“We’re not just waiting for the customer to come in,” Rutland Cycling managing director David Middlemiss tells BikeBiz. A quick scan of the list of events the shop runs confirms exactly that, with a wealth of rides and seminars in the calendar, all designed to lure punters in.
As an example, for October there was a Night Ride every Tuesday (at two of the shops), a Mums and Tots ride every Friday (led by Breeze champions), four ladies-only Breeze rides and a bike maintenance class. By our calculations, that is 14 rides and events to help forge the store’s reputation as a hub for cyclists. December has 13 – including a Santa Ride where riders are encourage to come along dressed as St Nick himself. And that’s in the off-season.
Granted, they do have a great location for it.
When BikeBiz visits the store on a mid-week morning in November, the retailer, perched next to Rutland Water (you’d never have guessed) is preparing for winter, with the hire bike display significantly reduced down. On your way in there’s the RockBlok climbing centre next to the Whitwell HQ shop. Middlemiss points out that the climbing centre hut was the original Rutland Cycling hire shop that opened way back in 1981. Now Rutland Cycling is a huge outlet dwarfing the original shack, stocking in excess of 400 bikes, umpteen accessories and clothing lines, hosting a Bike Fit studio, a comprehensive workshop and more.
Water good idea
Dave Archer, the father-in-law of BikeBiz’s host for the day, asked Anglian Water over 30 years ago whether it would allow him to open a bike hire shop on the newly created Rutland Water, which opened in ’76. It’s fair to say the water company didn’t expect great things, but it did grant him permission to run hire bikes around the 23-mile track…and the rest is history.
Since growing out of that hire bike shack into the larger footprint store over two levels at Whitwell, the retailer opened Giant Rutland on the south shore of Rutland Water, revamping what was a very basic retail unit into a slinky modern brand store, in 2010. It’s been a sizable success, according to Middlemiss: “Despite the shops being only a few miles apart, the Giant store hasn’t cannibalised the Whitwell’s store’s success. Both have grown simultaneously.”
The retailer has also opened Grafham Cycling, which boats 7,500 sq ft of retail space over two floors, closer to London and also enjoying waterside cycling facilities. Finally, Fineshade Cycling is based in the wood of the same name. Now three years old, this Forestry Commission Trail Centre is joined by Rutland Outdoor in Fineshade Wood.
Back at Rutland’s Whitwell HQ, the shop has recently expanded its kids offering, with more bikes from the likes of Frog. The shop has a separate hire till to keep customers happy in peak times and there’s a separate workshop counter too, which also doubles up as the seminar area for in-store out-of-hours talks on maintenance and the like.
Since August, Whitwell’s bike service customers get a free courtesy bike, with 2014 road, MTB and hybrid models on offer. Rutland might be the only bike shop to offer this (though let us know if they’re not). “The customer might find that they prefer the courtesy bike while their own bike is in the workshop, so there’s always upgrade potential there.” It’s about keeping up with the best practises of the wider world of retail, Middlemiss tells BikeBiz.
The workshop also offers a breakdown service for cyclists who run into trouble around Rutland Water, RAC-style.
There are seven full-time Cytech trained workshop employees at Whitwell alone, with more at the other venues, as well as three Fox Shox qualified mechanics.
The maintenance classes and seminars the shop hosts will be followed up with courses, the retailer hopes, in a bid for further “knowledge sharing” to benefit customers. Upstairs at the Whitwell store is the new Bike fit area which is one of many key changes at the shop in what has been a big year behind the scenes.
Though it hasn’t shouted about it, Rutland has gone through a takeover in 2013. An MBO completed in July has seen the company returning to the ownership of the founding family. It’s brought about a refocus of the business with new measures and details like those courtesy bikes and the revamped events calendar. The MD tells BikeBiz: “We started with hire bikes and we’ve always been about putting people on bikes. That’s in our DNA and we’re putting that into the foreground post-takeover.”
The retailer has now recruited a training, ride and event coordinator to that end.
“All the events are about explaining how fun cycling can be and engaging with the customer. We’re not waiting for them to come in the door.”
The retail environment is key too: “We’re trying to keep the excitement on the floor. We want to be a destination store with a big volume of product, but at the same time we have to keep it coherent for customers in-store. I’d like to think we’re really on that line.”
“Internally we want to show genuine passion, provide great service and have great products we are proud to stock. It's also about getting everyone on board with the vision,” Middlemiss admits.
With a keen eye on all aspects of the business and where things can be improved, the family is also determined that the shop moves to fit the needs of the people who come to the site – hence the increase in kids bikes, for example. The brands in-store have been rationalised and the women’s range has been ramped up, not least in the MTB sector. In fact MTB is still absolutely key for Rutland, despite road seeing huge growth. The boss praises the enthusiasm of the off-road fans and cites enthusiasm for 650B wheels sizes as being highly encouraging. On the road side, more steel rides are coming in, while brands like Scott, Trek, Giant and Specialized are all flourishing in-store.
Eau K, computer
A shift in focus online has come about post-MBO too, with the family keen to avoid a ‘race to the bottom’ discounting war. “Online is more of a challenge,” Middlemiss says. “We wanted to replicate the store experience online, so we underwent a six month project with Citrus-Lime.”
Launched in September, the store now offers click and collect, including timescales to manage customer expectations “a surprising amount of customers will reserve an item then turn up just a couple of hours later to pick it up”. It’s one of many new offerings designed to make it easier to convert online visits to sales.
Rutland’s vast hire fleet covers a range of brands and everything from e-bikes and bikes adapted for the disabled to MTBs, road bikes and everything in between.
“We have around 78-full timers working across the store, including 14-full time technicians in the workshops and five Breeze champions in the staff.
“We’re an independent local bike shop. We just happen to be quite big.”