Ribble Cycles on its ‘brand new’ bicycle retail proposition

Ribble Cycles recently opened its new landmark flagship showroom in Lancashire, providing a ‘brand new bicycle retail proposition’. Rebecca Morley finds out more

Having a strong digital presence is vital for businesses, but that doesn’t mean it has to be completely separate from a retailer’s physical offering. Ribble Cycles’ new landmark flagship showroom, located in the heart of the Ribble Valley in Lancashire, aims to blend digital and physical – creating a unique customer experience that is immersive and all-sensory.

The spacious flagship, which opened in April this year, has been designed to individually showcase every bike in the Ribble range with a generous amount of space to allow the customer to interact and appreciate the design in detail.

“We were very excited to get back in front of our customers again,” says David Stacey, commercial director. “We’ve seen more new customers than ever coming to experience Ribble, so we were very keen to invite them back into a showroom as soon as we could.

“It was important to get a store in the Ribble Valley because that’s where the heritage is. When customers come to experience our bikes, they can set out on a ride straight from the showroom into beautiful, quiet lanes, great climbs, challenging routes, and that’s not something we can facilitate from our other locations.

“We didn’t just want to open another bike shop – it would have been quite easy to do that but we wanted to launch an experience centre for Ribble. When we were looking for a unit, we wanted something that was completely a blank canvas for us and that’s what we found. The idea with Clitheroe is that it’s a full sensory experience, so when you walk into the showroom the first thing you see is a gigantic 4K video screen, which is actually Europe’s biggest indoor 4K screen. That’s the attention grabber as you walk in, and then the content we display on there is all about the brand. It’s videos of our bikes being assembled, it’s about our bikes being ridden in the wild.

“From the minute the customer sets foot in the showroom, they’re inspired by what they’re going to be doing on the bike. It’s not just about the price of the bikes or the specification, it’s about what buying that bike is going to do for you and what you’re going to enjoy experiencing.” The bikes are also laid out with plenty of space between them on bespoke fixtures that are designed to show them off, Stacey continues, similar to a gallery. “There’s plenty of room to get 360 degrees around the bike.

“There’s no POS on the bike, no clutter, no paper dangling from the handlebars talking about insurance etc. It’s clean, stripped back – it’s the bike experienced in all its glory. For each bike, the way we display the pricing is all done digitally. That system works directly from our website, so if we make a change to content on the website in response to customer feedback, that feeds through directly and instantly to all of our stores.

“That digital POS element is really important. The way we set out to sell bikes is different because every Ribble bike is built up by hand, the journey for that customer is not: ‘quick, get them in and sell them a bike’, it’s about what is the exact right bike for that customer. Our colleagues are completely focused on delivering that journey. They don’t have to worry about changing POS over and all the usual retail standard stuff that most bike shops would have to deal with, they’re fully focused on the customer experience.

“That means they can take them through the customisation journey, they can show them all the options that they can choose from on that bike. Stacey describes the reaction from consumers so far as ‘phenomenal’. “During the first few days, I was in the store myself and I was making a point of talking to customers on the way out and asking what they thought.

“The response was pretty much unanimous that they were bowled over by the experience in general. The next thing everybody was talking about was the staff. The store team we have in place there is just exceptional. We recruit for customer service first, and that focus on making the customer feel welcome and taken care of is really important.

“With this being digital-first retail, we’re focused on our website and our online experience. The showroom is there to complement that journey. It’s not at odds with our website – we don’t mind where the customer wants to transact with us and how they want to experience this journey. It’s about making that experience the best it can be.”

In response to COVID restrictions, staff are wearing face coverings, Stacey continues, which customers are encouraged to do as well when they enter. The two-metre rule is being enforced, echoed through signage in-store, and hand sanitiser is provided as well as gloves. “We actually chose to close our physical retail stores during the lockdowns,” says CEO Andy Smallwood. “We could have kept them open, but we felt that to protect our team and our customers, and because we have such a strong digital presence, it meant we could close our showrooms.

“It’s good now to be back open again and I think the response we’ve had from consumers has been excellent, and reassuring that we’ve done good things during this period of time as a brand and as a business.”

Back in January 2020, Ribble launched a virtual showroom service on its website, continues Stacey. “The idea is that the customer can be on our website and they’re presented with a pop-up that invites them to chat live to a store colleague. They don’t have to book an appointment, it just immediately goes through to our colleagues in-store, which is now done from our Clitheroe store as well because it means they can experience that flagship showroom experience.

“We deployed that back in January 2020 and we didn’t know that it was the most opportune time to be putting that in front of our customers. We didn’t need to keep our showrooms open because there was a digital way of allowing the world to come and have a look at a Ribble showroom. In hindsight, it was like a stroke of genius that we put that in place just before lockdown.

“But the reason we did that is because we were constantly trying to come up with the next thing that will delight and excite our customers in terms of the experience. Even though our stores are now back open and we’re seeing record levels of people coming in to see our showrooms, we’re still having really good performance out of that virtual showroom too, so I think it shows that people are now looking for that blend of digital and physical experience.

“I don’t think it’s sufficient anymore just to do one really well. We certainly think that the best outcome for customers is that they have the choice and they can have as little or as much of each one as they like.”

“We have a core customer journey and it’s a digital-focused customer journey,” Smallwood adds. “The way in which the customer chooses to interact with us is up to them. The physical retail is complementary to the digital journey.” 

In terms of general industry trends, Smallwood notes a resurgence in road, as well a great uptake in gravel bikes. Urban as a category is an area, particularly within E, where we’ve seen some great growth. From a price point of view as well, we’re seeing a trend for customers trading up. As cycling’s increasing in usage, we’re seeing that customers value a better product or a more advanced product, which can enhance their experience.”

There are still some challenges ahead of us as a bike industry, Smallwood adds. “The growth is great and I do feel it is sustainable. I think it’s different to the growth patterns that we’ve seen in the past. This time it feels more cultural, more society-led in terms of people doing it for the right reasons. “It’s not just fashion or a trend. It’s due to the genuine benefits that cycling gives from an environmental and fitness and health point of view, not just physically but mentally.

“There are some underlying COVID elements in terms of distancing, for example, but it does feel like the underlying trend and growth pattern there is a sustainable one, which gives me some confidence that the bike industry is certainly a good place to be.”

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