Nicholsons of Dundees is the citys best known bike shop, set up in 1949 by Jack Nicholson, father of Margaret Williams, the current co-owner. Today it was officially opened as the UKs first Cyclelife store.
Im no stranger to this shop, said Helen Wright, the Lord Provost of Dundee, in her ribbon cutting speech.
My family has had four set of bikes from here and it gives me great pleasure to open it today. It really is a fantastic looking shop.
And she should know, last week she opened the multi-million pound city centre retail plaza, the Overgate Centre.
Co-owner Bryn Williams made sure his store opening wasnt swamped by the unveiling of such a mega complex:
We told the council not to forget other parts of town. Were investing in our business too.
The link with Overgate is appropiate because Cyclelife, Raleighs new retail treatment, is all about bringing middle-market IBDs up to the same standards as the High Street.
There are many independent multi-franchises with cutting edge shops but RCCs have lagged behind and the Cyclelife makeover, whilst not radical in retail terms its not a Bluewater is a modern, clean, well-lit standard shop refit. Take the bikes away and you could slot in electrical equipment, shoes or any other mass-market commodity merchandised by a high street corporate.
That was exactly our brief, the Cyclelife designer, Matt Wilson of Demaine of Nottingham, told BikeBiz. I had lots of radical ideas at the beginning such as half cars coming out of the walls with headlights to use as illuminatiion for trying out reflective clothing. The current design is very much tamed down but it wouldnt look out of place in the new Overgate Centre.
Bryn Williams jokes he lost two stone in weight in the past month while the three week makeover was taking place. Nicholsons has traded from a small shop opposite the existing one whilst the £35 000 refit was undertaken.
Raleigh has been responsible for the Cyclelife concept, the RCC pays the refit cost. Nicholsons went the whole hog: it also upgraded its four year old Abacus EPoS system with £10 000 worth of new kit.
This level of investment is necessary, said Williams (husband of Margaret and one of Dundees best networkers, he seems to know everybody), because bike shops have to appeal to a new audience.
With this refit I want to appeal to people who think nothing of spending £500 on leisure equipment. Im hoping to attract a different audience. I go to a local gym. People there have £100 trainers, have spent a lot for membership and have nice cars. I never see these kind of people in the shop. Why not? These people keep fit and have a few bucks but dont cycle. Its an area we have to tap into.
Williams is half way there already. Hes arranged for the posh gym to feature some bikes, draped with Nicholson plugs.
Nicholsons is the only independent Raleigh dealer in town. There are four other IBDs and a Halfords. The next nearest Raleigh stockist is in Perth, 18 miles away.
That may sound good but theres nothing in between, said Raleigh rep Billy Cook. Sheep dont ride bicycles.
Cyclelife of Dundee, as the shop is now called (although staff still answer the phone as Nicholsons of Dundee, 51 years of history is difficult to jettison overnight and the name change will be phased in gradually), has 1400 sq ft of selling space. The redesigned shop had been trading a week before the official opening and customers have been impressed by the changes. Many have commented the shop looks bigger. It isnt, but the stripped wooden floor, the bright lights and the hacking back of stock has resulted in an easily browsable store.
None of this was an accident. Mike Conwill of CrosshillConwill, Raleighs graphic designers for 20 years, was charged with creating a new retail format 12 months ago. He drafted in Matthew Wilson of Demaine and shopfitters Unit Contract Development of Bilsthorpe, Nottingham. Unusually for a retail revamp such as this, the shopfitters were in on the project from the start. Normally a design is put out to tender and numerous companies pitch for the construction contract.
Having the builders involved from the outset made getting the ideas on paper made into reality a far easier process than normal. UCD who mainly work for Superdrug, Woolworths and other members of the Kingfisher retail group were able to tell Demaine what was and wasnt feasible for the budget at the design stage, meaning design ideas didnt get entrenched before being rejected as too costly.
CrosshillConwill conducted quantititative research on small retail outlets to identify likely customer flows around the planned gondolas (some are on castors), central wooden counter and fixed fittings. Plannagrams were drawn up which helped the design team create the optimum mix of merchandise and fittings in what will generally always be a relatively small space.
