Bro deal? No thanks!

June 27, 2017 § 47 Comments

I recently had a couple of people provide me with some amazing services, both bicycle related. In each instance they went out of their way to accommodate me and did what I can only describe as top-notch professional work.

Then it came time to pay the bill.

One of the people, who had given up a Friday morning to help me out, said “No charge. It’s okay. You do a lot for the community and send a lot of business my way. I can’t take your money.” It took two days of negotiations to get her to accept full payment for her services, and the only way it happened was by flatly saying, “Hey, if you won’t take payment then I won’t be asking for your help again. If you want to give someone a break, give it to someone who needs it badly and really is broke, as opposed to me, who is just cheap.”

The other person gave me a “bill,” to which I said, “Come on, dude. Are you making any money on that?”

“No,” he laughed. “But you’re my friend and plus you gave me some cool bar tape and socks. No worries.”

“No worries? Worries! How much do I have to add so that you make money on this deal? Real money, not fifty cents.” He hemmed and hawed and then coughed up a number that actually made sense and I paid it.

There are countless other examples, like the person who refused to take payment for promoting my law firm at his event, as if by working for free he was doing me a favor. And in reality this is the tip of the iceberg–people accepting in-kind payment, businesses offering unsustainable discounts, and sole proprietors carving up their retail offerings so that after all the carving’s done there’s nothing left but gristle and bone.

These people perplex me. They perplex me because I want them to succeed, and they can’t succeed in the “bro deal” world of the fake bicycle “industry” where everyone wants a discount or wants to trade in-kind like we’re at some bazaar in 13th Century Baghdad where I give you a pregnant camel in exchange for three bushels of dates, a slave, and your youngest daughter.

Giving friends a deep discount is a terrible idea. To the contrary, they are the ones who should be paying full freight or close to it. Doctors and lawyers don’t generally give people bro deals. Car mechanics don’t. Wal-Mart doesn’t. Established, successful businesses charge what they charge in order to turn this thing called a “profit,” and only in extenuating circumstances do they do things at a loss–and doing it “for cost” is doing it at a loss, especially in retail.

To put it in perspective, as a bike injury lawyer I have never — NEVER — had anyone ask me to represent them for free, or even for a significant fee reduction. That’s not to say I haven’t done both of those things; I have. But it’s hardly a feature of my business that people expect me to work my butt off and not pay me for it. I think the word is “professionalization,” and the fake bike industry needs a good dose of it.

There’s a bike shop in the South Bay that is very successful. It’s fuggin’ expensive and it refuses to sponsor bike clubs and especially abhors bike racers. The owner, a former racer, knows that these “friends” will drive you out of business. He focuses on and fights hard to retain customers who pay the asking price and don’t look for a “deal.” You know why?

Because the “deal” is having a top-notch bike shop in your own backyard with real mechanics and knowledgeable salespeople and quality products that a real person stands behind. The “deal” is that some dude is making a profit and paying employees a living wage and acting as an anchor in the community fabric. The “deal” is that he pays taxes, buys a home, and works hard to make sure his kids get educated.

The “deal” isn’t you saving a sorry $30 because he’s your “pal” and “is doing it for cost” in order to “cut you a deal.”

Of course in 35 years people have cut me lots of deals and on a few occasions I’ve even asked for them. Over the decades I’ve had friends hook me up with wheels, helmets, bikes, chain lube, food, clothing, repairs, bike rentals, travel, lodging, and every kind of bike-related thing. I’ve benefited from team discounts, seasonal sales, or a shop manager who really wants to move a particular product — it was Jay Aust’s desire to get that ancient Masi off the rack in 1998 that caused it to wind up in my clutches for a paltry $800.

My bad; color me “hypocrite.”

But for the most part, and that’s 99% of the time, I pay the asking price. If the item is being sold at a discount, or my club affiliation entitles me to a price break, great. I’ll take it. But when it’s a sole proprietor, or a business just starting out, it’ll be a cold day in hell before I wink-wink-nudge-nudge condition my purchase on the bro deal. I want my friends to succeed, to make money, and to be around the next time I need the product or service that they provide.



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§ 47 Responses to Bro deal? No thanks!

  • Sibex Czar says:

    its an interesting piece. local business means local economy, and you don’t have to look too hard to find places with no local economy. Every state in the union has them, and many have more than they should.

    • fsethd says:

      Bottom line: People fail for lots of reasons, but they only succeed because they turn a profit.

  • Michelle landes says:

    Class act 💯

  • Dr. Sherri Foxworthy says:

    There is no such thing as a free lunch…especially in the weeds 😉

  • Hank from Pasadena says:

    Indeed. And if cycling enthusiasts are not careful about shopping too much on the good old internet, there won’t be any “bro deals” anyway because the brick and mortar shops will fold up as the established owners rotate out of the biz.

    I already had the pleasure of watching this happen in my former sport, tennis. The big internet retailers killed off the small pro shops, and that was that. Not to say the tennis players apparently cared very much, but in the end the vast desire of hundreds of thousands to save $5 on a pair of $120 shoes (or even crazier, 25 cents on a can of $3 tennis balls) meant and end to the shop.

