Independent Booksellers Learn from Arlington Bike Store

by ARLnow.com January 26, 2011 at 9:01 am 3,444 33 Comments

These are anxious times for independent booksellers. Having survived the emergence of e-tailers like Amazon.com, now small book stores are bracing for the impact of e-books on their business.

The American Booksellers Associations, which represents independent booksellers, held a four-day convention in Crystal City last week to network and discuss business strategies.

Among the activities was a field trip to Arlington’s Revolution Cycles.

NPR tagged along as Revolution Cycles CEO Mike Hammanwright shared words of wisdom on how to connect with customers.

Hammanwright said consumers are passionate about books in the same way they’re passionate about bicycles. To connect with those passionate consumers, you have to have a passionate (and well-trained) sales staff.

“If we’re listening and paying attention, and we hear what you’re looking for, then we can show you the products we have that we feel meet those needs,” Hammanwright said. “If a customer comes expecting that expertise, and you don’t deliver it, you’re going to do very poorly.”

Read more from NPR.

  • NorthAdams

    Revolution is successful because they are part of the community. And they go OUT and make that happen. Compare that to Ollssons which sort of expected you to know that you should come to their store and many people never even knew they were in Arlington.
    REvolution is a great business!!

  • mehoo

    Bike shops can also do something bookstores can’t – maintenance, and selling parts and accessories.

    • Most of the bike stores in the area are total ripoffs when it comes to maintenance, parts and accesories.

      ESPECIALLY the Conte and Revolution Cycles. Total rip off.

      Papillon Cycles on Columbia Pike is honest and affordable.

      • mehoo

        +1 on Papillon.

      • GMO

        I’ve never been, not even sure I knew it existed. Will be sure to check it out this spring.

      • South Arlington

        Papillon is by far the best bike shop in the region. The owners are incredibly friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. Their tune-up pricing was less than 1/2 of the Clarendon Revolution quote, even though I bought the bike at that Revolution.

        • Suburban Not Urban

          It’s too bad the county only thinks you need restaurants and 7-11’s. The pike redo will push out any valuable small business.

          • mehoo

            We’ll see.

          • South Arlington

            Yes, I’m sure we’ll be feeling wistful for the old days when Columbia Pike Town Center was vacant storefronts and crime.

  • OX4

    I also don’t need to test drive a book before I buy it.

  • Bort

    I’ve found Revolution Cycles to have terrible customer service. I’ve had a bike I was ready to purchase literally taken out of my hands and sold to another customer. When I need parts (Revolution is my last resort, but it seems stupid to drive to get bike stuff) I regularly wait at the checkout and watch 2-3 salespeople ignore me. I also regularly get approached in the store and when I give the salesperson info about my needs, I’m almost always pointed in the direction of the most expensive option ($250 for a bicycle light? Really?). In short, Revolution is one of my least favorite Arlington establishments.

    • GMO

      Don’t even consider them for parts or accessories. Wayyyy overpriced compared to Nashbar, for example – and you don’t need to get a derailure/brakes/tires/tubes/etc. fitted to your body.

      Revolution really is more geared to the beginning riders and commuters. No self-respecting wrencher would let Revolution touch their gear.

  • Stanley

    “Survived” amazon and ebooks???? Not sure what data or statistics you are looking at. Borders is on the verge of going out of business. Indie book stores are in all but a free fall. Amazon reports selling more electronic books than physical books in the last cycle.

    And as with the previous comments, books stores and bike stores are very different. A “book” is the creative intellectual property that can take any form – electronic, physical, audio – a bike is a physical object that should be fitted to the individual rider and needs repair.

    If I owned a book store, I would be trying to get into a different business. Borders put itself up for sale – and got no buyers.

    • mehoo

      Books and bikes are different, but the point is that both face challenges from internet sales, whatever the format.

  • Arlwhenever

    Geez, you would think the Revolution guy would look down the street where his so-called business model failed in the book biz. That knowledgable, personal and flexible thing sure as heck didn’t work for Olsson’s Books and Records. Look out Revolution, Amazon sells bikes as well, they are taking over retail product markets at a time. The only way a bike shop stays in business is long term is by offering service.

    • mehoo

      It’s a little different in the bike biz, though – most bike manufacturers have contracts with local bike shops that forbid the manufacturer from selling their bikes anywhere else, like Amazon.

      The only new bikes you’ll see sold on Amazon are either the low-end “Wal-Mart” bikes that bike shops don’t sell anyway, or sales by a local bike shop selling on Amazon or through their own site. Same goes for most other internet sales. The only high-end bikes you can buy on the internet are from enterprises that are basically their own bike factories, like bikesdirect.com (which may also sell through Amazon or eBay).

      It works this way in alot of industries, such as autos. You can only buy a new car from a dealer, not from the factory.

      • GMO

        This, exactly. Even further, some bike shops are able to secure exclusive regional retailing rights from some manufacturers. Revolution, for example, is the only retailer in the region that may sell Waterford/Gunnar frames.

      • Arlwhenever

        Ok, so since there is no such thing as a high-end or exclusive rights book operation, that’s another reason why Revolution’s business model wouldn’t work.

  • Shippey

    Revolution sales staff “passionate”???? More like dispassionate, at least when I was last in their Clarendon store, bike shopping. Naw, if indie book stores are getting advice from them, they might as well give up now…

    • Mick Way

      Agree somewhat. I don’t hate them at all and I do shop there on occasion because of convenience, but some of their staff have serious bike-snob attitude. I also always have to quality check their repairs. Several times have found brakes misadjusted after one of their pricey tune-ups.

      I bought our bikes there and distinctly recall that the salesperson pretty much had no idea of the difference between brands of bikes.

      Bottom line is they are not the acme of customer service their owner thinks they are.

  • Jason S

    I went in there one time, felt very unwelcome and left. That was my only experience. I wouldn’t want that in a bookstore.

  • Jakob Wolf-Barnett

    Hi Folks,
    My name is Jakob Wolf-Barnett and I manage the Revolution Cycles chain of stores. Thanks for the comments on this story and I’d ask those who’ve had bad experiences in our stores, if you’re open to it, to contact me directly so that I can work towards fixing whatever the issue.

    Our mission at Revolution is to do everything we can to get people into cycling, whether someone’s new to the sport or a racer, and unfortunately we’ve also make mistakes when it comes to customer service. I’m certainly always unhappy to hear that we didn’t we do a good job and would love to hear personally from any of the folks who have had bad experiences in our stores. My email address is [email protected].

    No matter where you shop or what you buy, I hope that you’ll keep supporting independent, local businesses when possible. Thanks and happy riding!

    • impressed

      Now, THAT’S the kind of response an owner should give!(As opposed to the comments re Eclectic Threads and Yelp elsewhere on this website.)

  • ArlBlueSky

    Bikes cost thousands, books cost tens of dollars. Simple as that.

  • Any suggestions on a good local place to get a gently used, but good quality bike(commuter preferred)?
    I saw a pair of stores at the Courthouse market but one was really sketchy and way overpriced, and the other had a decent selection but were somewhat over-priced and had really disinterested employees.
    Thanks in advance.

    • MB

      The Courthouse market isn’t bad, if you know what you’re looking for (and negotiate). You’ll also want to check out Phoenix Bikes (on Four Mile Run Dr., near the Barcroft Community Center). You’ll want to check their hours before you go – they’re usually open just a couple/few days/evenings a week. I helped a friend buy a bike from there last spring, and it’s still her daily commuter.


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