This month BikeBiz went to Stratford Upon Avon in search of a bicycle for Mrs. Mystery. She's usually rather difficult to please, but when it comes to bicycles, her only request is: "it must be comfortable and have a basket to hold the dog..." Possibly the toughest challenge yet for our man of mystery?
The Cycle Studio: 4/5
If you're new in town The Cycle Studio isn't an obvious find, but it seemed well regarded by the many locals I asked for directions, each describing 'a great little bike shop tucked down a side alley'.
I discovered exactly that. The multi-tiered store has a good selection of bikes, seemingly organised by level of performance. As such I was quickly sent upstairs by the attentive shopkeep who gave some good suggestions on things to look out for, such as contact points on the bike, that are particularly important to the female buyer.
Suggesting that for light tow path use many women prefer the upright stance, as opposed to low and racey, Cycle Studio's assistant quickly rounded on two models in particular, flagging each in a catalogue for me to pass on. Adding to his recommendations, the staffer addressed my concerns about maintenance by discussing the pros and cons of hub-geared bikes, particularly the difficulty in maintaining a hub gear should a puncture occur.
Further to this, the helper added that, if possible with my budget, a lighter aluminium frame would provide a more comfortable ride.
On this particular visit to Halfords, the staff numbers typical of most branches was not at all evident. In fact, it was perhaps ten minutes before a single member of staff was spotted, at the counter or otherwise. Within that ten minutes most would surely leave, or stand at an empty counter for ten minutes feeling like a bit of a lemon…
As usual, the displays and shop floor were immaculately presented with helpful point of sale material, redeeming this visit from a rock bottom review. On this occasion, the locks display had an informative graph on suitable use, while the bike tags touted the after care plan offering 'free labour for a year' for £9.99 with any bike purchase. Surely it's not 'free' then…
Urban Mover seems to be finding a greater presence within the bricks and mortar stores after a period of exclusive online sales. The Stratford Upon Avon store carried two of the e-bike firm's models.
Having been in store 20 minutes without any interaction, despite standing around the counters on both floors feeling like the aforementioned lemon, I left without being seen. As Shakespeare once wrote: "nothing can come of nothing."
Field and Trek: 3/5
Field and Trek, though not selling bikes in this particular branch, did have a wide and diverse stock of clothing suited to triathletes, a variety of Camelbaks, mountain biking shoes and much more. They're not bad at selling these bits too, as Mystery Shopper discovered upon enquiring about a Camelbak.
Suggesting that for cycling I might be better off with a 'bike specific' model, the assistant explained to me that the snowboarding pack I'd pointed out might be a little bulky for jaunts in the saddle.
Offering to pull a cycling pack down from the upper shelves, the helper at first neglected the majority of sale stock, instead rolling with the 'new season' gear of which a few new techy material and storage features were listed, though nothing too in-depth was mentioned in the way of techy spec.
Having done more than I’d expected to sell me the full retail price product, the assistant also pointed out some “great sale items”.
Online, Field and Trek currently has an extensive bike sale spanning the lower-end of the market and making some deep cuts to retail prices. Perhaps worth keeping an eye on if that's your end of the market.
The Cycle Centre: 5/5
Located a little way out of the town centre, The Cycle Centre made use of a small, but well stocked unit. Two assistants handled footfall well while I was in store, acknowledging me on entry, all while seeing off a prior customer with good grace.
Exchanging a bit of banter with the assistant about my brief of 'must carry a small dog', she quickly pinpointed the obvious models in store, explaining that, as these were the last two, a deposit would be advisable, unless I wouldn't mind a wait of a few weeks for a fresh delivery.
Explaining to me that the bikes in question were fairly low-maintenance, the assistant handed me a catalogue with a few models earmarked for comparison, though ultimately made a strong recommendation and stated that a proper sizing up would be advisable for both 'Mrs Mystery and her dog'. Add on sales were briefly touched on, with the recommendations centred around safety and security.
An outgoing and inviting manner, combined with strong knowledge and a strong sales closure gives The Cycle Centre a full marks score.
If ye olde Halfords had done business in the 1500s, Shakespeare would surely conclude that there's method in the madness. If one thing is consistent in the otherwise haphazard world of Halfords it's the point of sale material. Last month we praised an interactive lighting display with detailed point of sale material. This month it's an informative and ultimately clever piece of display that will no doubt see many customers opt for a more expensive bit of security hardware, all thanks to some fancy graphs relating to the Sold Secure standard.
As part of the Sport Direct empire I wasn't sure what to expect of Field and Trek. Thankfully, given the specialist nature of much of the product, it appeared that enthusiast staff were manning the fort. Based on this first experience of the chain and the heavy discounting that seemed to be in place on most product, this could be a business worth keeping tabs on if you've a branch in close proximity.