IBD PROFILE: Cycling On

No frills retailing: Owner of Cycling On Steve Barnett, happily confesses to being far from involved with the stresses of ’modern retail methodology’. But utilising an entirely unique business model, the biz is doing just fine...
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Tell us a bit about your business model:
My model is a bit unusual both as regards retail in general and bike shops in particular. Wanting something to do to keep the mind active after retirement, taking on the bike shop seemed a natural thing to do.
I had a vision of a business that was viable, providing income sufficient to top up a pension, but above all, one that ran with zero hassle.

I set some boundaries early on. The business would be restricted to a turnover below the VAT registration limit, because I felt that I could cope with that level of business on my own without too much hassle. To make a sensible profit from that turnover meant that I had to concentrate on profitability and minimising overheads.

The shop would succeed or fail on its reputation as spread by word of mouth and so I headed for the middle ground. I would not oversell anything, in particular I would not stock rubbish claiming it was good value. I would not make promises I could not keep, would have time for customers and always be open and honest with them. The repair side would be an important part of the business because it would bring people into the shop and is highly profitable.

Fiscal control would be very tight. I do not spend money on the business unless it is absolutely necessary or is obviously going to return a profit. For example, one of my rules is never to buy anything on the shop floor. A second is always to be in a position where the bank owes me rather than I owe them.

How have you prepared for a general decline in affluence?
Done nothing! There's more than enough business to keep me occupied. Component price increases have meant that my charges have increased but my model stays the same and any decline in affluence has passed me by. It helps that I am in an area that is fairly wealthy and have access to a customer base that is relatively insensitive the general financial situation. Would be different if I was a volume shifter of 'competitively' prices bikes and kit.

What forms of marketing do you practice to attract new customers?
Marketing? What’s that? My total advertising budget is £15 a year for a quarter page in the carnival programme and I do that to support the community rather than attract customers.

How’s business at present?
Business is meeting my needs and expectations. If anything I am seeing more people who like to be treated as individuals rather than punters, people who are tired of the big shed approach to retailing and enjoy talking to somebody who will give them time.

How do you think Bike Hub’s available £100,000 could be best spent?
The big block to increasing cycling uptake is that bikes have to share roads where motor vehicles take precedence in the thinking of both road designers and road users. What we need is a lot of cycle roads – dedicated routes for bikes between everyday destinations. They need to be two-way, wide enough to accommodate bikes travelling at different speeds and be pedestrian free. Bike Hub money cannot provide this, but if some of it could be used to influence thinking in this direction then maybe it would be used usefully.

Do you in any way get involved with furthering cycling in the local community?
I work with the Scout Association and make sure that all the local schools know that parents can drop into the shop to have bikes checked over when cycling proficiency comes round.

You refuse to discount – tell us the reasons behind this stance?
Being competitive on price is not part of my business model. It’s all too easy to get sucked into a position where you cut margins
to get business and then finish up working harder and harder to stand still.

My route is not to stock things that are routinely discounted and when people ask me for such things I am quite happy to direct them to the discounters. When I do that, it is amazing how often I get asked to supply at the full retail price.

Is anything selling particularly well at present?
The store only really carries hybrids and they are selling at the level I would expect. Spec levels of bikes being sold are slowly creeping up, which is pleasing because generally, the higher the spec the happier the customer. Add to that the declining risk of post sale hassle and the business looks like a well-oiled machine.

Owner: Steve Barnett
Location: Lancashire
Telephone: 01772 782828
Web: No web address
Opening Times: 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, excluding Wednesday afternoon. 9pm to 4pm on Saturdays.

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