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Nobody’s Perfect

June 28, 2012

It’s been a while since Back Alley Bikes got a bad public review (the last one was a couple years ago on Yelp), but our winning streak ended last week with this review on Google:

“Terrible. I walked into this place looking for a reasonably-priced bike. Three or four twenty-something guys dressed like death metal fans gave me a “you weren’t invited to the party” look, and then continued to ignore me. I had to ask who worked at the store (all of them did) to get any kind of assistance, and then I requested the cheapest bike. I got one for $250 (reasonable; I just wanted to get around campus). However, it didn’t have a kickstand, which really should have been on there anyway. They offered to put one on for $15 extra, and I agreed. After waiting outside for twenty minutes, I go inside to see what’s going on. Again, I just stood in the middle of their shop like an idiot for another five minutes while they gave me these looks that said “bro, what are you standing there for?” I got their attention again, and they eventually told me that they didn’t have the right kind of kickstand. Another guy told me about serial numbers, tire pressure, warranties, and so on, and then I bought the bike and left. I don’t know why this place has 13 perfect reviews; maybe they’re better mechanics than they are salespeople. A few of the other reviews share similar phrases and syntax, so it could be a few people writing multiple reviews, but that’s just my speculation. Overall, it was probably the most unprofessional place I’ve ever been to; I only purchased from them because I didn’t feel like navigating Craigslist for something a little cheaper, but looking back, I kind of wish I had. Would not recommend.”

And, here’s the response I posted (that has been very slow to appear on Google):

Thanks for your feedback.
I will readily admit that we’re much better mechanics than we are salespeople.  In fact, none of us are salespeople, we are all mechanics who do our best to help people find the right bike (whether it’s here or somewhere else).
Most bike shops have dedicated salespeople with clean hands and smiling faces who are trained to make everyone feel welcome as soon as the walk in the door.
We, on the other hand, are usually very busy fixing an endless string of broken bikes, so it is common to walk into the shop and find all three of us immediately involved in repairs.  As such, it is not always possible to greet someone as soon as they walk in the door.
At the same time, I assure you that no one intended to make you feel unwelcome, and for that I apologize.
Three quick notes in closing:
1) You’re right, I love Death Metal, but I think we were listening to Wolves in the Throne Room and they’re Black Metal, not Death Metal.
2) Bikes don’t usually come with accessories like kickstands.  Maybe they should, but they don’t; not here or at any other bike shop.  For what it’s worth, the kickstand that will work with your bike is back in stock if you’d still like one installed.
3) I assure you that all of the reviews that you’ve read here are genuine.  We may not always be friendly and pleasant, but we are honest.  In fact, being unfriendly because you’re having a bad day or things aren’t going well in some other part of your life is a particular form of honesty that American shoppers are very unaccustomed to, and maybe we should work on our attitudes, but for now, it is what it is.  I’m sure you’re not the first dissatisfied customer (in fact, I know of at least one other bad review of our shop posted on Yelp), but I am sure that we have way more happy customers than unhappy customers, and I like to think that the reviews that folks read here (including yours) will give them an honest view of what our shop is like.  So, again, thanks for your feedback.
Jason Merrill
Owner, Back Alley Bikes
Feel free to weigh in (good, bad, or otherwise) here and/or on Google reviews
12 Comments leave one →
  1. Deborah permalink
    June 28, 2012 11:26 am

    The bad reviews always sting the most. But for what it’s worth, I LOVE your place. You don’t know me from adam but I’ve always been treated very well every time I go in to your store. I mentioned to my husband after one time we went in (to just look) that you, Jason, are clearly a guy who is doing exactly what he loves to do. And I think it shows in how you treat people (or at least how I’ve always been treated). I think your kind of bike shop is exactly the type of place this area needs. I don’t like the hard sell; I don’t like being told my piece of crap 20+ year old bike isn’t worth repairing and that I should just plunk down $500 or more for a new bike. One is definitely not going to get that at Back Alley Bikes. And again, for what it’s worth, I tell everyone I know in Chapel Hill/Carrboro what a great store Back Alley Bikes is.

