Ask the Trade: How to manage appointment only trade

There are many things that will never quite be the same after the pandemic, but not all change is to be feared. Three indie bike shops share their thoughts

Did you implement appointment only visits during the pandemic and how did you find it if so?

John Clark, Velospeed

We asked customers to call to make an appointment so that we could keep numbers in the shop down. Some did, many didn’t and still just turned up. But generally people were happy to wait if we were busy (which we were!)

Lucy Hall, Bicycle Links

During the first lockdown we reduced our opening hours to morning only and offered appointments for bike sales in the afternoon. This was largely to manage demand – there were so many people wanting bikes and repairs that we weren’t getting any work done. The appointment system worked OK at that time because most people were very attuned to shopping restrictions, and checked online before calling in.

Sandra Corcaran, Pennine Cycles 

Yes, we felt appointments were a sensible option when the country went into lockdown. It allowed us to manage customers’ expectations and ensure we only had one customer in the shop at a time, especially while restrictions were strict in those early days. We found it worked well as customers got used to the new system and if they didn’t have an appointment, they were usually willing to wait or come back at a more convenient time.

How are you managing appointment only trade? Have you implemented a booking only system?

John Clark, Velospeed

It’s more relaxed than that, we just make appointments in our google calendar when someone contacts us.

Lucy Hall, Bicycle Links

We ran the appointments manually via email and it added some extra admin for sales staff. Once things opened up again in the summer we returned to normal opening hours and stopped offering appointments. We have never run a booking system for repairs; customers just have to leave their bike with us until we get it fixed. We are lucky to have a lot of storage space at our premises, and we offer courtesy bikes for a nominal sum so there is that option for anyone who can’t be without their bike.

Sandra Corcaran, Pennine Cycles 

Yes, we have a booking system although some people will still turn up and we always do our best to be flexible. People were understanding with the changes we had to implement.

Does this guarantee a better quality of time with the customer?

John Clark, Velospeed

We always give customers as much time as they want, luckily this has generally worked out although we’re sometimes juggling customers. We find a limited time appointment is frustrating for some customers so don’t want to enforce a strict regime.

Lucy Hall, Bicycle Links

Appointments certainly worked well for e-Bike sales, and meant we were ready and prepared to spend time with the customer. We have considered re-introducing them. When stock levels get back to something like normal, we may set up e-Bike appointments again, but I think we will always be open for walk-ins as well.

Sandra Corcaran, Pennine Cycles 

For those who made an appointment, we were expecting them so we could allocate our time and be prepared for their requirements. It doesn’t stop us from breaking off from them if someone else does arrive or the telephone rings.

It’s also been challenging as different restrictions kept changing and people thought we were open as “normal” but that wasn’t the case under government guidelines.

What, if any, other changes have you kept for the business that have been put in place in the past 18 months?

John Clark, Velospeed

We’re taking all the sensible precautions, asking customers to wear masks and keep their distance, and trying to be outside with them as much as possible. Other than that, we’ve been very busy and it’s business as usual.

Lucy Hall, Bicycle Links

Bicycle Links has always sold refurbished used bikes. During the pandemic we discovered a market for what you might call ‘upcycled’ second hand bikes with lots of new parts fitted at a price around two-thirds of a new bike. We tend to do it to order. It has helped to fill the gap caused by the shortage of new bikes to sell and meet the boom in demand. We’d assumed that customers with a bigger budget would always want brand new, but it seems this isn’t always the case.

Sandra Corcaran, Pennine Cycles 

We still keep the door locked to minimise the number of customers in the shop at one time. We also try and speak to customers outside and we are fortunate our front space allows this and we have been lucky with the weather. We will keep mask wearing for customers and staff who prefer and a hand sanitising station, plus regular cleaning. We will continue to promote click and collect and build on our online shopping presence.

In the absence of stock reliability, will you attract customers with alternate services?

John Clark, Velospeed

As restrictions ease and customer confidence returns we are hoping to have events here – but the problem is stock, so attracting more customers at the moment means adding them to a waiting list for bikes, and that waiting list is often a moving target as manufacturers just can’t get the components. Crazy times.

Lucy Hall, Bicycle Links

We tried classes in the past and found it a hassle. The demand for classes and events is mostly at evenings and weekends, and our staff are already working daytime shifts, so it is hard to organise unless you employ someone to run them full time. It’s difficult to make it work as a sideline.

What we have done is open a pop-up workshop for our volunteer sessions, and extended volunteering to four days a week. Volunteers work on refurbishing bikes; they learn skills, and in exchange we get more second hand bikes ready, so it works well. It has also reduced the risk of Covid cross-infection by keeping volunteers separate from our shop staff.

Sandra Corcaran, Pennine Cycles 

As we move forward and people are happier to mix we will begin to restart out nutritional and basic maintenance events. We did not proceed with our road race in June this year. We also will start to push to grow VC Bradford, our cycling club we sponsor. The shop has had increased interest in cycling club riding lately and increasing numbers gradually for the Club Sunday rides. We will shortly restart our welcoming complimentary espresso and Yorkshire tea offering to customers.

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