The current retail environment and the struggling high street has been well reported for a long time – with many figures pointing to a bleak picture for bricks and mortar stores in the UK. 2019 was described as the “worst year on record for retail” by the BRC, with total sales decreasing by 0.1%, alongside the ongoing talk of Brexit and political uncertainty that concluded in a December General Election.
But that all seems like a distant memory now, with retail now facing the far greater challenge of COVID-19. A nationwide lockdown was announced on 23rd March when prime minister Boris Johnson told all “non-essential” shops they must shut due to the spread of the virus, but bike shops were among those excluded, meaning it remained up to cycle shop owners to decide whether to remain open for business, fully or partially.
Some stores, including Cycle Surgery, have temporarily closed, while others have put various models in place to ensure the safety of their staff and customers. BikeBiz reached to bike shops to find out how they have responded to the ongoing crisis.
Today, we hear from Sarah Graham at Arragon’s Cycle Centre.
We know a number of healthcare professionals, firemen and friends in the political arena so I must admit, being informed through these people, we’ve been quite frightened about everything.
We’ve spent a lot of time worrying about what’s going to happen and thinking about the safety of our team, our friends and our family. One of my customers described me as ‘a glass overflowing’ type of person and that he’s never seen me any other way, but he noticed fear in my eyes when we talked about this current situation.
I suppose that’s down to the fact we employ two members of staff who fall into the high-risk category and some of our family members are over 70, so despite being healthy and active, are deemed at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19. When Boris announced the lockdown [last month], we were initially relieved and set about our plan to hibernate, keeping everyone safe until things were under control.
We learned our business sector was permitted to open and as such, became inundated with requests for repairs and sales because quite rightly, everyone wants to be able to spend their daily permitted hour of fresh air on a bike. We hadn’t envisaged this demand, as we thought bike shops would just be keeping key workers moving and not being particularity a commuter store, we didn’t expect to be in need.
After spending a couple of days getting our heads into gear, we decided as a team that it was best to offer furlough to our staff, leaving Phil and myself working. On reflection, I am very thankful of the ACT and others who lobbied for this, as I think moving forward it gives our industry some strength and credibility that cycling is a justified form of transport, so needs to be considered and supported in all infrastructure planning. It is also key to maintaining strong mental health as well as general health during times of crisis, cycling is an all-round valuable commodity.
In order to respect what is being asked of us by the NHS, we’ve taken strict precautions and are opening for pre-arranged slots on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for limited hours, staggering our customers. I’m serving from the door – entry to the store is not permitted – and although it does feel very strange, especially when people are wanting to purchase bikes, it’s working well.
We have gloves, Milton steriliser and hand wash everywhere! Despite our limited hours to customers, Phil and I are in the shop every day repairing bikes, sorting jobs and trying to plan and prepare for our survival beyond COVID-19.
We’ve been relieved by the Business Rate holiday, the Government protection of our team and a grant to our business. We really do hope this will be enough to ensure our survival beyond these times. We feel very lucky in our position as we’re still trading and have lots of new, unexpected customers as a result of being able to exercise for the hour.
We’re welcoming these new customers and asking them to continue to support us beyond COVID-19, seeing it as an opportunity to reach those who perhaps wouldn’t have called on us previous to this. I am hopeful that due to our careful business measures, the support from the Government and the dedication of our team, we will come out of this situation strong, healthy and hopefully in time to pick up on our hire business which we started in the summer of 2018 from the stunning grounds of Lowther Castle.
We’ve been asking customers to send us their photos using the tag #TeamArragons, so it’s been great seeing so many people enjoying their bikes. Our social media is being filled as our staff have captured their hour of exercise and shared it to our site. I’m updating our website and planning for the future in the periods when the shop is closed so there’s no distraction.
All of this is out of our control, so we cannot control it, we just have to adapt and overcome as best we can and that is what we’re trying to focus on. One thing is for sure throughout all this, we’ve both had an epiphany that things are material and the health of us, our family and our friends is far more important than anything.
It has also made us sit up and realise that we’ve been working far too many hours and living an overly fast-paced life. We need to sit back, evaluate perhaps moving forward a slower, more balanced pace of life. We will be planning the future of our business to accommodate this when we get back to our new normal.