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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