Fatbirds reveals how it improved its bike store without alienating the regulars

Hunstanton bicycle dealer speaks out on the challenges of low passing trade, and catering for bored spouses
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BikeBiz speaks to Fatbirds retail manager Craig Barker...

When was Fatbirds taken over?
Fatbirds was taken over in November 2010. It has always been, and will continue to be, primarily a web-based titanium road bike specialist with a retail shop attached.

Footfall isn’t great where we are – Hunstanton is close to nowhere – but people drive from all over the country to visit us for a sizing/initial fit and sometimes a second visit for a final fitting and collection in person.

Regular customers have commented on the improvements in customer service and the store layout. There has been a large investment in stocking new and better products so no feelings of alienation here. I think they are glad we came along and made it better.

We also carry out the odd repair and service wobbly old stuff if required, but most of our bikes are shipped to customers all over the UK – and we’re big in Japan for some reason.

What type of customers do you cater for?
Our customers are generally men in their 30s-50s who want a beautiful, light, comfortable road bike that’s built to last and specced specifically for them. We also cater for the more serious racer type of roadie with our Van Nicholas Astraeus, Lynskey R440 and Sabbath Monday’s Child models which are displayed in store, resplendent in Dura Ace 7900, Campagnolo Record and SRAM Red, etc.

A big part of the business is winter bikes, the most popular models being Van Nicholas Yukon and Amazon and the Sabbath September. We are already receiving great feedback regarding the new Kinesis Grand Fondo Ti and we expect that to be a big seller in the coming months.

We cater for summer tourists by stocking pumps for push chairs and wheelchairs, and a range of leisure hybrid bikes that come fully kitted out as a convenient holiday bike.

Do you stock 29ers or e-bikes?
We have built a few Van Nicholas Zion 29ers for customers, but we don’t stock them in store. We only have a small selection of ten MTBs on display because we concentrate on road bikes. We don’t have any e-bikes or folders, but if we opened a city store in the future I would look at Gocycle and Brompton being core products.

How’s business?
Business is good, it has slowed obviously since August when we hit great figures. However, our Audax/touring bikes start to sell better this time of year so we are ready for that.

What’s the ‘bored spouse’ area?
It is otherwise known as the ‘component room’ because it’s where our wheels and handlebars etc are displayed. It is basically a little inner room with a sofa, a coffee table and a few magazines (including Grazia and Cosmo) for people to use while waiting for their bikes to be built. It is more commonly used by wives and girlfriends who have heard all they can take about gear ratios and have wandered off.

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What are the biggest challenges ahead for Fatbirds?
The store's biggest challenge is getting to grips with the newly installed till/stock system! From a sales perspective I would say we need to build on our reputation as titanium specialist. I want Fatbirds to be the first retailer customers consider when they are thinking of buying a titanium road bike.

Do you run any in-store events?
We haven't run any in-store events since the new era of Fatbirds began last November, but it is something we will consider for the future. We had a stand at all the big local events this summer including the Tour Of Britain stage between Bury St. Edmunds and Sandringham, the 'Superhero' Quadathlon at Burnham Overy Staithe and the 'Flat out in the Fens' Sportive.

How do you market the business?

We have a wealth of marketing experience so we have many ideas. So far the branding has been changed and improved and the shop front has had a makeover. We have our own team jerseys printed (available in store at only £49.99) and we have a few prototype Fatbirds bikes in store. The new site has gone live and the pictures we’ve used reflect us and hopefully our customers, who ride for recreation, fitness and laughs. The surrounding area is beautiful and we want to promote that too. If customers are going to drive a long way to see us then why not stay and go for a ride? Norfolk is not flat, it is surprisingly hilly in the north. We have one summit at 110m!

What percentage of your business does the workshop represent?
If you mean percentage of money through the till for repairs probably about one per cent because there is very little local repair business. The workshop is vital to the business though because all of our bikes are built from bare frames from an infinite combonation of components. Without Kev our highly experienced spanner man we wouldn't get any bikes sold.

What shows do you go to?
The MD and I went to Eurobike this year in Friedrichshafen and plan to send the rest of the staff to all the UK shows next year.

How do you think the trade will fare over the next 12 months?
I think we will see the industry continuing to flourish in 2012, the global economic climate will have both negative and positive effects but generally I think it looks good for next year.

Locations: Hunstanton, Norfolk
Established: 1993
Telephone: 01485 535875
Fax: 01485 535876
Web: www.fatbirds.co.uk
Email: info@fatbirds.co.uk
Opening times: Thursday to Friday 9am to 5am; Saturday to Sunday 11am to 4pm

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