Leprosy, Losing Customers, and How to Kick Ass

hey baby - does that rash go all the way up?I’m getting ready to move to Boulder, Colorado — as of yesterday, it’s only 2 short weeks till I load up the truck. Why the move? Because I love being outdoors. I want to roll out my front door every morning on my bike and ride for hours. Which is exactly what I did on Sunday this week in the company of my friend Jenn Fields (or, as she is better known, Mrs. Kittens). We were out for a good 3.75 hours and halfway through the ride, we remarked about how warm it was getting. Back at the car, the temp showed 96 degrees (and dammit all if we weren’t 2 degrees away from a shitty boy band). I downed my recovery drink and pointed the car back to Denver.

And then I noticed the leprosy. (note: now’s a good time to view the mouse-over text on the post photo, h/t Julie Angle)

A bizarre rash was developing like Polaroid film on my thighs. Huh. I wrote it off. By evening (we finished riding around noon), I was in full-on weltsville. Hives. Totally gross. Finally, calls to mom (who knows everything) and an email exchange with my doc ruled out everything from allergic reactions to sunscreen to detergent sensitivity. Seems that it’s a photosensitive reaction to a B-12 supplement I took (for the first time EVER) on Sunday morning. That supplement now resides in the trash. Don’t ever take THIS STUFF and go out in the sun lots, mkay? Mkay.

So, the good news? NO LEPROSY! But the incident did prompt me to ponder that a leper colony might be the only place where your date is more likely to fall apart before your relationship…

The bad news? That’s not the end of the bike shenanigans. In fact, it’s really where our story begins.

I love bicycles. I would spoon a bike if it weren’t such a cold, hard (heh) lover and god knows, the chain lube (heh) would seriously fuck up my sheets. I road bike, was pretty diligent about track cycling for about 3 years (Scarlet the Track Bike is now for sale), and my friend Doyle has done all he can to inflict serious potential harm to my financial well-being by introducing me to downhill mountain biking and NOW cross-country mountain biking.

Shit, shit, shit.

Since I don’t own a XC mountain bike, I have to rent them. So about a month ago, I called up University Bikes in Boulder and reserved a mountain bike for the day. WOO!

Losing Customers

I was jazzed. Bike ANYTHING jazzes me. Doyle drove us up to Heil Ranch outside of Boulder and we went at it. Brutal work (especially since I hate pedaling uphill and prefer the chair lift), but exhilarating nonetheless. It started drizzling while we were out and the trail got muddy. I decided to do what I do best and bomb back down the trail, not so sure of my bike handling skills on wet rocks and the sort. And damn, it was fun. So, we brought the rental bike back to the Ubikes when done. They checked it out to make sure I hadn’t launched it off a cliff.

And then informed me they’d be charging me a “cleaning fee.”

Huh? I asked them to explain.

They said that there was mud/dirt in the calipers…blah blah blah. I explained that it was a mountain bike. It gets dirty.

Then, here’s the kicker – the guy standing there holding his coffee while he detachedly explained all of this to me said, “We don’t recommend that people take the bikes out when it’s raining or muddy.”

My response, “Was I supposed to ride it in a parking lot?”

He didn’t have a response.

I said the hell with it. Charge me. Turned out to be $10. I had a very sick pet so I needed to haul ass back to Denver.

How to Kick Ass

The following weekend, Doyle and I decided to head out to Betasso and give me another go at the whole XC mountain bike thing. Rest assured, I wasn’t going to call Ubikes. So I called Full Cycle to reserve a demo bike. I asked them:

Are you going to charge me if I bring the bike back dirty?

The guy on the other end of the phone said, “What?”

I told him the story of my dirty mountain bike the weekend prior at the other shop. Here’s what the guy on the phone told me:

“Umm, that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. I want you to take the bike out, ride the hell out of it, and maybe bring it back a little scratched up.”

A much better answer. So I did. Save the scratches. I did ride the hell out of it. It was a better bike (so posh!), lighter, and even spent some time with the guy at the shop when I got back asking questions about getting my hands on one of them. Specs. Details.

So How Do Leprosy, Losing Customers, and Kicking Ass all Come Together?

When you’re passionate about something — whether it be bikes, motorcycles, fishing, football, gardening — think about what you’re willing to endure to get from where you are to where you want to go. I have a raging rash on my legs from mixing B vitamins and a long as hell road ride. I put on body armor and ride ski lifts to run a bike down a mountain at about 30 miles an hour through trees and over rocks. I ride through the damn rain, soaked to the bone, to learn how to XC mountain bike, loving every minute of it. When you love something, there is nothing that will keep you from it — leprosy, rain, dirt, or even moderate levels of inconvenience.

A $10 charge didn’t just ruin my day that was previously filled with fuck yeah — it lost a customer flush with cash and full of passion. $10 was the difference between not only a repeat rental customer, but also a future purchase in the range of $1700 to $3000. Full Cycle wanted me to enjoy riding the bike because happy bike freaks spend money. And Ubikes — tons of people I know have great experiences as a customer there (which is why I went there in the first place). But they didn’t want me to enjoy the bike. They wanted the $10 for bringing something back dirty that’s supposed to get dirty in the first place.

Not only was Full Cycle $10 less for the daily rental (well, $20 after the “cleaning fee”), I spent another $40+ in retail merchandise on my way out of the store. They’ve earned a customer for the long haul — and they’ll be seeing my road bike in soon for a tune-up.

The Bottom Line on the Nickel-and-Dime

Nobody goes to work for free in the morning — myself included. So we charge for the work we do. Which is right and just and makes unicorns everywhere hump with glee (which goes miles towards repopulating the dwindling unicorn population, might I add). But take a look at your billing practices: do you nickel and dime? Because that nickel might be costing you a whole lot more than you think.

Sometimes absorbing a charge is the difference between a referral and losing a customer. Sometimes a bit of time is the difference between a one-time fly-by and a post written about your company by a blogger who’s a columnist for a national magazine with over 10,000 blog subscribers, 20k+ Twitter followers, and nearly 7k rabid Facebook fans saying that your company is the HIZZY. And it doesn’t matter who I am or how many folks read my shit, frankly. What matters is that you do good business. And sometimes, good business is asking, “If I charge this, what could it cost me?”

$10? Fuck it. Run my card and watch me walk out the door. Because I’ll go to your competitor where I’ll spend over $100 all said and done when I walked in to spend $50. And then I’ll bring them my road bike. And eventually, I’ll buy a mountain bike. Then you’ll get to service my downhill bike for $400 per season. And I’ll buy a water bottle. And Booda Butter (which ROCKS and is made in Golden, CO — the best thing ever to put on ink!). And a snack. And…

Yeah. The nickel-and-dime? I get it. The economy is tight. Bills have to be paid. But sometimes, not charging $10 can make you a whole lot more than if you’d actually charged it. It’s the difference between unpopular and unlikeable — and maybe I just wrote a book on the concept. Knowhatimsayin’?

So here — the floor is yours. Have you lost business when you could have (and wanted to) keep it? How have you made concessions in order to keep your customers happy? Let’s have it. And yes, drop links into the damn comments. They’ll be held for moderation, but I’ll approve them.

But before we go, I thought this was an amusing story about how businesses get peeved at bloggers for honest, yet not entirely favorable, reviews. Black Swan, anyone? (hat tip, Scott Stratten for the link) Not everyone is ever going to like what you do, but what you can do is thank them for giving you a shot and keep your ears open for ways you can better serve the people who are looking for what you have to offer. YUH.