A short stroll from Newark’s North Gate train station, the market town’s branch of Halfords is also sat on a very busy thoroughfare, ideal for passing traffic. Mystery Shopper circled the department a couple of times, where good POS was in evidence clearly explaining key bike features. I headed to the counter in search of service, where two staffers broke off from working on bikes. The older of the two – more senior in years than you’d usually find in Halfords – took the lead. The knowledgeable chap provided friendly purchasing guidance, explaining the difference between hardtails and warning me against full sus, explaining it would suck up energy, after he’d heard my ‘light off-roading’ brief. He pinned down an MTB bang on the money, and explained Halfords’ bike servicing plan – “keeping the bike maintained is key”. Despite the good advice, he somewhat cryptically also advised I headed to a forum and listened to some experienced riders on what to buy, which could have led me away from Halfords. That said, the confident salesman cut out the jargon and provided some quality sales service.
The Bike Shop
Is it better to have an imaginative shop name or one that simply does what it says on the sign? The Bike Shop is firmly in the latter camp and had bikes well spread out around the store, which, it has to be said, was in need of a lick of paint and carpet clean. Nevertheless, this was a store that made up for appearance with top service. After a brief walk around the shop the staffer offered assistance and after hearing my brief went into a detailed pitch. He pinpointed my intended usage for the MTB and even used the little heard phrase “we’ve got the perfect option”. The keen salesman directed me to a Dawes which had a ‘special deal’ whereby the bike came with mudguards and other associated goodies all for the price of the bike, with a free six month service for good measure. The friendly pitch also focused on the quality of the brand and components and concluded with an offer to answer any further questions over the phone.
Yes, the slightly spartan store was in need of some love, but it had a bike hitting the brief spot on and a salesman really making the effort to close the sale.
Located on a picturesque street in the town overlooking the Palace Theatre is Marriotts Cycles. Marriotts has a ‘Mom and Pop store’ vibe and after entering it was clear the shop wasn’t sticking to the usual rules of retailing. Mystery Shopper and his oversized bag could barely turn around in the store without bashing the haphazard bicycle display and I can only speculate as to how they negotiate the crammed shop floor. Maybe they’d just taken a delivery? Usually we’d be harsh on the shop at this point, but we’re reluctant to criticise this old school retailer who quickly offered help on our entrance – unusually the only retailer to do this on the day. My pitch saw the sales assistant hone in on a £250 mountain bike in the window, and while all my questions were answered, the sales patter was unconventional – Mystery Shopper ended up chatting more about the shop cat than bicycles. All-in-all, a slightly bizarre visit, this old school store embodying the diversity of the trade. Another point in its favour were the youth community rides advertised prominently in the window of the shop.
Split over three levels, Cycle Sport is situated on a particularly busy road in Grantham (see below). Initially, the only visible staffer was fixing a bike while chatting with another customer, so I took the time to walk around the store, which is far larger than appears from the outside, with stock split logically across the three stories – accessories largely based on the ground floor in sight of the counter, while bikes – much harder for opportunists to make off with – across the upper levels, plus vintage bikes on display across the walls. Returning to the ground floor another staffer appeared and offered help, showing off a number of MTBs, but after hearing I was only going to use it for light off-road use he suggested a hybrid might be more appropriate and showed off several options. Going back to MTB, the staffer clearly had confidence in the brands in stock, including Trek, and added that there was a free service within the first three months. Cycle Sport held stock of 29ers, but the staffer was more confident about the virtues of 26-inches. The shop was a good all-rounder: very well stocked, good service and well displayed bikes.
Mystery Shopper’s trip to Newark threw light on the diverse nature of the business, from an old school shop so chock full of bikes it was hard to get around it, to a great showing from Halfords and a sad sign of the times with two closed down shops (see below). Halfords was best at cutting through the jargon on the day, Cycle Sport had the best variety of product on hand but, despite the shop really needing a freshening up (in our opinion), the Bike Shop had the most compelling sales pitch while avoiding being pushy. That instinct for closing a sale – “we’ve got the perfect bike for you” – can be surprisingly short in supply in the trade.
Like most of the UK’s towns, Newark had a noticeable number of closed down businesses, from hotels to shops and offices. Mystery Shopper found that no less than two bicycle shops in Newark – Dyak Cycles and Zone Cycle Centre – had closed down. The former was closed some years ago, according to a local postie, despite a prime location in the town (or maybe because of prime location rent levels? But we speculate…). Zone Cycle Centre (pictured below) closed about a year ago, Mystery Shopper was told by a local shopkeeper.
So, in short, if you had been wondering why a Grantham retailer (Cycle Sport) had sneaked into this Newark-based article, that’s because of the number of closed bike shops in Newark-on-Trent.