At just a touch over 25 years old, Highway Cycles has been in the business long enough now to have seen local rivals come and go, weathering the storms that continue to affect the cycle trade day-to-day.
Not immune from the pressures themselves, the three store chain consolidated down to two stores late last year, with overhead costs primarily leading to an evaluation of the best way forwards. This was taking place just as the Hertford branch, who we focus on here, were preparing to open on the outskirts of town.
Run by Justin Jewell, a 15-year trade veteran, as well as Cytech Level 2 qualified mechanic Tom Whitton, Hertford’s branch opened last March, just as a supermarket neared completion next door, bringing plenty of passing trade to an area with already strong links for cyclists.
“In a way, although tucked away, we’re ideally placed,” said Jewell “Hertford has always been a hub for cycling, with a route along the River Lea stretching as far as London beginning at our front door, as well as old railway tracks in all directions. Because of this, we envisage that in some point in the future we’re best placed to begin a hire bike scheme and potentially regular shop rides with customers.”
Engaging with and building on a loyal customer base, some of which have followed Jewell from his time in the now closed Stevenage branch, is part of the long-term plan.
“We’re ramping up our efforts to stay in touch with customers through social platforms and becoming involved in more events, such as the Ellis 50 Miler, which we’re supporting with both man hours and prizes this May.”
Crucially, with an estimated 60 per cent of the business’s revenue currently coming from the workshop, Jewell points out that Highway offers its customers a pick up, fix and deliver service for those that the Stevenage store closure affected, as well as for any other customers who can’t make it to the store.
“Since we’ve opened there’s not been a time where the workshop hasn’t been full to the brim with bikes to service.”
With such a volume of the takings made up by workshop and the typical town centre overheads still heading skywards, BikeBiz is told that a High Street location wouldn’t be sustainable for an independent store in Hertford. Jewell doesn’t mind occupying an industrial space, however, suggesting that there’s no chance of the store becoming complacent in the search for the next opportunity to grow the business.
“We do a number of things differently to your average store. In terms of professional bike fitting, we work with a Retul-trained fitter – Fit Me Up – in the centre of town. This works for both of us, as we’ll put customers on to him for a proper job and he’ll often re-direct them back to us for bike and parts supply. We also conduct ‘bike doctors’ with the County Council, where we’ll pitch up at the offices twice a year and assess the staff bikes, providing a job sheet free of charge. Often this converts into a significant increase in customers bringing work in. Once they know what needs doing and what it’ll cost they’ll often pay us a visit. The same goes for sessions at Glaxo Smith Kline. Being a forward thinking company they’re keen to have healthy employees, so we’re invited to pitch up occassionaly.”
Highway also recently linked with the local radio station, in collaboration with Scott Bicycles, to give away two £500 mountain bikes to locals.
“As well as having our name on the radio for a decent period of time, we’ve also now got two more people on the books, which we anticipate will become future customers. With 29ers and hybrids selling well at present, we expect to have a strong following by the time we commit to doing shop rides. We’re all regular cyclists, so it will happen sooner or later.”
Telling BikeBiz that Cycle to Work schemes, particularly the link with the NHS, has seen new bike sales grow steadily, Highway is optimistic that a strong summer lies ahead.
“The need for sustainable and affordable travel isn’t going to become any less pertinent and people are acknowledging this. With the workshop trade as strong as it is we expect everyone to come in at once as soon as the mercury rises and we’re looking forward to it.”