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Opinion: Mechanics today ...

Published July 8, 2019

By Jenny Kallista

We at the PBMA are constantly discussing the role of mechanics/ technicians (choose your term; I'm not sure if it matters or if one is better than the other ... discuss as you please) within our industry, and we have a lot thoughts and opinions, which we happily share where we can and with whomever will listen. Our group's desire to further the professionalism within our trade is for the good of the whole industry, as well as for the individuals, and we do so through our education, advocacy, and development initiatives. What we have set forth so far represents decades worth of collective thought and experience, and we take what we do very seriously.

We are proud to note, that following our efforts, there is substantially more interest in the mechanics and technicians in our trade, from the perspective of manufacturers and distributors, and as well how service pertains to the bottom line of bike shops today ... read up on any number of recent articles that highlight the importance of the service department, and how to maximize service within an IBD. Even as we've been saying since our inception that "service is the future," the future is indeed already here, and we're seeing a dramatic shift from traditional business models. What is especially interesting to note, is how some folks in our industry are looking at ways to "maximize the service department."

A recent article struck me as rather uninformed in regards to how some are seeing the future of service. This article emphasized the importance of service and how to improve layout, factoring "theatricality" of bikes being worked on, and other visuals. What the article excluded entirely was a sense of respect for the mechanics. No where was it suggested that mechanics should be consulted in any way about their work space, and in fact the article stated that a cardinal rule was to never let the mechanics weigh in on how their space should look, stating explicitly that mechanics would "of course make the space far bigger" than it needed to be! This was after opening with the statement that service is "statistically one of the highest performing areas of the bike shop" these days. The article continued with various stereotypical assumptions about mechanics' "messiness" and appearance, further denigrating mechanics to the (sadly) traditional "less-than" position within the overall retail team. The article may work fine to convince traditional shop owners how to manage service department growth or expansion, but it will truly miss the mark if the mechanics themselves are disregarded. I see this article as rather representative of a mentality stuck in the past, despite a heavy effort to remain current or forward-thinking. It doesn't seem that you can make service more profitable or better in any real way if you disregard the human beings responsible for performing the service.

We're taking a progressive and active role in changing the perception of the stereotypical grease monkey. Why? Because our futures depend on it.

Too many shops take an adversarial approach to their service staff, and perhaps there's a line of reason that can be sketchily followed to understand why. Going back to the "stereotypical" grubby, "rough around the edges" mechanic, many of us can maybe agree we've worked with that guy (if we weren't that guy ourselves) at some point. These mechanics just work in the back, can't really be trusted to speak with the customers, and often have surly attitudes. But those days need to be over, and many of us now know it. The PBMA knows it, and we're taking a progressive and active role in changing the perception of the stereotypical grease monkey. Why? Because our futures depend on it. That grubby grease monkey may work (and will likely continue) in a small-town shop scenario where no other is known, and some people may be comfortable enough with that. But most shops exist in growing communities, where current and new business models have adapted to the online/mail order reality, and are modifying their businesses to reflect the changing dynamic of retail. We mechanics must be able to evolve as well if we haven't already.

Customers are more savvy than ever, and models of customer service have been elevated to create extremely high expectations. A capable mechanic will adapt to and assimilate with these expectations along with elevating their training to keep up. What we advocate for with the PBMA above all else, is professionalism to the highest degree, and to shed the stereotype so that we can generate the respect that comes with vast knowledge of bicycles in all their fast-growing detail. Mechanics today have to be more than they ever have been, practicing skills not only of technical aptitude and proficiency, but also trustworthy and considerate customer service skills. The ultimate level of mechanic today is one in control of their income, which can only come with the skill and savvy of good business acumen ... and those operating well-run solo service centers and efficient mobile operations are at the top of that heap.

A model mechanic is humble yet highly skilled, comes to the job with a fresh mind every day, dressed in clean work clothes and their pro apron, and is unmistakably a mechanic of the shop on sight. This model mechanic speaks clearly, effectively, and respectfully to everyone they interact with, and is a beacon of professionalism in the shop. This person keeps up with their education, maintains efficiency in their hourly tasks, and is paid a fair, living wage. If this is our expectation for what a mechanic should be, then what set of circumstances follows? Do we then have a shop who respects this mechanic as one of the pillars of the shop (because without a mechanic, there is no bike shop)? Do we then have a shop which is successful? Do we then have manufacturers who excitedly support the continued development of these mechanics? Do we then have a viable career and subsequent steady workforce?

And most importantly ... do we then have more people riding their bikes? The answer is clear to us.


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