Ask the boss: Cycle Republic’s Peter Kimberley on customers, opportunity & judgement

Now heading up three major businesses in the cycle industry, Peter Kimberley has some strong opinions on why retailers must be customer-led, why there is still opportunity in the market, our emotional attachment to bicycles and why you can’t judge an e-bike customer when they come through the door. CIN heads to Canary Wharf to grill the Managing Director of Cycle Republic, Tredz Bikes and Boardman Bikes…

Cycling Industry News meets Peter Kimberley, MD of Cycle Republic, at the chain’s brand new store in Canary Wharf. Today, if you set foot inside, you enter a prime slice of cycle retail estate, with big windows, a mezzanine level and the nation’s banking community on the doorstep. But had you stopped by just a short while before, you’d have been entering a BMW showroom.

“We’ve been waiting to get a shop in Canary Wharf,” Kimberley tells CIN, adding that the firm has rejected the idea of taking space in one of the nearby shopping centres to wait for a unit like this. The new store has space outside to test ride a bike and, in just a few months, the already decent footfall is about to be boosted further with the opening of Crossrail.

The right location

Kimberley, now also Managing Director of Tredz Bikes and Boardman Bikes as well as Cycle Republic, has overseen the brand from its initial store in Euston four years ago. Now numbering 22 outlets, offers to take over stores come in weekly, the retailer boss says, but the location has to be right: “We are always open to new shops, but we don’t put a number on opening so many shops a year. It’s like when you buy a house, it’s got to be right. I always ask, ‘Where are the cyclists? And the commuters? Is it the right sport? Can we have an open workshop in there?”

“All our shops are run individually. They put on their own events and I encourage them to work with their local IBDs.” Taking space in Cycle Republic Canary Wharf’s big windows is Bromtpton, one of a glut of recent big brand names to sign partnerships with the retailer. “We’ve got some big brands and we work closely with them. It’s very exciting! We have a Garmin tech table where customers can come in and get their hands on Garmin products. We’ve got a Tacx simulator in the shop so custoemrs can jump on and ride the cobbles…It’s all about how we share and communicate the excitement of cyclign and these products.”

Retail furniture

The Canary Wharf store is home to one of Cycle Republic’s new Shimano service centres. Kimberley reveals Shimano was surprised to be asked how the brand wanted to be presented in store. “They are the expert brand, after all.”

The aforementioned Garmin tech table came about in the same way, developed in discussion with the brand. Store visitors might also sport the ‘click and collect’ unit is shaped like a Garmin cycle computer, another quirky idea created in collaboration with the brand.

Workshop

Call Cycle Republic as a customer and you’ll be given the option to speak to either the shop or the workshop. Kimberley reckons it might be the only bike chain that does that. “People book in by the mechanic. They’ll ask if Bill or whoever is in today, and if not then they’ll book it in for the day they are back. “We offer free puncture repairs for everyone. Why charge someone at their most vulnerable and slap £7 on them to fix a puncture? A good mechanic can fix a puncture in two minutes. Charging someone in that situation doesn’t feel right and it helps you build a relationship with the customer.”

The shop has taken cues from the motor trade, including keeping courtesy bikes in each shop. “If you take your car in for a repair, you assume you’ll be able to use a courtesy car to get home. And we don’t want the cyclist to go home on the tube, they want to ride home.”

Cycle to work

“We find it is still doing well. Getting a business to offer cycle to work is just the first tick in the box, it has to be followed up. We offer demo days and go and speak to the employees – C2W is still a bit of mystery to many people. We have to drive penetration in businesses. Companies are behind cycling, they really are.” The C2W tax free limit needs to rise, says Kimberley, not least to support the burgeoning e-bike market.

E-bikes

“You have to get people into e-bikes, and it’s a great situation because you know they will be smiling when they come off an e-bike. We have four e-bike specialist shops where we have over 30 e-bikes.” The industry can still do more, Kimberley feels. “We need the industry to get behind it and educate. We’ve not given enough dedicated space to e-bikes and there are still not many e-bike reviews in the press. We need a big e-bike race, maybe we’ll put one on?”

Some time ago, e-bikes were touted as ideal for older riders or those recovering from injury, but it’s not so easy to spot an e-bike customer when they come through the door, Kimberley says: “We have a mix of e-MTB and ecommuters. We see lots of people live out of the city who commute in, go back and ride the e-MTB in the hills of Surrey. “We see new MTBers who love coming down the hills. And commuters who don’t want to come through the door sweating. You can’t pigeon hole them. E-road has also really taken off, they mean that riders can see more of those country lanes. E-cargo is coming through too.”

New role

Kimberley’s new role sees him head Cycle Republic, Tredz and Boardman Bikes: “It’s about our journey as a brand and putting customers at the forefront,” Kimberley tells CIN. “Of course each business has a big focus on different areas, but we can share best practice. “Any business has to be focused on the customer. The game is changing and we have to support the customer, be welcoming for all and be open.”

Market opportunities

“The market continues to offer growth for companies – there’s an opportunity to be a centre for customers. You have to ask, ‘Who is your customer?’ You must excite them. They are demanding and their expectations have changed over the last ten years. You have to give them the ‘wow factor’. You can do little things like clean the bike when you service it – that’s something you expect when you have your car serviced and it’s the least important part of the service. But when you see it clean you are wowed by it. It works for the cycle industry, customers have an emotional attachment to their bike.

“You even see it from all kinds of companies. Transport for London seem to be employing lots of smiley people, they make a funny announcement on the platform and it makes everyone smile. It makes a difference. That’s where the market is now. “Cycling is about a way of life, it gives people a whole new social network.”

Online vs bricks and mortar

With a considerable online channel, Cycle Republic’s faith in bricks and mortar, with 22 stores so far, stands out. “Online is growing rapidly for us,” explains Kimberley, “but it’s hard to truly separate online and bricks and mortar. Some customers buy online, but what about the customer that has been in the shop, ran out of time, then ordered it online because of the help they got in the store? What is that customer? Is that an online or a bricks and mortar customer? It was a web sale, but the shop did the work, had the experience and provided the service to get the sale.

“For those that underestimate the bricks and mortar stores… try closing the shops and see what happens! We see that click and collect is growing. It gives customers a full hand over.”

The future of the trade

The edition of CIN has quizzed bike dealers on the feasibility of the cycle industry taking further learnings from the motor trade, not least in terms of PCP/finance arrangements, long term leasing and trade-ins. It’s something that Kimberley has considered: “That idea of trading in your bike… it’s something we are looking at. But how do you value a bike? You can do it with some of the brands, like Brompton. And Brompton Junction already offers long time hires…”

Looking ahead, Kimberley believes the opportunity in the UK is huge: “The market is there to be grown and there will of course be successes and failures. “We want to be at the forefront of customer experience, we want to be innovative, customer-led and provide great customer experiences.”

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Hayley Everett

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