BikeBiz speaks to three independent bike dealers to uncover to what extent their experiences have changed throughout the past 12 months

Cycle-space, Disley
Victoria Hood, www.cycle-space.co.uk

What are the challenges for you as a bike shop?
We are always asked to price match, but sometimes we cannot even buy the products at Wiggle’s selling price. Customers sometimes come into the shop, ask for all the advice they need and then buy online. Some come back and say they’ve bought it online as it was £10 cheaper and act like this is a good thing for us! My friend – who owns a bike shop – told me he responds: “Yes, as long as I service match also”, which means advising on size, and assembling the bike. The customer discovers the bike assembly charge is basically the online discount and they start to see the picture; and that they get free buying advice, the first service, etcetera, on top.

What are you doing, and what can the industry do, to help? 
We have the knowledge and experience, we pride ourselves on our work and customer service and we are always looking at new ways of bringing business in but it is still very hard in the current climate. One of the best things we did was a Sunday demo day, in a big gazebo outside the shop with about 20 Cinelli bikes, and in the next week we had loads of people coming in saying: “I didn’t even know you were here”.

Distributors could do more to help local bike shops survive. Shops could try and work together a bit as well. We got together pictures of all the bike shops within a 20-mile radius for Black Friday to remind people to at least look in your local bike shop, even if it’s not us. 

Saddles and Paddles, Exeter
Heather Baker, www.sadpad.com

What are the challenges and how are you overcoming them?
The shop has been trading for 30 years. When I took over about six years ago, I wanted to be friendlier for women, more accessible, and change the industry from the inside in a very small way. I know it was very male-dominated. I think for me, it is the fact we have evolved and have lots of different strings to our bow: we have lease bikes, private hire bikes for large local businesses, we supply the university, the local council and the Met office with fleets of bikes for staff to get to meetings. We do lots of doctor bikes with local businesses; we get paid to do that, but it also means we get exposure to their staff and we take products along to sell. That’s why I’m still here when other shops have closed down. I go every year to local markets with my branded gazebo and gifts and accessories and it’s a good opportunity to sell.

What is the secret to LBS survival, in your opinion?
For us, improving this business in the first couple of years was easy, by smartening the place up, offering better service and longer opening times. We are a small shop and we don’t get a huge amount of footfall because we aren’t on the high street, but we get ourselves out there. I think independent bike shops can also play on a growing support for local businesses over chain shops.

We get really positive reports from customers on social media and Tripadvisor, and that word of mouth is brilliant at bringing people in. The best way to beat the competition online is to offer that customer service and quality bike repairs.

Tell us more about being female friendly. 
It’s fascinating when people come in and ask me: “Is the boss in?” Women have been so patronised and it’s great to be able to change that. There’s a minimum requirement working here that you have to be friendly and helpful. I’m not going to only employ someone who can strip a bike.

We won’t use jargon, we wouldn’t tolerate anyone being discriminatory, or rude. If you have an old Raleigh Pioneer you really want to keep riding, we will repair it. Often, bike shops make people feel pressured into buying something they don’t want. We are family-friendly, too. It’s great to get customers coming to us spending significant amounts of money because they are buying for the whole family. They say: ‘We did stick our heads in another bike shop but we didn’t get a good feel.’ 

Colin Lewis Cycles, Paignton
Simon Aske, www.colin-lewis.co.uk

What are the challenges and how are you overcoming them?
It’s challenging times I’m sure, for the whole of the high street, not just for the cycle industry. We have been in business 45 years, we have had to tighten our belts quite a bit; we had to lay off some staff because there isn’t the footfall.

I build my own frames now, Aske Bikes, that’s something we have added onto the business. People know me as a good mechanic. If they bring parts in that’s fine, I’m not going to send them away. The repair sector is still quite buoyant. We sponsor the local cycling club, which is 500 members, so we have our name on their jerseys. We do it because we love the sport, though if those 500 members all came through the shop it would be great.

What can the industry do to help?
We are part of Madison, we pay once we sell its stock, which helps. Madison just set up Freewheel, where customers can order online then collect from designated shops, and we take a margin. We had three people come in to pick up items in the past week. Madison are trying to drive people in the shops rather than drive them away.

We asked some cyclists about their experiences of IBDs

The Good
Alex White
There is a really good bike shop near me in East Greenwich, run by a father and son team. Despite being on a particularly hostile bit of road they are always very busy fixing bikes, seven days a week. I really like them because they know my bikes personally, are trustworthy, don’t talk down to you and won’t rip you off. They are really first class mechanics too (I challenge you to find a bike shop with more five-star Google reviews!) They are a great community asset now. A good bike shop is somewhere that you trust and can repair and service your bikes - which is something you could never get online.

The Bad
Andy Matthews, architect and photographer

All bike shops muck something up at some point; it depends on how they sort it. One bike shop didn’t fit the retaining pin when they fitted my brake pads and they fell out 20km into a 300km ride. The shop staff were mortified and apologised profusely, and I always get a discount since and priority on lots of stuff, none of which I asked for. I still use that shop. Building trust with a mechanic takes time; it’s very easy to lose those though. Bikes mean the world to me and don’t want to see them damaged or not sorted properly.

Meg Willett, part-time librarian and yoga teacher

I’m 5ft 2; I was shopping for a road bike and I wanted to try one to see what fits. I probably went to at least four to five bike shops, none of which had my size in stock despite having lots and lots of men’s bikes. Some of them wanted a deposit to order one for me. It was a female sales assistant in a shop that said: “We’ve got one in the basement, and we can build it up.” I went in the next day and they had built it for me, I think because it was a woman and she understood. They didn’t have any shoes in my size, though.

The Ugly
Tiffany Lam, urbanist

I went in around 5pm on a Tuesday and the shop was empty. I said hello twice, the two guys working there didn’t acknowledge me. One eventually said: “Yes, what do you want?” He kind of tossed the gloves I’d ordered at me, even though I was standing next to him. I said: “Do you mind if I try them on?”, and he said: “Don’t you know your size?” He was huffing so I quickly tried them on. He said: “Are you going to pay for them?” I was so shocked, and just paid and left. The next day, I went back as they were too small. The same guy said: “Don’t help her, she has already been here”. He said: “You tried them on already.” It just made me feel that I didn’t belong there. It made me feel stupid. I will never go there again.

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Saddleback Ltd I Yate, Bristol I Salary dependent on experience I Date Published Friday 8th February 2019