Halfords' expansion through its newly announced Cycle Republic stores may have been making the headlines, but the retailer is also paying some attention to its existing store portfolio.
Evesham, sits just 20miles from Halfords’ Redditch HQ and hosts one of the retailer’s flagship stores.
The Evesham branch is also something of a testing store for and was the first to do something fairly revolutionary – bring the cycle department front of store and put bread and butter car maintenance items like car oil and wiper blades upstairs on the mezzanine level. This significant break in tradition gave some of the top brass sleepless nights, but the gamble paid off, proving so successful that the other 92 or so Halfords stores with a small mezzanine level will be getting the same treatment, placing cycling front and centre.
“We were so far behind”
Halfords is refreshingly up front while taking BikeBiz around the Evesham store. “We were so far behind,” says Craig Marks, head of investor relations and corporate communications. “We had a lot of catching up to do.”
Halfords is fixing its aging store set up, starting with a new logo outside and a huge sign simply saying ‘we repair bikes’, a not so subtle hint of where Halfords is planning to grow business. “We had low market share in repairs. People didn’t know we did it,” Marks admits. The new approach is working already – from an admittedly small starting base, this side of the business has grown 29 per cent.
With an ‘invite me in’ mantra, Halfords has ditched the double lobby doors, notoriously hard to negotiate with a bicycle, for sliding doors. There’s more natural light in store thanks to more windows while outside there is a free air pump.
Those with their ear close to the ground will already know Halfords.com has grown with 185 brands and a product range expanded by 15,000 new products. That diverse brand line-up is being reflected in store (though obviously not on the same scale), with an emphasis on being, to use a well worn but useful phrase, a one-stop-shop, providing not just the bike, but kit options and maintenance too. Clothes and P&A have grown 64 per cent since these changes were put in place, again, from a low starting point.
According to cycles comms manager Louise Iles: “It’s about the right brands for the right customers.”That means more Raleigh SKUs in-store, while clothing brands like Dare 2b and Tenn have shop floor visibility.
Via more interesting and engaging POS (“bringing the store to life”), brands are being given their own devoted areas for the first time. New joiners like Jim Berkeley, head of trading for cycle parts, accessories and clothing has been credited as a key player in forging ahead in these areas.
Of course, making these changes across Halfords’ 450-strong store portfolio is not going to happen overnight, but they’ll be coming to a Halfords near you (in the region of 35 have been converted so far).
Speaking of brands, Halfords is clearly very excited about Boardman Bikes, with hints about a much expanded accessories range in the near future – “clearly a big opportunity”. Pendleton too is a big deal for the retailer, not least because the Somerby is Halfords’ best ever selling bike for women, over the 100 years Halfords has been in business.
Buyers are now given more space to take risks for Halfords, keen to have new ranges to generate interest for returning customers, something the company hasn’t nailed in about a decade, it admits.
Marks says: “We are spending and have asked our suppliers to spend too. Our dividend was cut by a third to invest in the business. We got a better response than we thought from our suppliers – they are enthused about the direction.”
Part of the reason Halfords wasn’t renowned for offering bicycle maintenance was its habit of tucking the service desk away in a dark corner. Well no longer, a dedicated cycle desk is placed in the equally unmissable cycle section of the store, while a central information hub offers click and collect pickup and more.
Some of the freshened up stores have a workshop behind glass where customers can see mechanics at work, servicing can now be booked online and a clear bronze, silver, gold servicing price structure is in place.
Training is being addressed with a ‘cycle repair academy’ in Leicester and to service increasingly clued up customers. Training has helped address a notoriously high staff turnover level, which is also being tackled with a focus on offering bona fide careers, rather than a seven hour a week stop gap.
Then there are kids clubs where seven to 11 year olds are shown repair basics, as well as working with 9,000 Scouts year to date – they can work towards a Halfords badge now.
With kids a crucial part of Halfords market, revamped shops feature a track around POS which has gone down well with juniors and helped keep them contained on busy weekends, with matching accessories and chance to design bespoke stickers for their bikes.
Other POS innovations have ranged from the simple why-haven’t-we-thought-of-that-before (measuring tapes a la IKEA so customers can measure their head for the right helmet) to the innovative (a simple slot in the customer service desk where a bike can be rested while the customer chats with staff).
Perhaps inevitably, coffee machines have been installed, but Halfords has cannily placed touch screen terminals alongside, where you can browse Halfords.com whilst supping, in store, which is a bit meta now we think about it (what would happen if you placed a click and collect order while you are in-store, we wonder?).
All of this fits into Halfords’ strategy; store, infrastructure (“some of our stores used to look like they were closing down – availability is much better now we’ve moved to five deliveries a week”) online and products.
While tradition dictates that Halfords and independent bike dealers are sworn mortal enemies, the truth of the matter is ever so slightly more nuanced, a point Halfords is keen to press.
“We’re helping people into cycling. Our new stores help inspire them. We get them going.” So while Halfords is happily intent on clawing back share, it says it prefers brands to give them exclusive lines. “We are helping grow the market. We bring people in, engage the customer and then they often trade up and head to independent channels. We are very accessible.”
So, summing up, the bad news is that Halfords is raising its cycling game, massively. And the good news? Halfords is raising its cycling game, massively.
This article originally featured in the October edition of BikeBiz. You can read many of our previous editions online here.