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With 433 stores in the UK and Republic of Ireland, and rapidly expanding, Halfords has, by far, the largest High Street presence in the cycle trade. Lisa Foster takes a look at the big orange giant’s performance and continued expansion...

A new era for Halfords

Mention the word Halfords to most IBDs and you’ll maybe get a shudder at best. At worst, you’ll get a strongly-worded argument about a bike box outfit trying to act like an independent. Whenever Halfords has a promotion running, the forum goes into overdrive.

But, as BikeBiz has reported many times before, this retail giant has – through heavyweight, expensive advertising and promotional campaigns – done a great deal to promote cycling to the general public. Halfords is often the first destination for a would-be cyclist. And there are an increasing number of people who see cycling as a green, healthy pastime but don’t yet know a lot about the dynamics of a bicycle. Yes, Halfords may have the enviable marketing budget to reach out to newbies, but think for a moment about the fact that this promotion of the Halfords brand could be A Good Thing for everyone involved in cycling…

At the same time, Halfords – like most other High Street institutions – has on occasions taken a beating from the financial institutions and the subsequent media reports. But, particularly considering the senior management changes that have taken place in the last month (see box out), it’s worth considering what the City nosetappers are discussing, especially given the general downturn on the High Street that we’ve been witnessing since before Christmas.

“We continue to believe that Halfords is one of the few bright spots in the retail sector at the moment, compared with most of its peers,” said Glynn Davis, City columnist for The Retail Bulletin.

Further praising the chain, he continued: “The company seems to be taking a sensible approach to store openings, unlike many other retailers that have retained their gung-ho opening programmes despite the economic background, which suggests their growth story is purely down to adding volume through square footage.”

Davis did, however, point to the initial promise of the BikeHut proposition and the company’s earlier statements about the roll-out of the concessions – although he must surely be aware of the Halfords Board’s reticence to over-expand during uncertain economic times.

He said: “One area that does not seem to be living up to its potential is the standalone Bikehut stores, as the website shows only four outlets up and running, whereas the company stated midway through 2007 that it intended to have six open by the end of the year as it pushed towards a target of 50 throughout the country.”

Fair comment, of course, given that Halfords had publicly announced those expansion plans. But look at any retail chain (other than the grocery giants) and there are very few who haven’t curbed their earlier expansion plans.

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