What are the challenges for you as a bike shop?
We are always asked to price match, but sometimes we cannot buy the products at Wiggle’s selling price. Customers sometimes come into the shop, ask for all the advice they need, and then buy online. Some come back and say they’ve bought it online as it was £10 cheaper and act like this is a good thing for us! My friend – who owns a bike shop – told me he responds: “Yes, as long as I service match also,” which means advising on size and assembling the bike. The customer discovers the bike assembly charge is basically the online discount, and they start to see the picture and get free buying advice, the first service, etcetera, on top.
What are you doing, and what can the industry do to help?
We have the knowledge and experience, we pride ourselves on our work and customer service, and we are always looking at new ways of bringing business in, but it is still very hard in the current climate. One of the best things we did was a Sunday demo day, in a big gazebo outside the shop with about 20 Cinelli bikes, and in the next week, we had loads of people coming in saying: “I didn’t even know you were here.”
What is the secret to LBS survival, in your opinion?
For us, improving this business in the first couple of years was easy, by smartening the place, offering better service and longer opening times. We are a small shop, and we don’t get a huge amount of footfall because we aren’t on the high street, but we get ourselves out there. I think independent bike shops can also play on growing support for local businesses over chain shops.
We get really positive reports from customers on social media and Tripadvisor, and that word of mouth is brilliant at bringing people in. The best way to beat the competition online is to offer that customer service and quality bike repairs.
Tell us more about being female-friendly.
It’s fascinating when people come in and ask me: “Is the boss in?” Women have been so patronized, and it’s great to be able to change that. There’s a minimum requirement working here that you have to be friendly and helpful. I’m not going only to employ someone who can strip a bike.
We won’t use jargon; we wouldn’t tolerate anyone being discriminatory or rude. If you have an old Raleigh Pioneer you really want to keep riding, we will repair it. Often, bike shops make people feel pressured into buying something they don’t want. We are family-friendly, too. It’s great to get customers to spend significant amounts of money because they are buying for the whole family. They say: ‘We did stick our heads in another bike shop, but we didn’t get a good feeling.’
Colin Lewis Cycles, Paignton
Simon Aske, www.colin-lewis.co.uk
What are the challenges, and how are you overcoming them?
It’s challenging times, I’m sure, for the whole of the high street, not just for the cycle industry. We have been in business for 45 years, we have had to tighten our belts quite a bit; we had to lay off some staff because there isn’t a footfall.
I build my own frames now, Aske Bikes; that’s something we have added to the business. People know me as a good mechanic. If they bring parts in, that’s fine; I’m not going to send them away. The repair sector is still quite buoyant. We sponsor the local cycling club, which is 500 members, so we have our name on their jerseys. We do it because we love the sport, though if those 500 members all came through the shop, it would be great.
What can the industry do to help?
We are part of Madison; we pay once we sell its stock, which helps. Madison just set up Freewheel, where customers can order online, collect from designated shops, and take a margin. We had three people come in to pick up items in the past week. Madison is trying to drive people in the shops rather than drive them away.
We asked some cyclists about their experiences with IBDs.
There is an excellent bike shop near me in East Greenwich, run by a father and son team. Despite being on a particularly hostile bit of road, they are always swamped fixing bikes, seven days a week. I really like them because they know my bikes personally, are trustworthy, don’t talk down to you, and won’t rip you off. They are really first-class mechanics, too (I challenge you to find a bike shop with more five-star Google reviews!) They are a great community asset now. A good bike shop is somewhere you trust and can repair and service your bikes, which you could never get online.
Andy Matthews, architect and photographer
All bike shops muck something up at some point; it depends on how they sort it. One bike shop didn’t fit the retaining pin when they fitted my brake pads, and they fell out 20km into a 300km ride. The shop staff were mortified and apologized profusely, and I always get a discount since and priority on lots of stuff, none of which I asked for. I still use that shop. Building trust with a mechanic takes time; it’s straightforward to lose those, though. Bikes mean the world to me, and I don’t want to see them damaged or not sorted properly.
Distributors could do more to help local bike shops survive. Shops could try and work together a bit as well. We got together pictures of all the bike shops within a 20-mile radius for Black Friday to remind people to at least look in your local bike shop, even if it’s not us.
Saddles and Paddles, Exeter
Heather Baker, www.sadpad.com
What are the challenges, and how are you overcoming them?
The shop has been trading for 30 years. When I took over about six years ago, I wanted to be friendlier for women, more accessible, and change the industry from the inside in a tiny way. I know it was very male-dominated. I think for me, it is a fact we have evolved and have lots of different strings to our bow: we have lease bikes, private hire bikes for large local businesses, we supply the university, the local council, and the Met office with fleets of bikes for staff to get to meetings. We do lots of doctor bikes with local businesses; we get paid to do that, but it also means we get exposure to their staff, and we take products along to sell. That’s why I’m still here when other shops have closed down. I go every year to local markets with my branded gazebo and gifts and accessories, and it’s a good opportunity to sell.