    But in the end you did not need your pro shop for tennis balls, and since there were only a couple brands of tennis shoe anyway, and clothing could be found anywhere, all that was left was stringing rackets, and although many if not most, tennis players have no idea how to string a racket, all that biz takes is a stringing machine. Its now all that’s left.

    Cyclists appear to be this odd mix of compulsive and cheap. I haven’t quite put my finger on it but cycling enthusiasts are not golf enthusiasts. Golf enthusiasts spend friggen money on their sport, and they support it all the way down the line. If you’re not a golfer it may all seem ridiculous, but we can move off that point (on the grounds of lack of standing) rather easily by simply looking in any full length mirror on the way out the door.

    Anyway, sure, the LBS probably charges more than you can get it off the internet, but I can’t think of any sport that needs, really needs, its “LBSs” more than cycling. We need all the parts they stock, we need access to people who have a clue. And most of all, for me, the LBS, whichever one you pick, is your first “club” where you have easy access to like minded people, and where you will make your first friends.

    Those friends will, free of charge, give you advice to help you stay safe, which is quite a bit more than any tennis friend or golf friend will do, I assure you.

    Just calculate how much you save, per month, by not shopping at your LBS of choice. Unless you are buying stuff like crazy (in which case you probably don’t care like one of my friends who shops at our LBS like Rodney Dangerfield in the pro shop in Caddyshack) it can’t even come to $100 per month, which is saving 10% off of a thousand per month.

    I find it an easy calculation to make. I don’t feel ripped off in the slightest.

    • fsethd says:

      Great analysis. And it extends to everyone else in the bike industry–fitters, event promoters, people selling food, clothing designers … on and on.

      • Hank from Pasadena says:

        The reason that I can’t quite figure this out is the math. Its a free country and everybody is welcome to try to save money, but at some point you’re not saving.

        I’m no racer, and no threat at all to be considered advanced by a true cyclist, but I am enthusiastic and even with no effort to save money this sport only costs several hundred dollars a month. And that’s if you buy some fairly expensive carbony carbon stuff.

        If you really wanted to buy wisely you could average out to less than a thou or two a year.

        What other activity can be had for that low of a cost? If you can commute a bit to work the savings in gas and car pays for alot of “expensive” bike stuff.

        I mean, its not zero cost, but its not like you have to spend $10k on a bike or nothing. You can spend whatever you want in this sport, pretty much.

        Like the guy with no shirt who rides in boots down there. I bet his cost is pretty low.

        Even the guys at what is clearly one of the top LBSs around here basically are working pretty hard on some damn low margins.

        Maybe those who really throw down 10,000 or 15,000 miles a year wear out stuff faster than they can afford new stuff but how many people are in that category?

  • dpcowboy54 says:

    It is good that you said this. The ‘fake’ bike industry has been the same for racers, pseudo-racers, and hangers-on for as long as I can remember.
    I have played a role on both sides of that stinking aisle. isn’t the whole mail order bike racey bizness populated by bro deal chasers?

  • Wildcat says:

    “A nod is as good as a wink to a blind bat”

  • UstaBeFit says:

    I owe you some money bro.

  • Kevin B says:

    Same as it ever was. I first heard a variant of this conversation while working in a shop in the mid 80’s. Amazon is coming and bringing their platform with them. They will make Colorado Cyclist look like joke.

  • channel_zero says:

    I’m an IT guy, and I give services to my friends for nothing but referrals.

    Thinking about it now, I find out who my friends really are this way..My real friends give back in unexpected ways and the referrals are always interesting people doing interesting things.

    Most industries are completely different than IT though.

  • Sausage™ says:

    “Thanks, but bro thank you.”

  • Joe C says:

    Fantastic read, ringing with truth. I sweat there is a Wanky the Republican joke in their somewhere though.

  • Jorgensen says:

    Yesterday, a potential client called and was very honest, I want top quality but I a want a low price. I was equally honest, “I’m up to my neck in work, often putting in hours on the weekend, if you really need that low price then I am not your guy”. The guy just hung on the phone, silent, not knowing where to run with that. I had to move the conversation along, “thank you for calling”.

    • fsethd says:

      Beautiful. “Would you work for free?” is his clincher. I used to work for a piano mover. Everyone who wants their piano moved is a liar. “How many steps?” you’d ask. “None.” And it would be three flights up an apartment complex.

      This was the more insidious bargain hunter: the person who completely lies about the project, gets you out there, and then counts on you doing it on the cheap rather than bailing and going back having made nothing.

      This guy became an expert at detecting phone liars. The catch in the voice, the unnatural “uh,” the description that didn’t quite add up. Buyer beware? Seller beware, too!

