When one works retail one expects Black Friday and the following weekend to be busy. Friday at the bike store where I work certainly was, though Saturday was a bit slower. Two separate couples bought two very similar bikes on Saturday. The bikes were similar but the transactions were anything but.
Last Sunday my coworker Leon helped Steve and Sue purchase a woman’s bike for Sue. The couple returned, hoping to again deal with the same salesman for Steve’s purchase. They were hoping, but it wasn’t going to work out that way. I understand that many people enjoy working with the same salesperson time and again and Leon is a very affable man but Leon had Saturday off and the retired couple got saddled with me; or was it the other way around? In any case, I was granted the privilege of assisting Steve with his bike purchase, which, based on his demeanor, was a great boon on his part.
This makes me sounds like I am a bitter retail warrior; I am not. I enjoy selling bicycles to people, getting to meet and know them and help guide them down a path of greater fitness and health. Some folks make being a guide easy, others fight me every step of the way.
I am an hourly employee. I make the same rate of pay regardless of how expensive or inexpensive of a product that I sell. My motivation for selling is less financial than evangelical. I understand, value, and preach the importance of a healthy lifestyle and bikes are a great adjunct to that vision. I know my shit; I’ve been doing this for over three decades.
Steve, a snowbird from out west, is the prodigal know it all who lavishly explains to you how and why he is so omnipotent. When you think Steve, think blowhard.
One of the first things he wanted me to know was how proficient he is with bicycles. How he used to be a bike mechanic. When I was five. That was half a century ago. Times change, but he’s still an expert. Go figure.
Steve explains that he would like the equivalent bicycle to the one purchased for his wife. I ask, “The Flourish?” And he is amazed that I know which bike she got. I didn’t know, I was just hitting the center of her demographic bulls-eye, or phishing. He is rather tentative when I suggest what size bike will likely be the best fit for him. The bike comes in tee-shirt sizes; small, medium, large and extra-large. At a touch over six feet and seventy years of age I peg Steve for a large. He wants to make this complicated.
I gradually learn that he wants to make everything complicated. Even when I nail his seat height for a test ride simply by looking at him he wants this to be byzantine, complicated, arcane. I think he wants this so that he can demonstrate his genius. I have encountered this before, the expert in all things syndrome. It is frequently found in men of limited stature. It has a name; Short Man’s Disease. Steve is not short, but he is aging and I have recently begun to feel how very painful that can be.
Once upon a time I was tall, strong, young and sleek. At fifty-five much of that is receding. I shudder to think how I will feel in another fifteen years. Aging sucks but it doesn’t have to turn you into a douche. Unless you’re a Steve. Of course, who know? Maybe Steve was always a douche.
We have a sale going on but because he is special he wants even more. On a rather entry level bike. The Cypress DX has a gross profit margin of about $140. Less shipping. And assembly. And paying rent, employees, taxes, insurance and, well, you get the picture. With the sale price the gross profit goes down to $125, plus we’re giving folks who purchase bikes at $395 a gift card of $30 for future purchases. It can be used today, but not toward the bike. Because Steve is so special none of that is sufficient.
I’m not much of a wheeler-dealer. I am willing to walk a customer who thinks we should lose a little money on ever sale but make it up in volume. But not this guy.
Not because he’s special. Quite the contrary. No, I don’t want to walk him because last week Leon gave the guy the exact deal he’s asking for this week. I wouldn’t have done it but precedent has been set. If I walk this guy, then I am the one who failed. I clench my teeth, smile and say, “Sure! Let me see what Leon did for you.”
Steve tells me that Leon included a front light, a rear light and a kickstand at no charge and gave him a $40 gift card rather than the $30 one he is entitled to. All of this is likely and I look up Steve’s purchase record to confirm. I again turn on my high wattage smile and reiterate my Sure! Our gross profit of $125 just went down to about $108.
Steve is content and assures me that he will be using that gift card today. He purchases a water bottle cage- I fixed him! I sold him the $6.95 cage instead of the $6.00 one. The extra ninety-five cents gets him a much more durable 6mm gauge as opposed to the standard 5mm. Susan expresses a desire for gloves which he vetoes, instead electing a rear carrying rack for his bike.
Steve asks, “Is there any room for a discount on this rack?”
I again smile and say, “No, not really,” thinking, ‘For you, you rich, self-centered egotist? Never.’
