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If proof was ever needed that service from an independent trumps the service of the multiples, Pedal Pushers is a prime example.
From the word go the assistant here gave an enthused and attentive guide to folding bikes and the pros and cons of wheel sizes ranging 16-inch through 24. With just one bike in stock for each wheel size, the assistant was able to quickly pull examples from the racks to demonstrate the fold, using the demo to also reveal hidden features such as integrated pumps within seatposts and magnetic closures.
Key to the pitch was the compromise between having a bike small enough to be accepted on trains without issue, while balancing the efficiencies of each wheel size.
Having talked me through the bikes, the assistant made a brief mention of add-on accessories such as bags, as well as touching on the reliability that comes as standard from the world's largest folding bike manufacturer. All in all, this pitch was thorough, paid good attention to my questioning and ultimately had me sold on a particular model by the time I left.
Raleigh Cycle Centre
With a tough act to follow on from, Guildford's Raleigh specialist gave another comprehensive guide to what I could achieve from folding bikes on various budgets and wheel sizes.
Depending on your perspective, the only fault that could possibly be highlighted would be the rubbishing of lower end models in stock. Though Mystery Shopper always loves a shop that isn't afraid to up-sell, it's never encouraging to see a staffer with little faith in the entire line-up. The points made about lower end bikes were, however, entirely valid – with recommendations to buy higher in the line founded on the weight and awkward design associated with low budget buys.
Attention to detail was again a key point winner, with a demonstration of the fold revealing several clever bits of design in the higher-end folder. The assistant was attentive to my questioning throughout, though trailed off slightly when I was expecting a sale closure. Nonetheless, another strong performance.
The next few paragraphs give me a sense of déjà vu as once again Halfords would have done a heck of a lot better in the scoring stakes had staff not been barricaded behind counters.
Walking the shop floor for ten minutes in full view of staff twiddling their thumbs should relegate any store into the depths of unmarked, but Mystery Shopper is reluctant to be so cruel, as in Guildford and most other stores, once approached the staff knew their stuff.
Though it's unlikely that we'd stumble across an expert in the folding field, Guildford's staff didn't do a bad job of discussing weight, wheel size and also briefly touched on transport issues. Bikes weren't removed from racks, but all in all, once removed from the counter the staff aren't half bad at talking bikes. Selling them, on the other hand, could be improved.
Entering Evans with a query relating to a mountain bike pedal and cleat, as opposed to the folding bike sought elsewhere, I was hoping to challenge what is typically a high scorer in Mystery Shopper's UK tour with something a bit more detailed.
Having had no luck on the shop floor after browsing for ten minutes, the front desk was approached. The assistant kicked off in a fairly odd fashion, choosing to quiz me about ownership of the bike as opposed to selling me a set of cleats and shoes. Sidetracked and taken aback by some unusual questions the assistant’s tone became increasingly hard to handle from my 'beginners' perspective. The inference that a newbie to clip-in pedals should know without education how to set up a pedal and shoe arrangement bemused me further until it was decided I'd cut the experience short and leave.
A bad day for the assistant perhaps, but something clearly wasn't quite right here. I left having obtained none of the information I'd sought. For the first time I'm thoroughly dissatisfied with Evans' service.
First impressions count; that's something Mystery Shopper has maintained all along. And having been present as Giant began to mull over the concept store idea at its trade invitational some years ago, I have to say on the ground store planning and layout has been managed very well, if Guildford's branch is anything to go by.
Among the plus points, the store was well lit, organised and had a counter facing the entrance. As such I was met immediately on entry and given the guided tour of Giant's folding bike line, designed with 'lefty' style fork and frame, which the assistant explained reduced the fold size.
Focusing on component choice as opposed to the fold, the assistant covered gearing and wheel size points, briefly touching on how each Giant folder would be accepted on any train or bus. The pitch wasn't quite as strong as those experienced on earlier visits, but it had its plus points. The three models in store all had sale tags attached, yet price wasn't taken into account within the pitch, something which I felt hampered the assistant's closure of the sale. A very impressive store, though an average sales experience when compared to the first visit of the day.
Out of curiosity for what each could offer, Mystery Shopper also visited Route One, which sells a line of fixie and BMX bikes online, though none were present in store, suggesting the retailer is aware competition for bikes is tough locally.
Secondly, Field and Trek were also approached and while not selling bikes, it did carry goods tailored to the market, on which the assistant responded well to questioning. For those customers who shop around, buying product in outdoors stores is increasingly viable as retailers in this sector look to cash in on cycling's popularity.
Our Rouleur star store award from this visit went to Pedal Pushers, which will now receive a magazine and book bundle from Rouleur Publishing.