  • LD says:

    True in other industries. Last fall my dog had a serious injury and was in the vet hospital overnight. I desperately needed a high-quality harness to use instead of a neck collar so I went to my locally owned pet supply store. My dog was still in the hospital so the owner spent time with me trying to figure out the appropriate size and said I could return it for an exchange if it didn’t fit. I wouldn’t have gotten that help at a big box store and certainly not online. If we don’t patronize those small shops all the time, not just when we’re desperate, they’ll soon disappear. I don’t mind putting money in the pocket of a local owner who then hires other local people. Being part of a community feels a lot better than saving a few bucks.

  • LesB says:

    “Because the “deal” is having a top-notch bike shop in your own backyard with real mechanics and knowledgeable salespeople…”


  • Matthew Park says:

    Ok maybe its because I have never been in retail and have no idea what im talking about, or maybe im being naive/ignorant, or i have let the phrase “customer is king” get in my head, or maybe just maybe im pretending to not know the truth when I really do or im just plain stupid.

    Anyways, I think that the “bro deal” is unfortunately necessary in any retail shop unless its not owned by a private business or highly successful.

    I was always told a sale is better than no sale at all. Especially in the cycling industry when new products are constantly coming in and out. Better to get rid of the old stock and bring it new ones rather have it sit around ya know? So why not give your “bro” a good deal when you have the chance? I think part of the blame has to go to the cycling industry where minimal improvements/ new designs forces retailers to bite the bullet. Does anyone remember when 27.5 wheels were supposed to be the next big thing for mtn bikes? The list goes on…

    I think another big reason is that you can give discounts to your “bros” while you take the retail price for customers thats are not. Eventually these new customers will stick around to become a bro and earn that “bro” discount or just hop around shop after shop looking for a good deal. Thats how I see it anyways because I had to go through the process myself of paying retail then becoming a “bro”.

    However my friend at the shop did tell me that giving a small discount to a new customer is a better deal since they are more likely to return and spend more money or feel obligated to become loyal to the shop. The regulars have already been in the sport long enough to not really need the discount to come back. I dont know… this is a confusing one… One expects being loyal to one shop/company should give them more benefits and I kinda agree. But then again I would rather see a new rider get a good deal and get hooked to the sport…

    Maybe Im spoiled and my LBS in SoCal has treated me like a King. Once I got to NYC and sought after a new LBS, no discounts were to be found, I was charged for every little thing, and I gave up on being on the inside for the “bro” deals.

    Maybe… Just maybe… theres a reason for a retail price. 🙂

    • fsethd says:

      Good points but I’m talking about more than bike shops and parts–services, too. Interesting that there are no bros in NYC!

  • Jeff says:

    My Bros sell on Craig’s List. I never haggle. Is that the same thing? At Corbin’s, Bill’s and Paul’s, they tell me how much and I pay that much. If they’re giving me a bro deal, am I getting ripped off?

  • Fausto says:

    Barter. My friends and I help each other when we can in our businesses but there is always a barter/trade.

  • Dogg says:

    Speaking of deals…I need wheels, tires, a tune up, gels, bars, hydrating power infusing powder for my water oh and new water bottles too…know anyone…?

  • G says:

    “Value is more than just a low price”

  • CTC says:

    This is a great article. There was a great article on a similar topic in Competitor magazine months back that Ill try to find. Assuming your local shops have great customer service, a good selection, and a reputable service department, it amazes me how many people just don’t understand this concept and how it can impact them in their own back yard.

    • fsethd says:

      Yes, and it’s not simply bike shops. It’s everyone who offers a professional service … coaches, fitters, mobile bike repair, everyone.

  • Razorsprinter says:

    When I had my shops, I tried to stay away from Bro deals. Sure I took care of my friends, but I DID have to stay in business. I raced my bike for my ego and ran my shops for my pocketbook.

  • Donny says:

    Your reference to 13th-century Baghdad demonstrates that deal-making, trading, offering services for free in exchange for something else has, in fact, been around for centuries.

    Your mileage may vary. I am not sure I buy that you go around rejecting things people give you for free, given that you’re blogging on a free blogging platform using a free template… No offense at all (good for you), but it is a bit ironic.

    I do things for trade in the industry. I provide services. In exchange sometimes for a proform. I live in a town that has a embarrassment of riches in singletrack and is one of the most visited counties in one of the most visited states for that purpose. LBS are not in peril of dying off for any other reason than there seem to be some run by total bro-tastic assholes. The lucky thing in this bubble? We have choices.

    LBS in cities that aren’t in the middle of mountain biking or road cycling enthusiast-laden environments are struggling. I would say that is trickling down from the top. MANUFACTURERS asking people for $10K for a mountain bike with little more to justify it than “It’s a Pivot! It’s a Santa Cruz!” is their choice, of course, but they can’t be shocked when people look for proforms.

    I’m not apologizing for making those deals or taking them. But as a developer of custom blog templates, hearing this argument being made on a free one sure reinforces the age-old aphorism “where you stand depends on where you sit”

  • e-RICHIE says:

    Charge a living wage and pay it when asked.
    Top Ramen isn’t a food group atmo.

    • fsethd says:

      Hahaha! And don’t be afraid to give five bucks to the homeless person on street.

  • Huntie Cakes says:

    Work for free or for full price.
    Never for cheap

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