they buy nothing rather than buying a product they do not consider worthy of consideration, even if they stock it.

As a long-time resident, I have become used to this flavor of arrogance which can be found in certain businesses, particularly ones in a highly specialized niche market, often with high-end products.

Welcome to Bicycle Habitat at 244 Lafayette Street in SoHo, a store where bike aficianados both shop and work. Complaints here range from being ignored (with sales people chatting among themselves, an all too common scenario these days) to outright rudeness. My experience there on one occasion is illustrative.

I was interested in a Dahon folding bike. Bicycle Habitat was a dealer for Dahon at the time, but there were none on display. When I asked the salesman, who, judging by his attire, was a serious bicyclist, whether I could see one, he said if I really insisted, he could go downstairs and get one. However, he was quite reluctant and instead asked why I would want to spend money on a folding bike when I could buy a "real" bike for the same money? I answered that I had a "real" bike in storage which I never used and that if I had a folding bike, I could store it in my home and actually use it. The conversation ended here - there was apparently no use in him discussing the matter further with someone willing to compromise.

A review site I visited shows 21 reviews for this shop. The distribution of 1 to 5 star reviews is an almost perfect inverted bell curve or well curve. Startling, isn't it? Service here is typically experienced by the customer as great or horrific, with virtually no middle ground.
The secret to a shopping in a place like Bicycle Habitat is to be knowledgeable about the products and on the same page as the staff. These are the customers that have positive experiences.

Is it worth the trouble dealing with a place like this? Often, a customer has no choice, where the vendor is virtually the only one of its type, like Canal Rubber. We have specialty stores here that exist nowhere else and where often, the staff is extraordinary in their knowledge and expertise. Customers are very appreciative that such a place exists at all.

Not every business with a dominance or captive audience abuses the privilege. Places like B&H Photo treat customers very well in spite of their virtual hegemony in their retail niche.
But for some, the get well curve even in recessionary times appears to be based on the philosophy there's no business like no business :)


Anonymous said...

A unique idea in an interesting story! ...I like your writing style.

Brian Dubé said...

Anon - Thanks. This is reality in a number of places. I have a few other retail shop stories that are outrageous.

Web said...

It's interesting that this exact topic was the subject of a seminar last month at InterBike (the big, international bike show held annually in Las Vegas).

By the way, I specialize in folding bikes and will be happy to help you.

Larry Lagarde

Thérèse said...

Very pertinent, so true for a few businesses.

Naomid said...

Take the free bike map, free air, and service your bike somewhere else!

DaveinNYC said...

Having spent a good deal of time in that store this past year. You are relating a single experience there, and I would say any store in Manhattan on any given day you can get the same type of experience. I saw quite a few people who knew nothing about bikes getting fantastic service there and also people looking at folding bikes. In fact one of their salesmen is a folding bike enthusiast. No I don't work for these guys, I just bought a bike there. If you look at nearly all the bicycle shops you'll find similar stories. I think anywhere you find salespeople who are also enthusiasts you get the same treatment, windows user in a mac store anyone? or Ford guy in a Chevy dealer etc.. Music store etc.. and this type of attitude is not just located in NYC. You have a great blog here, but this one I think is a bit unfair in its portrayal. Would you rather have to buy all your bikes from some walmart type chain where the salespeople know nothing? To me, getting the occasional arrogant salesman is worth it as long as I get a knowledgeable person too. I also suspect you went there on a Saturday, where they have about 10-15 salespeople working and that still isn't enough to make everyone happy who goes to that store.

Frequently when I am there to get work done on my bike, 4 different people ask me if I need any help even after I have been helped. So what you say just doesn't relate to my experience there, in fact most bike stores in NYC I've had someone ask me if I need help within 5 minutes. I also don't look like your typical cyclist being 300lbs and getting back in shape.
You have a great blog, but this post seems unduly unfair. Habitat bikes is also one of the major political forces for getting bicycling lanes back in NYC, if anything you should be talking about that political battle rather than hit or miss service which you can experience anywhere in this country.

Brian said...

Dave in NYC - I agree with much of what you say here. I have had chats with the owner. However, let's keep in mind that my experience was not so singular. Actually, I have been in that shop many, many times over 20 years at least. And the chart I provided is based on 21 reviews. If you go to or other sites and you will see similar complaints. I went easy on these guys.
I agree that the arrogance is typical of specialized stores with expert salesman, especially in NYC. I have some horrific customer service stories I have observed and on a regular basis with some specific retail stores. I also am willing to tolerate arrogance and do what is necessary get expertise. But I am not sure that this is the way it HAS to be - not all analogous shops have that attitude.

girl in new york said...

Wow - this is quite a surprising retail story here. It's hard to imagine a salesperson could afford this in an economy like this. Would love to hear more of your retail stories in your future photo posts.