Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Retail Confidential: A Diary of a Shop Rat

Sunday marked my last day of work at the triathlon store that I have called my office for the past year. To be honest, I am going to miss it a bit. My everyday work life resembled a mix of "$h!T triathletes say"

(and yes, I kid you not, almost every line in that video was said at least once over the past year),  and "Office Space" with me playing the Michael Bolton character. This clip accurately displays my commute fairly well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKlDBi0cyIA

The job had lots of perks that you cannot get in any other profession. While I may not have gotten health care, I got great bike care. I could get items at cost instead of the over inflated sticker price found at most stores and online dealers. If I wanted to race a sold out event that the shop was sponsoring, the entry bib was there waiting for me. The fully paid trip to Vegas for InnerBike was also a blast.

Got questions? Just ask the 8 ball

Pre race bike tune ups aside, I think I am going to miss working with the customers the most. I met a wide range of athletes from beginners, to seasoned back of the packers (and proud of it, these were my favorite customers because they were in the sport for pure enjoyment without any care for external gratification), to true weekend warriors, to elite age groupers, to pros. While it's not curing cancer or feeding the homeless, through bike fits, pre-race pep talks, and training advice, I'd like to think that I helped athletes enjoy the sport more. Chances are, no, but one can hope I made some impact. While many consider the retail world as not a "respectable" profession, and look down upon it, seeing it as a dead-end job without growth, I would say I have grown considerably over the past year.

Primarily, the retail world has taught me quite a bit about the triathlon industry and also reinforced concepts that I already knew. Primarily, no money in the world can buy you significant speed; only training can do that. Don't misread me here. I am not saying that the P5, Speed Concept, or even the DA are not fast bikes because they are. When put into a wind tunnel, they have some of the best aerodynamics in the bike world, but all those test (or at least the ones you usually see floating around the internet) come with a catch: they were performed WITHOUT the rider. Once you throw an untrained, slightly, overweight middle aged second year triathlete onto the gel pad covered saddle, the benefits between the bikes begin to average out.

Good equipment helps for sure especially if having nice stuff gets you motivated to train more. Good equipment will also shave off precious minutes from your time. However, at the end of the day, you can give the slowest person in the world a P5 and he will still be the slowest person in the world without training.

Moreover, when it comes to the really nice equipment, a large part of that price tage comes from the name on the side. Yes, Zipp wheels and Cervelo bike are really nice, and I would buy them if I could. However, there are other bikes that can go just as fast if not faster for half the price tag. You also do not need Zipps wheels for your commuter bike (we had a customer who did ask).

Moving to the other side of the counter is going to be an odd transition, but at least now, I can now fully respect the strains, and work that the person checking me out goes through on a daily basis and thus hopefully be a better customer myself. Instead of an "A+ type" personality, I should tone it down to a C or C-; these people are trying their best to not only serve me but everyone else too. They are not trying to consciously sabotage your race.

Although customers may not have learned a lot from the advice and tips that I gave them, I definitely learned a lot from them. I now know to make sure to always wear my most recent race finisher t-shirt when shopping. I may have to keep a few in the car just in case I need to pop into the store for an inner tube. If I was not wearing at least one piece of triathlon apparel or compression clothing, employees and more importantly other customers would not be able to recognize me as a triathlete. If I completely forget one day, I can only hope that they notice my m dot or your 13.1 bumper sticker on the back of your car. If all else fails, my license plate vanity tag of "IronXY" "2xIrnmn" or "3lete" should convey the message.

Working at the shop has also taught me valuable life skills, like changing an inner tube in record time, singing "My life will go on" in Mongolian (our Mongolian mechanic is a fan as well), how to sanitize, clean, and deodorize a wetsuit that has been in the Hudson river, the best homeopathic cures for saddle sores, and the list goes on.

If anything, I now know the importance of brick and mortar stores. While Amazon.com, eBay, and the like have some killer deals, they cannot provide the service, support and atmosphere that a store can.
I hope I am leaving this brick and mortar in better shape then when I found it but that is just my two watts.

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