Opinion by Richard Belson

The other day, I was poking around one of the more popular Facebook groups where bicycle mechanics get together to swap ideas, opinions and ask advice, and someone posted this questions: “What do you do to keep customers out of your shop area?”

The post quickly grew into a thread of suggestions ranging from subtle, to passive aggressive, to absolutely abrupt techniques on how folks keep customers out of a workspace. Additionally, a huge amount of input came from mechanics and shop owners who asked why the original poster was even wanting to keep customers out of the service area in the first place.

This got me thinking: If I were to be placed in charge of a shop today, I’d be hard-pressed to find a reason to allow customers into a service area.




Well, the answer that immediately comes to mind is another question – What purposed to does allowing customers into a working service department serve?

And, if even if you can come up with a reasonable answer to that question, you immediately have to assess whether that answer justifies the increased liability associated with having the general public in an area that has inherent risks.

If you talk to any insurance provider, whether business-related, or personal, the ability to purchase a liability policy, and the price of that policy, is directly linked to doing everything in your power to minimize risk.

For instance – if you live of work in snowy climates, you will shovel your walk and driveway, and de-ice walkways in order to minimize the risk of someone falling. If you fail to do this, you insurance company will likely balk at covering an accident, or will, at the very least, increase your rates significantly following an accident.

So, if you allow customers in your work area and something happens to them – a wheel falls form the ceiling onto their head, a spoke pops out of a wheel you’re truing and skewers their calf, or any other possible scenario - you might have to pay higher premiums, lose your insurance, or even lose your business.

Also, if I am in charge of a service department, I want to be sure the work that my mechanics are doing is of the highest quality, being performed as efficiently as possible, and is consistent. If there are customers in the service area looking over a mechanic’s shoulder, asking question, the mechanic won’t be doing their best work.

The service area of a working shop is not performance art, nor is it an educational facility.

If a customer wants to learn about the processes you are doing on their bike, find a way to offer maintenance clinics after hours. By simply allowing them to look over the mechanic’s shoulder and ask questions about the process during working hours, you are eating into your business’s profitability on multiple levels:

  • They think they can learn the skills your mechanic has spent months or years perfecting, which empowers them to do the work themselves. This makes it so they will no longer pay you for that work.
  • It de-values their perception of your work – if they see how easy an experienced mechanic makes a job look, they will balk at paying the price the job is worth. It’s ALWAYS harder than it looks, but the general public doesn’t know that.
  • It takes the mechanic’s mind off the task at hand. This is the most dangerous result of customers watching a mechanic work, in my opinion. In order to perform work safely and efficiently, a mechanic needs to be able to work consistently. If a customer is looking over their shoulder, asking questions, the mechanic is unable to do the work in the same manner as they generally do. This will lead to, at best, a slow work pace, at worst, inconsistent, sloppy work that could land the shop and it’s reputation in trouble.

Increased insurance cost and decreased efficiency will erode your profit margin. Lack of consistency will lead to quality control issues, and erode customer trust in your work – potentially leading to rider injuries.

I can’t think of a reason compelling enough to allow customers into a service department that it would over-ride profits, safely and my shop’s reputation.