Mystery Shopper takes a journey to the commuting conurbations around the South Manchester / Cheshire belt, to see what is on offer in terms of service, product knowledge and bike shop appeal - here's what he, or she, found...
Peak Cyclesport, Macclesfield (Star store)
Peak Cyclesports was initially a difficult find, not expecting a bike shop to actually be in Macclesfield town centre. When I got there, the entrance too was not immediately apparent. The swingboard outside at least told me it was open. Inside was a different story. I was greeted by an enthusiastic Greg as the till area is right by the door, a great layout to capture custom. He was not pushy and quickly teased out of me what I was looking for. He hit my budget square on with a robust looking Focus with Hydraulic Disks and rack mounts, a really solid looking commuter. He then skillfully moved me up the price range a little to a Whyte Malvern, explaining the benefits of a higher front cockpit and front suspension for more recreational use. The shop was clean, functional and not just a clutter of inaccessible bikes. Overall, I was really impressed, Greg knew his stuff and sold me what I needed, except for any accessories. We did not discuss that and it was an opportunity to up-sell, with the greater margins they tend to afford. This is how all bike shops should be. Excellent parking facilities were adjacent too.
I did not have high expectations of this ‘corner shop’, out of town, with empty bike boxes to one side and second hand bikes clustered around the other side of the entrance. Upon entering, things did not initially look any better. The sales floor was tiny, rammed with bikes and had a decidedly old school ‘spit and sawdust’ feel. There was an appeal, though I realized that was down to the smell of chain oil and harking back to where I bought my first bike from, many years ago. Enthusiastically, the shop owner gleaned the relevant details from me and disappeared upstairs, me chasing in his wake, I had not expected this extra space. First bike hit well under my budget, and sensing my displeasure, he rounded on a Merida Crossway 100. Downstairs he showed me the catalogue, explaining there was a colour option, and that there were bikes at the next price point up. If I wanted one, it could be available the next day as. On closer inspection, this is a hard working bike shop, probably with only the owner as a permanent member of staff. Less than organised, with plenty of stock for the novice and children’s market.
Cycle Centre, Congleton
Cycle Centre has two façades, a bricks and mortar shop, with over 20 years trading experience and an online presence as CycleStore.co.uk. Congleton is ten miles south of Macclesfield. The shop is on a main road close to a larger out of town shopping centre, though there appears to be no dedicated parking available, only on street. The shop itself offers only accessories and clothing downstairs, though is very well stocked with both road and MTB products. Not immediately obvious, the bikes are all upstairs. A friendly member of staff directed me upstairs and said he’ll be up when he finds a staff member to relieve him. I waited (too long) for him to arrive. When the assistant did turn up, he needed a reminder of my requirements, though quickly got on with steering me in the right direction, offering Kona, Giant and Speciaized around my price point and commuter requirements. This very well established shop looks a little tired in decor and cluttered in both bikes and accessories, with almost too much choice. However, it is a good enthusiasts spot, based on product offer, ambiance and general service.
Royles is a big player in this region with large budgets for consumer magazine advertising and supports the Manchester Bike&Tri show with sponsorship. Wilmslow is one of the leafy and affluent parts of Cheshire and you’d expect this shop to offer excellent service to the discerning customer. Upon arrival, my thoughts turned to one phrase, ‘Boutique’. Royles turns out to be high-end, road only and decidedly ‘upper class’. It looks like the blueprint for Manchester’s ‘The Bike Rooms’. Not a Commuter, MTB or Hybrid bike in sight, and I have no idea how such a store trades without the footfall of family, leisure and day to day bikes, maybe it’s the online presence. The website does not allude to the high-end nature either, so was this a fruitless trip? For my purposes, yes, though Graham did show me some bikes to suit in the Trek catalogue. I’d be able to kick a Trek 7.3 FX tyre in 3 to 5 days, though I suspect Royles doesn’t get many requests at this price point. I can’t help feeling a little misled, this is not just a bike shop, this is a Wilmslow Road Bike Shop. For my needs - not ideal, as an enthusiast road bike shop top marks.
Rick Green Cycles, Handforth
Rick Greens has been in existence for 32 years and is located on the High Street in Handforth, just north of Wilmslow town centre. The exterior of the shop has a modern and appealing façade, with ample free parking opposite. Inside, Rick Greens is a mixture of road, mountain and family oriented bikes, not too crammed but using all the available space, walls and ceilings, to good effect. It was pleasing to see the churn of customers there whilst I was browsing, discussing a warranty, a regular buying a new wheels and a couple looking for a children’s bike. This looks like a real community shop and the atmosphere was very welcoming. I was greeted warmly by Alistair who showed me the products they had, including a Specialized Sirrius and a Specialized Hardrock Sports Disc in 29er guise. He went on to explain the options, the service the shop offered and how the Hardrock would be the most versatile for the requirement. I was sold by his effective, polite and knowledgeable understanding of the products. This is far from a boutique shop, but a little treasure on the High Street.
Not one of these shops offered ‘poor service’ and all had access to the types of bike I was looking for, though for one, I was not their target demographic and they had nothing they could show me beyond a catalogue. There has to be a winner and it’s a close call but Peak Cyclesports just takes it for me. The options provided looked like real value for money, with Whyte appealing as a ‘British’ company. No one should feel particularly hard done by the experience. South Manchester / Cheshire has some fantastic bike shopping experiences.