One such clever use of space is the bespoke bike hangers which allow a bike to be hung from the slatwall at a slight angle without encroaching on floor space. Underneath the wall-hung bikes (which can be easily removed for closer customer appraisal) a two inch raised platform has been filled with pebbles, rocks and gravel.
The pebbles come from Dundee although they were sourced from a supplier in Derby (the same supplier which kits out the BBCs Ground Force team).
One of the most striking features of Cyclelife Dundee is the stripped wooden floor. This gives the whole shop a clean, natural, fresh look yet with its diamond glaze, the toughest varnish treatment available it should shed dirt and oil easily.
The varnish is the same used in trendy bars and restaurants and is up to hard use, said Matthew Wilson of Demaine, who normally designs, er, trendy bars and restaurants. Cyclelife is Demaines first retail makeover.
With a new suspended ceiling dotted with high-intensitity halogen spots a radically different floor, a name change and less stock than ever before, you could be forgiven for thinking original owners Jack and Irene Nicholson, who handed over the reins to their daughter and son-in-law 15 years ago, would be shocked by the changes but theyre not.
Its lovely, beamed Jack Nicholson. We used to have a hundred frames hanging at the front of the shop. Now theres a lot less bikes but theyre easier to get to. This used to be small Co-op store. The big fridge used to be where the changing room is. Every business has got to evolve.
Jack Nicholson senior, now 80, used to be known as the Cock of the North in the 1950s and 60s British bike trade. He had a successful operation selling frames and Brooks Colt saddles by mail order. He was a good friend of components importer Ron Kitching and frame builder Bob Jackson. Nicholson used to step on to the Bob Jackson stand at trade shows and say Ill stock the lot. Consequently, the shop was chocka with stock and difficult to shop.
Nicholsons was originally on Arbroath road, a mile away from the present shop, but when this was slated for demolition (its still standing) Jack moved he shop to a corner position at Stobbswell, two miles from Dundee city centre.
He converted to a Raleigh Cycle Centre in the 1970s. Cyclelife is the successor to being a RCC and is quite a departure for Bryn Williams.
We were worried about losing our independence but we decided to go for it. Weve got a lot of leeway still. I think we were chosen to be one of the first Cyclelifes because Im always vociferous at Raleigh dealer meetings. Positive but critical. Ive been asking for something like Cyclelife for years.
Cyclelife of Dundee has four full time staff as well as Bryn and Margaret (both of whom are former teachers). All of them wear Cyclelife shirts, either in Royal blue, khaki or black, with the blue and orange Cyclelife logo discreetly embroidered on the breast.
In the week it has been open Nicholsons has sold no Musings or Gazelles, the new brands Cyclelife IBDs will be stocking alongside Raleighs and Diamondbacks. Raleigh will be doing cooperative local advertising with Cyclelife outlets to promote the two unknown-in-the-UK brands. However, on the official opening day a male customer bought a £1500 Musing.
"I'd like that sort of customer every day," said Bryn Williams.
Both Musing and Gazelle will be IBD-only brands, with no plans to offer them to corporates.
Similarly, Cyclelife is also IBD-only, something Raleighs new MD Philip Darnton believes is critical to the concepts success.
We want to do more business with IBDs. Thats very much part of our future strategy. I think this shop looks sensational and Im sure many more RCCs will come on board now they can see what can be achieved.
The next to open is Palmers of Bristol, giving the city one of the best looking bike shops in the UK. The best, it could be argued, is Mud Dock of Bristol. Cyclelife is good but its still far short of a Mud Dock. However, considering the market positioning of the majority of Raleigh Cycle Centes, Cyclelife is a bold step in the right direction and, despite the £30-40 000 price tag, will probably pay for itself many times over.
That is until the next refit, of course. To remain fresh, Cyclelife will have to reinvent itself on a five year cycle. Or, as happened with Raleigh Cycle Centre makeovers, will many IBDs remain locked into the past with shop designs always 15 years out of date?
Many probably will as can be extrapolated from the comments made to Bryn Williams at Januarys RCC conference. After a video presentation of what his shop looked like at the time, more than one IBD congratulated Bryn and Margaret on their excellent looking new shop!
Demaine - tel: 0115 9503 208