Shop owner Dan Marshall-Bull has some strong views on the topic of cycle retail...
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How did the shop get its name?
It was our first real building, the barn behind Cedar House, my Aunt’s then home, in Cottenham, Cambridge, from which my father gave the company its name. Before that he had worked from his mother’s garden shed.

How many staff are at Cedar?
Two full-time and three part-time, plus a growing address book of independent specialists (including a qualified cycling trainer, a tow bar fitter, and a pole dancing instructor) who we call on when needed.

How many shops are part of Cedar Cycles?
Currently just one physical and one online, although we have had branches all over East Anglia in our 43-year history. The current site was never intended as a retail store and was purchased in 1977 to act as a wholesale distribution depot. But the change in people’s shopping styles saw more members of the public arriving year after year until the whole store became more retail focused in the 1980s.

What sort of customers do you get in-store? Are you catering to a specific market?
We pride ourselves on finding the right solution for any person who contacts us. Our location is very much on the border of a very poor area to the North (Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth) and a much more affluent region to the South (Southwold and Walbeswick) so we find it easier to try to display an example of each type of cycle, and focus on the client rather than the bikes. Obviously being a large retail warehouse does make this much easier than if we still had High Street-sized shops. If I were to categorise our typical customer I would have to say ‘bike riders’ who would pay more for the reassurance of dealing with experts, rather than cyclists who think they know what they want and will research prices on the net.

How many workshop staff do you have?
We have three members of staff capable of workshop work (one full-time, two part-time). Staff qualifications include Cytech, and B-Eng in Mechanical Engineering.

Is the workshop more important during these times of financial hardship?
Definitely. Cycles of various types are now available from many different retail sectors so we now focus much more on the workshop services we provide. People will price check shop items but cannot easily price check services like correct assembly, inspection and eight-week checks. We have plans to focus more on these ‘subjective products’ in the future for this reason, and have recently moved our workshop from an out-building into the back of our main warehouse so we can focus our internal marketing on those customers.

Any thoughts on the bike industry?
It has always amused me that the cycle trade bitches and moans about the ‘net; mail order; car accessory/DIY/Supermarket warehouses; national retailers; international retailers and local retailers. Then they refuse to help themselves or others.

We have always tried to maintain good relations with our competitors and will regularly phone another shop to check if it has a bike that the customer has decided upon and we cannot (or will not) supply. Most times we see the bike back to us for work a few weeks later because we were ‘so helpful’.

If the customer says he can get it cheaper, we don't haggle, we start quoting prices to build it, first service it, and that if it is a brand we stock 'we will be happy to do warranty repairs for the customer paying our standard labour rate. This has even led to paid warranty work from supermarkets and catalogue suppliers, who all understand customer service and just want a happy customer, even if they end up out of pocket on one sale.

The public need to see the bicycle as safe, dependable transport. Brands cannot afford a TV ad campaign and most dealers would struggle to run local radio campaigns as in the past. But between the IBDs and brands we could work together to promote cycling via cycle shops. Not ‘raising public awareness’ like your hippy do-gooders or Government quangos, but a proper TV campaign like the Raleigh ads I used to watch during the breaks in Tiswas on Saturday morning.

Do you run any special events?
Currently we run various promotions in line with events like Bike Week, or local road safety events, but plan to expand on this once our current round of shop improvements are finished.

Do you stock electric bikes?
We have sold electric cycles for nearly as long as we have been in business (including the Sinclair C5), but we increased our commitment to them in 2000 with the introduction of a dedicated range of bikes from Powabyke. Since then we have purchased or built various items of test equipment and now offer workshop services to owners of any brand of e-bike. Being so close to a major container port many people locally have purchased cheap e-bikes from 'here today gone tomorrow' importers which breakdown and need replacement or repair, that is when they turn to us and we will happily try to help, for a price. We have even advised e-bike manufacturers on design and engineering factors of new models due to our staff experience and qualifications.

How is uptake at the moment?
After nearly six months without a single e-bike sale, I am glad to say that we are back to our usual sales rate of one per week. These tend to split equally between Twist and Go models and Pedalecs. Workshop remains busy especially in the cold weather due to battery failures.

What are your plans for the store, and what are the biggest challenges ahead?
We only bought shelving to properly display P&A when the local Woolworth closed, so the last five years since my father and company founder retired and I took full control have seen massive improvements – not all of which were popular with staff – to try to change what was still a trade warehouse into something recognisable as a shop. Cardboard boxes are banned from customer areas during open hours and we now buy on a 'just in time' basis rather than the huge bulk orders that we were used to. 600-plus bikes in stock with 300-plus on display is dropping to around 100 but P&A and services departments are increasing in display space.

Over the last five years these changes have seen turnover remain steady while cycle sales have been declining, and now we are in a position to market a ‘New Cedar Cycles’ to increase turnover back to the position it was in the mid ‘90s, but unlike the ‘90s increasing the net profit as well. Suppliers need to realise (most have) that if you want me to sell your products, waving a 40k signup contract in my face every year is no longer the way to do it. I need realtime stock checking, catalogues and delivery in an agreed time.

The biggest challenge we currently face is the view of the general public that cycling is dangerous and not something that children should be allowed to do. Many schools do not even offer cycling proficiency lessons anymore for this reason. This will lead to a generation of non-cyclists who when they do cycle are incapable of doing it safely. You only have to visit a Center Parcs village in the UK to see that this is already the case for a great number of people. These people are now venturing out onto the roads of our cities and ending up hospitalised either due to a lack of their own skills or the actions of a driver who equally has not been trained in cycling skills. A motorcycling friend of mine once said that you can always tell a car driver who has had motorcycle training from the way they drive with greater attention to the other road users around them.

Cycle training should be a compulsory part of all road user training from an early age, and this will help grow public confidence that cycling is safe, otherwise how long will it be before we see walking helmets for pedestrians who plan to cross the street?

Telephone: 01502 675473
Opening times: Mon, Wed, Fri and Sat: 9-5, Thursday: 9-7, Sun and Bank Hol: 10-4, Closed all day Tuesday
Address: Wrentham, North Suffolk, UK

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