  2. Scott permalink
    June 28, 2012 1:17 pm

    No worries, I just countered his review with my own.

    I went to Back Alley Bikes for one reason, because I heard they built some of the best wheels in the Triangle. I was not disappointed. Most of my correspondence with them was either in email or over the phone. Jason was more than helpful with getting me pointed in the right direction regarding the type of road wheels that suited what I wanted out of a custom set of wheels. After our initial correspondence he sent me several options for a wheel set build in my price range. I chose what I wanted and they were ready in about a week. The wheels turned out awesome and I couldn’t be happier with them. I’ve been in the shop a handful of times but never felt that someone wasn’t there to help me. All in all, a great shop and I wouldn’t hesitate to have them work on any bike I own. I also wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to someone looking for a beginner bike or someone looking for a custom build. Great shop.

  3. kimetime permalink
    June 28, 2012 2:34 pm

    Here is something that someone entered into a search engine that brought them to my website yesterday: “back alley bikes chapel hill google review”

    And this is the blog entry that those terms led them to:

    Back Alley, y’all are doing just fine. You can’t please everyone.

  4. June 28, 2012 3:47 pm

    Thanks y’all!

  5. Bebe permalink
    June 28, 2012 5:16 pm

    The reasons he didn’t like your shop are the reasons I love it!

  6. mike permalink
    June 28, 2012 9:27 pm

    Nice rebuttal! Very tempered, yet upright.

    My feeling is the poster did not get a sufficient amount of dog, upon entering… Maybe your mascot could be trained to give big wet kisses to each new customer, before you force it to go back to fixing bikes, under the counter.

  7. sweet T permalink
    June 29, 2012 11:07 am

    when you can’t hold your temper, don’t hold it no more!!! sometimes when customers want to get a hug and they don’t know how to ask, you just got to point to the sign on the wall.

  8. June 29, 2012 12:47 pm

    i have a 3 word review for Back Alley Bikes:


  9. July 1, 2012 10:10 am

    I can identify with that, it feels like a punch to the guts. the shame is how important these reviews are to small business and that some people are quick to slam based on a brief encounter. They are frequently a new “rider”(in my case motorcycles) and don’t have reasonable expectations. Both my bad reviews are that exact scenario.

  10. Matt Takas permalink
    July 2, 2012 10:16 am

    I won’t take my bike anywhere else to get it fixed or even to get parts. I’ve been to the big-box bike shops and they all have their drawbacks (high-pressure sales and generally pushy sales people, prices on simple things that aren’t that great, ridiculous wait times for repairs, even though you go in and see the mechanics sitting around a fair amount). I go to Back Alley because they know what they are doing, don’t BS you and get the job done every time. I will continue to go there, despite the fact I live 45 minutes away and pass any number of other bike shops along the way.

    Thanks for the work on my bikes (2 Kona Dew Plus hybrids, one of which is now with my ex in another state and still in great condition!) and for the great deal on the BOB trailer last year.

  11. ol'nimblebone permalink
    August 5, 2012 12:19 am

    Interesting… I had a similar experience to to that of the reviewer every day that I worked with Jason. For years i showed up to the shop, usually a bit late, expecting validation from Messr. Merrill for the simple and extraordinary fact of my existence there before him with my hands in my pockets. More often then not i was, instead, given that same, unmistakeable “bro, what are you standing there for,” look that the aggrieved party vary aptly identifies in his review.

  12. ol'nimblebone permalink
    August 5, 2012 12:44 am

    Also, I find it very special that the only record of this crushing review exists on the BAB blog now that is has been rescinded by the flaming ass-hole (no disrespect to the anatomical namesake) that originally posted it. I can only assume that the guy took Jason up on the belated kickstand install offer and was just blown away by the kickstand service he received.

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