The Stephen James name is well-known to drivers in South East England: the company has four BMW and Mini dealerships in London and Kent. The Stephen James name may now become well-known to cyclists, too. Part of the Stephen James BMW dealership in Enfield, North London has been converted to sell bicycles.
Stephen James Cycles is billed as "the first BMW dealership in the country to feature a full bike store."
It makes sound commercial sense for the Stephen James Group to do this: sales of bicycles are on an upward trajectory. Car sales are still buoyant but the theory of 'peak car' suggests this might not always be the case. Just as bicycle shops at the turn of the twentieth century started to sell motorbikes and automobiles when the 'bicycle boom' of the 1890s fizzled out, more car dealerships may start to retail the urban commute vehicle that doesn't require fossil fuel, is nippy through town, ultra convenient door-to-door, free to park, and which doesn't attract congestion charges.
Of course, the manager of Stephen James Cycles does not believe a BMW dealership opening a bike shop is a sign that the Age of the Car is dead but James Hewitt sees no problem with cars and bikes being sold side by side: "I think that we need to look for new transportation solutions to meet our customer’s mobility needs, particularly in the urban environment, which is becoming increasingly congested," he told BikeBiz.
Stephen James Cycles opened on 15th October. It sells BMW bicycles but it's mostly a Trek Partnership Store, selling everything from kids' bikes to high-end road bikes, as well as fully-equipped town bikes.
To make room for the bike store a number of cars were removed from the showroom and the 'Customer Club Lounge' area was redeveloped. Car buyers are now encouraged to sit in the free drinks area, next to the bikes: "we’re eager to attract as many customers as possible to get involved with cycling," said Hewitt.
And this is part of the reason Trek UK was interested in partnering with a car showroom. Trek UK's general manager Nigel Roberts said: "It's got to be good to expose motorists to the benefits of cycling. This store has the potential to reach people who we might not otherwise be able to reach.
"The dealership had a good business plan, the BMW angle sounded interesting and there was a gap in territory for us. We have a mature network of dealers; we don't often add to this network. Stephen James Cycles ticked all the right boxes for us."
The store is on the first floor of the BMW dealership and has a distinctly car-showroom way of selling, including offering appointments with sales staff (all equipped with iPads, naturally).
The company website says: "We’re committed to helping you enjoy cycling even more, find exactly what you need and save you time. That’s why we offer the opportunity to book appointments, so that you’re guaranteed to get the undivided attention of one of our senior members of staff."
Book in a bike for servicing and "sit back, enjoy a complimentary drink and free WiFi whilst we carry out the work." The bike workshop is on the ground floor of the dealership.
Store manager Hewitt said opening a bike shop within a car dealership wasn't a massive leap: "Stephen James is committed to meeting the needs of our customers as they look for new, more efficient and sustainable solutions to getting around. We need to look for new transportation solutions to meet our customer’s mobility needs – particularly in the urban environment, which is becoming increasingly congested. I believe that this can be found in a multi-modal approach which encompasses a number of forms of transport of which the bicycle is an important component."
Opening the store came after market research suggested it would be a sound idea:
"We identified that a large number of our existing and potential customers were already cyclists, or were becoming interested in cycling," said Hewitt.
"Increasing numbers of our customers are cycling for fitness; a number of our customers are taking part in Sportive events, and many are keen to benefit from the numerous benefits of cycling to work and using the bike as part of their transport solution. Many of our employees are cyclists – so there was a natural affinity for the project from the start."
Hewitt is eager to play a role in getting more people on bikes, recreationally and for transport. He's been keeping an eye on the debate about safety of cyclists in central London and is in favour of London becoming much more cycle-friendly.
"I’ve been encouraged to hear the calls for greater investment in cycling infrastructure in the London Boroughs and that is something that I am keen to see grow. For example, in November last year, Enfield Council published an updated map showing the existing cycle and walking network and proposed Greenway network. This includes a proposed Greenway which passes along Lincoln Road, where Stephen James Cycles is located. This would connect us with National Cycle Route 1, so I’ll be delighted if that comes to fruition.
Selling bikes next to cars normalizes cycling, perhaps demonstrating that cyclists and motorists need to share the road. As part of this normalization, Hewitt said the BMW dealership's website will cease to feature 'road tax' (a concept used by some motorists to abuse cyclists, who they feel don't pay for the road even though roads are paid for by general and local taxation not motoring taxes) and will, in future, talk about 'car tax'.
"This has significant implications for how different road users are perceived and share the road," said Hewitt.