Steve buys the rack and water bottle holder. He has to pay a little under $17. It seems to pain him to do so. I graciously have these items installed for him. “No, no extra charge!” I assure him.
I walk the bike out to their car and give them advice on the rack he purchased via Amazon and thank him profusely for his purchase. He tells me I should do great at retail because I’m a good listener and have a terrific personality. I thank him for saying so and promise to pass his thanks to the store owner. I wave, turn my back to them and let my false smile disappear.
It takes a lot to get under my skin. Steve has managed to do so magnificently. Maybe I should call him ringworm?
If my Saturday morning couple left a bad taste in my mouth my Saturday evening pair offered me a lovely pallet cleansing sorbet. Steve and Sue had left hours ago, and now, late in the day, in walk a short, blonde, heavy-set gal with her short, bald companion. I greeted them and they answered with accents out of a sit-com, “How you doing?”
My first thought was, ‘New Yorkers at their finest,’ and after a few preliminaries I asked where they were from. The blonde said, “Philadelphia,” and her companion told me New York.
I looked at blondie and said, “Really? Philadelphia?”
To which she gives me half a grin and says, “Yeah. South Philly.”
“South Philly? Anywhere near Pennypack?” I ask.
This is my standard Philadelphia question. I ask it of anyone who claims Philly as home. My high school girlfriend’s grandmother lived near Pennkpack. I visited with her once. I have no idea where Pennypack is but it is a good icebreaker.
“Yeah. Sort of. That’s close to where I grew up.”
I share my girlfriend/Pennypack/ice-breaking secret and we all laugh. “I’ll have to let her know that somebody finally said yes. I’ll message her on Facebook.”
Blonde’s name is Leanne and her husband is Dan; “Dan the man, from New York” he tells me with a wink. It seems that Dan, Leanne and I have hit things off nicely and I start to maneuver the conversation towards bicycles. “So, what brings you in?”
“Leanne needs a bike,” Dan tells me and we discuss attributes of a few models, including tire width, ease of pedaling, foot-forward positioning, handlebar height and design and myriad other minutia that is on Leanne’s mind. Leanne has a very specific wish list and we start working on it.
Steve & Sue and Dan & Leanne couldn’t be more different. Leanne has a problem and she is asking for my help to solve it. I dig deep for her. We share information. Dan is retired from The NYC mass transit system. He thought he’d be dead by now but he got a new liver a year ago. I tell them that yesterday I became a grandfather. I can tell you how many children Leanne has, how many Dan has, how many grandchildren they have, that one of his sons is a NYC firefighter. We are getting to know one another. They are learning to trust me and I am working to solve their problems. It’s my job. It’s what I like to do.
Leanne tries a lot of bikes. She becomes apologetic. I tell her that this is my job, to not worry about inconveniencing me. I have run into this before. Eventually she relaxes and lets me do my thing. We are all laughing, learning, bonding and working our way toward the perfect bike for Leanne. For her it takes time because she’s not looking for features, she’s looking for a feel. We find it. But there’s still one more problem.
“Listen,” she says quietly, “I don’t know about this size thing. Are you sure I fit a small?” Leanne is short but probably weighs 250 pounds. She adds, “I just don’t want to, you know, look funny on the bike. If somebody saw me riding this bike and made a crack about a fat lady on a bike it would really hurt, you know?”
I choke up a little. Some of it is because she has been subjected to ridicule and that angers me. Some is in remembrance of being with a friend who, slapping his moped shouted, “Yeah! I rode the fat-lady today!” just as an obese woman walked by. He did not see her, his comment was not directed at her, but I felt the woman’s pain even so. And part of it is chagrin because I do judge people on appearance. Not in a cruel, biting way but with the sense of helplessness when I see people who have neglected themselves so long that they have caused widespread damage to their bodies. But mostly I get choked up because I’ve been able to make Leanne comfortable enough to trust me with her fear.
I praise her for her honesty, for her valor in stating what must be an embarrassing sentiment. Leanne fits best on a small but her spirit needs a medium. The bike comes in a blue that she loves and a minty green that she dislikes. We have the green but will need to order her a blue in medium.
Leanne leaves me a full deposit for the bike. It is the same bike that Susan, Steve’s wife bought last week. Steve and Leanne have both purchased virtually the same bike from me but one process was a bit demeaning and insincere while the other was uplifting. Leanne didn’t get free bicycle lights and a kickstand, but she did get great service and the perfect bike for her. And we kept our $125 gross profit.
I think Leanne got the much better value.