Alf Jones Cycles has been in operation for over 60 years. Here, the team talks product knowledge, resonating with customers and sticking together

Tell us a little about yourselves.

We’re a local bike shop serving the North West and North Wales for more than 60 years. Our values are built upon offering the best customer service and shopping experience with our premium brands Cannondale, Colnago, Giant, Liv, Whyte, Juliana and Frog. Our team all ride bikes and are passionate about cycling. We have all used local bike shops ourselves, so we appreciate that consumer experience is paramount.

What makes Alf Jones a successful shop?

There are a few factors that could define success. In difficult times of trading just keeping the door open can be considered one kind of success. We have worked really hard to  create an environment where people feel comfortable to visit and shop with us, regardless of their level of experience, have faith in the honest advice they are receiving and can feel confident that they are making the most informed decision they can when spending their hard-earned money, and if they need after sales service, we are always here to help.

What are the key contributing factors to your success?

There are many – staff are by far and away the biggest asset any organisation ever has, we have always had really good people working with us, we always recognise work ethic and encourage enthusiasm and passion for cycling. Product knowledge is massively important and our staff are all very switched on, but all the product knowledge in the world will never make up for caring about how well the job is done.

We are in the extremely lucky position that the business is so well established in the area and we have such a loyal customer base, I guess that suggests that we have managed to keep people coming back and would like to think that relates back to the fact that people are comfortable shopping with us. We have aligned ourselves with great brands and distributors that understand that the only way that they can be successful is by making it easy for independent bike shops to be successful - we really do have very good relationships with all of our brands.

Why are bike shops struggling at the moment?

Independent bike shops are quite case-specific and it would be unfair to generalise but there are many challenges we ourselves tackle on a daily basis. The most apparent battle in the last few years has no doubt been online discounting. There is no real way to compete, accepting the fact that there are some battles that you can’t win is important. If you can’t make money on a product, be honest with the customer and move on. Aligning yourself with brands where you don’t need to compete with online discounting is really important, we’ve worked really hard on this over the last few years. Bike shops need to move with the times; it’s important to play to your strengths but real progress is made from taking stock, recognising your weaknesses; improving in areas that you may be lacking, it can just a be a little difficult to admit to them sometimes!

How can the industry move forward successfully?

Being realistic about growth is one area, some of the expectations from brands and distributors are unrealistically high, and causing a lot of the problems we face at the moment, oversupply leads to over-commitment. Smaller retailers feel pressured to  commit to stock and achieve targets, but are then up against larger online retailers and price wars. Some brands seem to have lost control of how their products are represented online. Less stock in the marketplace could create more demand and lead to a shift toward maintaining the integrity of an RRP price and small shops being able to make enough margin in their turnover to keep the door open. Everyone realising that we are all in the business for the same reason. If the brands are successful, the distributors are successful and the retailers are successful. Brand visibility and consumer awareness is vital to keeping the market buoyant, creating demand for product that the retailers can sell and make money from.

How can shops go about safeguarding themselves in the current climate?

It’s difficult to have a crystal ball to know how things will pan out in the future. We will be taking steps to make it as easy as possible for our customers to keep shopping with us - no matter how they may like to do it, and keeping ahead of the game in modern retailing is top of our list. To keep offering our customers the brands and product they would like to buy and giving them the best possible unique Alfs experience to make them feel confident to keep coming back and shopping with us is our main aim. Encouraging new customers to visit from further afield is important too, and making sure their visit is worthwhile, so that they become return customers, and establish ourselves as THE destination store in the North West. We like to think of our shop as our brand, so building the brand Alf Jones, shouting about who we are and what we stand for - hopefully that will resonate with customers to make them feel like they want to be part of our journey.

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