As well as bike enthusiasts, Halfords is also ramping up its efforts to woo auto tune-up blokes. The Ripspeed brand was bought from a tune-up entrepreneur last year and is now being rolled out to more stores, along with the Bikehut concept.
Halfords getting away from what ‘Retail Week’ calls the ‘dad’s favourite’ image and positioning itself as a specialist with specialist staff is not just a hot topic for IBDs, independent auto tune-up retailers are also keeping a close eye on the situation.
Last week, I had a visit from a senior executive from EMAP Automotive, which publishes petrol-and-testosterone mags such as ‘Max Power’, which rely on independent tune-up retailers for much of their ad sales revenue. He was trying to gauge my opinions on how the Ripspeed sub-brand will affect the existing tune-up independents. Whereas IBDs have been contending with Halfords for many years (and BicycleBusiness, now on issue 18, has been running BikeHut stories since issue one), auto tune-ups independents are getting their first taste of what a major player can do to their market.
It’s commonly appreciated that Halfords has the ability to expand any niche market thanks to its mainstream approach but it’s clear not all independents can survive when a 410-strong chain muscles in on their territory. However, many IBDs have told BikeBiz that far from hurting their businesses, the opening of Bikehuts nearby can actually stimulate trade.
Anyway, back to the article in ‘Retail Week’…
The magazine reports that 42 Halfords have been given the Bikehut/Ripspeed conversions to date and that all 410 stores will be converted by 2005.
Marketing and merchandising director David Clayton-Smith said:
“The big, big move for Halfords was to recognise that there is a market for people with relatively high disposable incomes who are interested in cars and bicycles, not just as vehicles, but as objects of desire.
“Halfords had to change from being terribly reliable and sensible, to also being exciting, edgy and experienced when it came to retailing to true enthusiasts.
“We have had to get staff to think of Halfords as a place not for selling bikes, but a place for selling cycling.”
Luis Gordon, Basingstoke store manager, said employing cycle enthusiasts (er, often poached from IBDs with – shock, horror – the carrot of higher wages) was paying off because a rapport builds up between customers and staff:
“They become mates because they talk the same language. Our specialists live and breathe the culture, just as the customers do. They understand the lifestyle.”
Basingstoke Bikehut team leader Raff Cimmino is a cyclist and said:
“We now stock the right bikes, from mountain bikes to road bikes, to trials and cross country machines. The store is involved in local events. Halfords even has its own mountain bike team. All this matters to customers.”
To reinforce the message that Halfords has changed, the Boots-owned chain recently unveiled its new corporate identity – black lower-case type on an orange solid – which can now be seen across its ads and many of its stores.