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Rail company gets into bike retail - BikeBiz

Rail company gets into bike retail

Northern Rail is to open a bike shop at Leeds station. If successful, there could be a UK chain of CyclePoints. Opportunity or threat to IBDs, asks Carlton Reid...?
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In 2010, Northern Rail – owned by Ned Railways of the Netherlands – is spending big bucks on a trial retail concept at the front of Leeds station. CyclePoint of Leeds will be prominently sited; and the retail format – which has bike parking at its core – could be rolled out in other UK stations, including in London.

CyclePoint is modelled on the Dutch ‘FietsPoint’ shop. Ned Railways operates 25 of these stores at railway stations across the Netherlands. [Here's a video of a parliamentary fact-finding trip to the Netherlands, featuring an amazingly steady stream of FietsPoint customers].

These bike shops also provide bike parking facilities, bike rental, and same-day bike servicing. They are operated as a means of generating more bike-to-the-station journeys, rather than as profit-centres.

Stephen Bond, head of business development at Northern Rail explains: “The Leeds CyclePoint is the first of a planned series of similar initiatives, and can be replicated at a number of other locations.”

NedRailway’s CEO Anton Volk – who, of course, cycles – offers: “Cycling plays an important role in supporting sustainable transport and facilitating efficient door to door journeys. In the Netherlands we have long understood the transport benefits of a fully integrated cycle system, as well as the personal benefits to be derived from improved health and even the simple pleasure that cycling brings.

“CyclePoint is based on a proven Dutch concept which combines manned and secure cycle storage with retail, repair and hire facilities at major stations. I hope [the Leeds CyclePoint] will pave the way for further CyclePoints at major stations across the UK.”

The Leeds CyclePoint will sit inthe front of the station. It will have two floors. The development will start small, but is ‘scalable’ says Bond. “Storage can be increased as demand increases.” He adds: “A detailed financial and demand appraisal indicates that, by 2012, operating costs of the Cyclepoint will be covered by the revenue generated.”

Northern will pay for kitting out the bike shop and bike parking levels, and will also fund the salaries of the CyclePoint employees. So, CyclePoint could become a real force in UK bicycle retail.

Opportunity or challenge
ACT’s Mark Brown offers: “In principal I think this is an opportunity for bike shops in Leeds. Any high profile promotion of cycling is a good thing. There is the possibility of some erosion of sales and workshop business, but it’s difficult to say at this early stage and if CyclePoints can actually grow the local market then I think all sides benefit.”

CyclePoints will be owned by Northern Rail, not franchised out like, say, a station forecourt Starbucks. Brown believes this is a shame: “Ideally I would have preferred that local shops were given the opportunity to tender for this operation as I am sure their skills and experience would be of huge value to the project.”

David Hembrow, an Assen-based ex-pat bicycle basket maker attracted by the cycle-friendliness of the Netherlands, sees FietsPoint shops as a normal part of the Dutch retail scene.

“In my view, what cycling in Britain needs now is not more trains, not more bike shops, but conditions which make cycling a truly attractive option.”

And potentially, that could be CyclePoint’s Achille’s Heel. Covered parking garages – with bike shops tagged on – work in the Netherlands because the journey to the station is so bicycle-friendly.

Infrastructure obstacle?
Convincing the good citizens of Leeds to cycle to the train station in big enough numbers to pay back Northern Rail’s investment in CyclePoint is going to be tough.

CyclePoint could be creating a new genre of British bike shop, one with cycle parking at its core. This has been tried before. In 1994, Phil Cavell and Julian
Wall now of Cyclefit, created Bikepark of Covent Garden. It lasted almost ten years. “It was an idea ahead of its time,” Cavell tells BikeBiz. “Cycling was still seen as something you did for free. Now it’s seen much more as a lifestyle choice, and it’s not free. CyclePoint’s timing is about right. Bike parking mixed with bike rental and retail of locks, pumps and other accessories is a lovely business model.

“But it doesn’t make money. Bikes may be smaller than cars but storing them still takes up expensive real estate. To work, a bike parking business needs to be supported by a bigger entity and it sounds like CyclePoint has that support. With the right backing, such a concept could work really well.”

As they are train customer creators, not just bike shops, FietsPoints in the Netherlands don’t have to make money, they just mustn’t lose money – a big difference.

With British cities eager to get cars off the road and put more people on trains, the time could be right for the start of Dutch-style bike parking in the UK. This will create more cycle-users. CyclePoint isn’t something bike shops could copy or muscle in on – as a subsidised concept, it doesn’t have to wash its face commercially so would be hard to defeat – and shouldn’t leech customers from existing city centre bike shops. Instead, it’s a sign that the UK is slowly but surely creating a more bicycle-friendly culture. And what’s good for cyclists has got to be good for bike shops all over.

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