This morning I stumbled upon a bike shop opening that had flown under our radar and a biggie too. I’m unsure the exact number of stores you have to possess to be considered a national chain, but Leisure Lakes just broke ten. The tenth is notable, not because it’s double digits, but because it’s the first branch to open at a pre-existing venue – the South West’s 417 Project – a place I visited for the first time in Summer during the Marin bike launch.
It is increasingly said that bike retail should evolve to become more experiential, immersing customers with something far more engaging that slat wall and handlebar swing tags. This got me thinking back, pondering; out of the many hundreds of bike shops I’ve visited, which stand out for me. More importantly, what common theme links each. My conclusion; the shop’s method of gaining a captive audience and how they engage the customer once in store. Below I will attempt to explain which retail experiences have captured my imagination and why. It is worth bearing in mind I generally hate shopping and limit my time on the High Street to very few times a year.
The Skate park, turned tourism attraction, bike shop
The single most jaw dropping bike retail experience I’ve had wasn’t based around shopping at all, yet there I was, spending much more than I typically might and importantly, across a number of fronts. I’d bought a coffee (That’s not as deep as this train of though runs, I promise you…). I then sat drinking that coffee overlooking a purpose built skatepark, which at the time was brimming with screaming school kids, on site as part of a link with one of many partnered local schools keen to use the facility as part of their physical education.
Revenue is of course attached to that, but so are present customers (the parents) and future, the kids who seemed oblivious to the fact they were learning to ride a bike inside a giant bike shop. I sat on the mezzanine level overlooking grassroots cycling advocacy in motion. Or if you look at it purely from a business point of view, a captive audience.
Having been suitably impressed with the skate park below, I took the opportunity to calm the inner BMX bandit, booking a future session of my own with a younger member of the family who was recently the recipient of his first proper bike. With out future custom in the bag, we returned some weeks later for the session. In the few hours booked, the parents watched from above, buying coffee before retreating to the bike shop to browse. I’ll assume intentionally, you have to pass through the store to ride the larger part of the skate park.
Upon ending the session, the store becomes a recovery spot of sorts. There’s room to store your bike and small sofa blocks to rest on before you exit to the seafront promenade above. Store layout is crucial and more so when your store takes on an experiential or service led approach as many increasingly are.
At the risk of digressing, you can read more on this particular bike shop here. Here are a few of the different ways i’ve counted that this shop generates revenue above and beyond traditional bike retail:
- Coffee and cake, obviously.
- Skate park entry and membership fees (much of which is not local custom)
- Protective gear hire
- Events – click the link above or Google Battle of Hastings BMX. This bike shop had big screens showing its jam in Hastings’ town centre.
- Partnerships with local schools, youth centres and social orgs
- Kid’s parties
Remember, this is a bike shop, though perhaps no longer primarily. How did they afford such a project? The local council wanted to regenerate the historic baths under the promenade, but could see no viable retail opportunity. This bike shop spotted the potential, made its approach and succeeded in its bid to take over the space. The local authority paid for the bulk of the overhaul too. Proof that it pays to think outside of traditional spaces when setting up shop.
My most frequently visited bike shop
I’ll hold my hands up and tell you that the bike shop I find myself at most often isn’t one whose doors I pass through often. But it’s there when I need it. And I will need it, in that exact location, at some point.
I’m talking about Peaslake’s Pedal and Spoke. The business decided to pitch up near the base of Pitch Hill, which for those who haven’t made the trip, is a steep incline with smattered with various grades of trail and interspersed with some excellent road riding. It has, over time, become an industry favourite destination for bike launches and press test rides in the south of the UK. I’m also reliably informed that, despite being one of the smallest bike shops I’ve seen, it has the biggest Santa Cruz demo fleet in South of UK. Do they sell any? The number on the trails suggests so.
