You can’t miss Hemel Hempstead’s new indoor sports facility. Occupying a space on a leisure park complex next to a swimming pool and cinema, ‘XC’ stands tallest, hosting a 14-metre high climbing wall, high ropes, an organic ‘cave’ and a skate park holding claim to housing the UK’s only indoor concrete pool.
It’s not gone un-noticed in the bike trade either, with the BMX section of this year’s Saracen Bikes catalogue carrying photography from the venue. With two retail plots by the front door and a footfall of up to 600 people on a weekend, online retailer Absolute Snow spotted an opportunity to expand.
Manager of the skate branch Dave Atkinson told BikeBiz: “Initially the council outlined the plans to a few existing retailers, including ourselves. We pushed for the two retail spaces, largely based on being able to offer a variety of gear, from BMX bikes and skate boards for the skate park users and climbing gear for those using the wall. Once we’d secured the spot we had two months to get everything together and move in as the build neared completion. The funding came from the snow business, but we’ve hired enthusiasts to manage each department.”
With a capacity for 150 users at a time and four sessions per day, footfall is steady, even on weekdays. As Atkinson puts it “every person through the front door is either a bike rider, skater, climber. They’re all here to use the facilities and all have an interest in our shop and while not everyone through the door arrives with the intention to shop, most do check out one of our stores. It’s almost guaranteed custom.”
Admittedly, during set up Absolute didn’t have an expert on climbing gear, but carrying stock to support the facility inside the main building is paying dividends.
“We had to do a little bit of guess work on that front to begin with,” says Atkinson. “But selling niche bits has never been a problem here. We do very well on apparel and footwear sales, as these crossover – it really doesn’t matter what sport you’ve come here to do, everyone browses clothing and gear.”
Another of the perks of the under cover location is that come a rainy day, customers have come from as far as Devon or Scotland simply for a ride or skate.
“We’ve got some big events lined up in the main building this summer,” says Atkinson. “ Despite the complex being in its infancy, we’ve already held the UK Skate Championships and a leg of the Concrete Carnival. That brings a lot of new faces through the door, so marketing the store almost comes naturally. We build lots of new relationships when the skate park hosts a jam and next time a customer goes in search of a product online, we’re hopefully still fresh in their minds.”
The only downside that BikeBiz could see was the space constraints. “Our workshop and warehouse is off site,” explains Atkinson. “We can and do accommodate repair work, but not on- site. If a customer wants a wheel built, our staff normally build it down the road, or at home. Typically we’ll have customers in the shop from opening at 10am to closing at 7.30pm, thanks to the facilities here, so we don’t do too badly.”