CUSTOMER SERVICE: Cycle Centre, Newcastle

Founded in 1936 by the current owner/manager’s grandfather, Cycle Centre is situated in Newcastle’s cycle enclave called, naturally enough, Byker. Carlton Reid talks to owner Jill Hetherington...
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Who founded the store?
T Hopkirk and Son was founded by my grandfather Tom Hopkirk, who passed on in 2001. It was originally a store that sold all sorts of things, from clothes pegs to bikes. It was sited on a street that is quite close to the current location.

To what do you owe your longevity as a store?
We keep our overheads low. We don’t have extravagant advertising campaigns. Instead, over the decades we’ve nurtured relationships with customers, businesses and local organisations. I think we will be able to rely on loyalty from our existing customer base less and less in the future. Consumers are becoming less loyal to independents. We look after our customers, but in the age of the credit crunch and economic uncertainty, loyalty is going to be brought into question when multiples sell such cheap products. At what point will customers say “No, I always go to Hopkirk’s for my bike,” instead of somewhere with a helmet that’s a fiver or a bike for 50 quid?

How do you look after these customers?
We’re nice to them! The people who work here are genuinely nice people. Robert’s worked here for nearly 20 years; there’s a very low turnover of staff. We look after them, they look after us, and in turn we all look after the customers.

Would you describe yourself as a ‘family shop’?
Yes, we’d definitely describe ourselves as a family shop. We’re a bike shop for ordinary people, customers who aren’t necessarily going to throw themselves off hills. We look after people who are cycling to work, cycling to the pub with the family for their Sunday lunch, go to the park on a week night to play footy with the kids. It’s all about everyday journeys on the bike. We need to persuade more people out of their cars and on to their bikes.

But are these not the types of customer who will be more likely to shop at multiples?
Yes. Which is why we have to forge links with major employers and other organisations where these people are working. We tell them we’ll look after them much better than the multiples, and we’ll have the right products for them. It’s not an easy market to target. But it’s the biggest market to target.

Do you operate the Cycle To Work scheme?
We do. It’s a great opportunity for independent bike shops and I embraced the scheme from the very start. Okay, so Booost didn’t work out, but we partner with Cyclescheme and we work hard to target large local employers.

What staff training schemes do you operate?
We send mechanics on Cytech courses and on Weldtite’s Weldtech courses. We have held sales training courses with Colin Rees. We also have staff who have done NVQs in retail and customer services.

How green is the store?

Every Tuesday we have a recycling company collect our cardboard. All our steel is recycled locally and we provide old tyres to a woman who turns them into handbags.

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