While the recent spate of bike shop break-ins shows few signs of letting up, Hayley Everett speaks to affected IBDs who have since integrated new security measures to keep the thieves out…
Afan Valley Bike Shed
In July earlier this year, Afan Valley Bike Shed lost ten high-end bikes in a break-in which took place out of business hours, warning at the time: “Things like this can shut small independent bike shops.”
While thankfully this IBD hasn’t had to close its doors, Director and Owner Ben reveals the extent of the impact the theft has had on his business since it happened: “It’s been a nightmare. Our hands are tied at the minute as we rent the building from the council, so it’s been constant meetings back and forth which is very frustrating,” he explains. “For the moment we just have to barricade ourselves in using padlocks and bits of wood across the doors and shutters, which cover everywhere but the front door.”
The thieves broke into the shop through the front door, which according to Ben was held together by cheap and flimsy bolts mostly there to “keep the wind out”. “Why put an alarm and shutters on a building if they felt the stuff in the shop isn’t valuable enough to fit good quality bolts?” he sighs. “We’re not seen as a priority, and although we’re tenants paying rent it feels as if we are being blamed for the break-in.”
When asked what sort of security measures he would like to see added to the shop, he answered that deterrents such as smoke bombs and strobe lighting seem effective; disorientating or startling a thief until they either give up or get caught. Unfortunately, renting the unit from the council means it’s unlikely Ben will see these kinds of sophisticated deterrents employed anytime soon.
For Ben and his team now, it’s simply a case of slowing thieves down until preventative measures are put in place.
Unleashed Cycles owner Gary Wythe has had a tough time of it this past year after his shop was broken into twice over a five-week period between October and November 2018. With the break-ins occurring within such a short time frame, Wythe said he faced three options: the first, to close his doors for good; the second, to go mobile and be completely workshop-based; and the third, to move the shop to a more secure location.
Wythe chose option three; a £12,000 investment which saw the shop move to a more secure premises nearby, and it wasn’t just the financial implications of this decision which had an impact: “No one seems to mention the mental strain something like this can have,” he explains. “After both break-ins we couldn’t operate for a number of weeks because the shop wasn’t secure, so a loss of earnings as well as self-funding a move to a new location added a huge financial strain, and in turn this meant there was a massive stress impact, too.”
The move started in January this year, but it was March before the shop was able to start fully trading again. A year later and Wythe feels like the business is finally getting back on track. “When you look back it’s easy to think you were naive and could have done more, so when we moved security was the absolute priority,” he offers. “We needed to maintain our customers’ trust that their bikes are going to be safe, and save for installing electric door handles, I like to think we’ve done our best to avoid a repeat incident!”
Wythe has certainly taken no chances when it comes to installing theft deterrents, down to the structure of the very building itself. A newer build, the walls are three times thicker than the previous shop, and a six-metre high roof rules it out as a possible entry point. Electric roller gates have been added behind the front door in addition to CCTV and a linked alarm system with ADT, who complete regular drive-bys passed the shop. Wythe has also taken the interesting approach of keeping customers’ bikes as out of sight as possible at night and instead places bikes for sale closer to the front door in the hope that, in the event of another break-in, these will be taken instead.
“Although it would be really annoying if that happened, it’s just an invoice number and receipt, and it means that my customers aren’t affected,” he explains. “Customers’ bikes can be irreplaceable. During the break-in, seven customers were affected, and it cost around £13,000 to replace everything that was taken.
“But that wasn’t the worst part. Ringing up customers to say that their bike has been stolen, and then trying to sort out insurance, replacements and compensation and keep their trust, it was horrendous.”
Unleashed Cycles is looking to host an official re-opening event soon to welcome customers to its new premises.
Eastbourne-based Evolution Cycles had two bikes stolen from its window display back in February, with thieves also leaving behind damaged display suspension forks. While the shop’s insurance paid out, owner Kevin Head says it naturally took up a lot of time and was a hassle, particularly regarding paperwork; one of the stolen bikes was a custom build so he had to produce invoices for each part of the bike, currency transfers and custom charges.
The shop had a monitored alarm system in place prior to the break-in but Head has since met a stumbling block to substantially improving the building’s security measures.
“We are in a conservation area in a Victorian period shopping area with a listed shopfront, so we aren’t allowed external shutters or bars, or even immediately internal shutters against the glazing. Essentially, anything that would protect the window display,” he explains.
Head says he has looked into smoke and gas generators, as well as dye sprays, however the expense of fitting these made the team hold off for now. “As it was our first break-in in 15 years, we decided not to pursue that at the moment,” he reasons. “We now remove high value items from the window displays overnight.”
Head also doesn’t believe it’s worth the shop investing in CCTV. “I’ve never found it to be a deterrent against committed thieves as they just wear a hoodie or mask so you can get no description, or wear gloves so there are no fingerprints or DNA.”
Bike theft from bike shops is a facet of cycle crime which hits the industry about as directly as it possibly could. CyclingIndustry.News collates reports of bike shop break-ins here.