The Little Idea: Make Owner's Manuals
Words by Peter Koch
In my frequent conversations with bicycle retailers over the past five years, I’ve heard lots of great little ideas that are brand-new to me and, upon closer inspection, seem remarkable for their far-reaching implications that ripple throughout a business to make it a success.
I’m talking about Gene Oberpriller’s $1/minute labor rate at One on One Bicycle Studio, The Ski Hut’s self-published “Duluth Area Cycling Guide” website (more about those in future articles), and the owner’s manual that Absolute Bikes in Flagstaff, Arizona gives out with every new bike sale (see below).
I’m hoping to make “The Little Idea” a regular Outspokin’ feature. Please share feedback below and, if you’ve heard of other great ideas—either from your own business, or another—please email me here. Thanks, and read on.
The Ride Guide
For years now, the folks at Absolute Bikes have been giving out a handy, self-produced owner’s manual with every bike sold. “Bike companies’ owner’s manuals are more written by lawyers than people who care about whether you and I are going to have a good time with our bikes,” says shop manager Anthony Quintile. So they created a plain-English pamphlet that outlines beginner riding safety, gear recommendations for bike and rider, and basic maintenance (how often to check tire pressure and lube the chain, for example), as well as included warranties and info on Absolute’s service packages.
It’s beautifully designed by a professional, and contains everything a new customer needs to keep their new bike rolling dependably. “We developed the owner’s manuals and similar collateral to help pre-empt typical customer concerns,” Quintile says, pointing out that they do something similar when making repairs. For example, when they install new cables and housing on a repair, they let the customer know there may be a break-in period that will require a quick follow up for readjustment, and that that’s normal. “It sets customer expectation and alleviates a lot of frustration, potentially with us, on their part.
“Communication to a customer about what they should expect helps to raise credibility for our expertise,” he continues. “Without it, customers can view otherwise normal occurrences as a failure on our part. It’s easier to help someone with something they knew to expect, than after their derailleur skips around on only their second ride, making them think we sold them a faulty or poorly assembled bike.”
Beyond managing expectations, it’s about encouraging communication and fostering an ongoing relationship between shop and customer. “The owner’s manuals also prompt customers to consider additional purchases, and to assure them that we’re here for all of their after-the-sale needs, as well. It reinforces that we aren’t only trying to sell them that one bike, and that we want to see them again.”
A few years ago, an incident with a customer made Absolute realize that advanced mountain bike technologies necessitated an addendum to the standard manual.
“We had a customer who was really upset about our failure to communicate service intervals on modern suspensions, which have come down to something like 25-30 hours of riding on some forks and rear shocks,” Quintile says. “We took that to heart, and—once we addressed her concerns—we produced a sort of rack card that we give out with our in-house owner’s manual.”
The addendum includes all of those things one needs to know about a modern mountain bicycle, including information about carbon fiber, suspension service intervals, disc brakes, dropper seatposts, etc.
The incident also led to a store-wide change in policy in regards to how they talk to customers about such matters, requiring that everyone be more diligent in repeating the maintenance requirements that come with newer, better technology. “If you bought a mountain bike in 1989, it was this steel thing without any suspension, and you expected to be able to throw it in the back of your pick-up and beat the crap out of it for 10 years before you needed to do anything to it,” Quintile says. “Now, you take your bike out on one ride, and you have to check the shock pressures and the tire pressures, or you’ll ding up your rims and smash up your frame.”
It’s an ongoing conversation, of course, and the owner’s manual is just one way to keep it going. “We’re listening to people as best we can, and doing our best to address their concerns.”