Free to ride, the multiple car parks dotted around the vicinity are full even on busier weekdays, suggesting mountain bikers are traveling some distance to hit the trails. Road riders too are ubiquitous, coming in from far around to take in some stunning scenery. The recipe for constant footfall is completed by Pedal and Spoke’s precise location in the base of the valley. Adjacent both a country pub with a good selection of beers and the infamous Peaslake Village Stores (pictured top) – a shop known for miles around for its cake, teas and pastries.
The owners did formerly open a Pedal and Spoke branch in nearby Cranleigh, but without the same wheel-fall decided wise to focus it’s attention on Peaslake.
The shop that isn’t a bike shop (I didn’t like it)
I’m about to tell you about one of the most horrendous retail experiences I’ve had. Entirely my fault, unfortunately.
Have you ever been to a Tiger? I tried to find a YouTube walkthrough to help convey the horrors, but all I found was literally a Tiger walking into a newagents. Anyway, I once had to spend a few hours at transport hub/shopping center in Norway waiting for a train. Two large bags in tow and unable to stomach any more bollers or coffee, I decided to wander a few shops.
Tiger branches are laid out in such a way that you have to pass every single product in the shop. It’s a very deliberate maze and presented in such a way that you enter at the front and leave via a separate door. It’s one way traffic, no escape and it’s genius. I hate every second in store, but for the past three Christmas’s I’ve been to branches in the UK and spent money. The shop’s USP? Secret santa gifts and budget friendly joke items. It’s the kind of stocking filler fodder that you just buy without a second thought. Just don’t try to navigate one with luggage bags in tow at Christmas.
In my experience, bike shops channel customers poorly around the store, though merchandising and presentation has generally improved. The days of “sea of wheels” presentation are generally behind us now, but it wasn’t long ago I nearly caused many thousands of pounds in damage simply by wearing a backpack in a store with artificially narrow isles. Pushing a pram in such a store? Forget it, that customer’s shopping online.
How could you better the flow of your store to ensure customers see the maximum number of items and of those you want customers to see, how many are at eye-level?
The branded test centre
We reported earlier this year that Radial Cycles has signed a long-term agreement with the Redbridge Cycling Centre.
Sold direct to consumer, the label has the very same last mile and test ride headaches that Canyon and many others have had to overcome. At the time, owner Matt Pryke believed his link with Redbridge to be a “first for online retail in the UK”.
Housing his staff and a demo fleet at a regularly visited closed circuit loop, Pryke’s customers are now able to visit, test ride 60+ demo bikes and complete the purchase in just a few hours, as well as obtain on site only discounts. Redbridge even bears Radial branding, further advertising the label to other visitors, as well as hosting events alongside the brand.
Pryke said at the time: “Our partnership is about getting people riding Radial products in environments best suited to enjoy cycling. We also believe this strongly underpins our B2C direct selling business model within the UK marketplace and allows people to try before they buy.”
The cycling lifestyle business
“Velorution is a cycling lifestyle business,” co-owner Gretta Cole told me just weeks ago as it opened its third branch.
That description is crucial as it doesn’t exclude sales of anything beyond the periphery of some already non conventional bicycles. Enter the flagship Great Portland Street branch and you’ll find exotic bike labels from around the globe, most of which have some form of exclusivity with the store, if not a good radius of protection for the retailer. As a result, people travel from miles around, even abroad, to shop with Velorution.
But it’s the business’s third branch that’s most intriguing of them all. It’s a book shop and like the bike hub just a few doors up the road, no ordinary one either. Given the affluent postcode, the stock consists of fine art prints and books so hefty they can only be printed on the Vatican’s press.
Adjacent to the main bookshelf are one of a kind bicycles and perched atop are two folded Bromptons. They may sell, but primarily they are showpieces for the two sister branches which specialise in bike sales and a well presented promotion of a lifestyle considered by many as itself and art form.
“Bikes are almost secondary to our offering,” offers Conrad Lewis, the business’s commercial director. “The traditional bike shop has quickly become antiquated and generally speaking that model doesn’t work anymore. Velorution is all about selling the lifestyle and all that comes with it.”
One theme links all of these bike shops; experiential retail and luring the customer to your doorstep with much more than shiny product. It’s the future.