Our undercover reporter heads to the East Midlands to quiz chain stores, IBDs and boutique bike outlets...

BikeBiz’s Mystery Shopper heads to Leicester

City Cycles
City Cycles, set in a residential centre close to a main road, is a Cyclelife dealer containing much Raleigh product. Sporting a kids’ bikes display outside the shop, the promising start was followed up with prompt attention from the staffer who came over from behind the counter. Looking for a bike for Mystery Shopper’s ten-year old niece and providing a vague price remit of £100 to £200 or maybe higher if he could be persuaded, the assistant swiftly offered a bike bang in the middle at £150. He explained the benefits in buying an adult frame that by adjusting the wheel size the bike could be upgraded: “This bike will last as long as you want it.”

He explained the benefits of the more expensive bikes the store had on offer, with better materials for a superior ride experience, but steered me to the £150 option and went into depth about the bicycle components to push home the point that it was a decent purchase. A promising start to the bike shops of Leicester.

Slightly closer to Leicester, but still out of the city centre, FMB – Fix My Bike – is well placed on a busy thoroughfare with some local shops. Very quick to help, the door had barely closed behind Mystery Shopper before the keen salesman had greeted me. He offered a few models ranging from £129 model up to a £200 bike. He honed in on the £129 model and explained that with an extra tenner:“you get alloy levers which have a nicer feel”. Again he recommended the pros of an adult bike with a range of frame options to accommodate the short ten year old in question. The staffer asked the crucial question – “Is it for Christmas?”. He went on to provide a wealth of options for payment, from a standard ten per cent deposit to a ‘pay a bit at a time’ cash card, and said the shop could hold the bike for collection as late as Christmas Eve. In fact, the clued up staffer made a Christmas present purchase as simple as possible. Top work. Upon leaving the store the salesman was straight on to helping the next customer through the door – good work.

Julies Cycles
This impressive store has a huge footprint – bigger than you might think from its almost corner shop location amongst houses. Inside, there has clearly been much thought put into the layout, looking like a higher end serious bike shop, split into sections and with plenty of kit crammed in attractively. Consequently, there was a sense the shop was more focused on adult high end bikes, but despite that it still stocked some options that hit my brief, if a little more expensive than my miserly opening gambit. Could I be persuaded to upgrade? The staffer – who was quick to greet again – explained the Ridgeback and Giant models were of a high quality, and like FMB pointed out a supermarket bike “might last a month or two, but that’d be it. These will last”.
It’s probably fair to assume the shop is more geared up for high end adult market, but it is to its credit that it still had some junior options. They also asked the crucial Christmas question and provided plenty of easy payment options – great for cash strapped customers at a tough time of the year.

This branch of Halfords is located on one of the retail parks of the town, dwarfed next to a huge Homebase store. No mezzanine in this smaller outlet, which had three bike displays at the front of the store leading to the larger Bike Hut section. Providing a stark contrast with the IBDs on the day, Mystery Shopper waited by the junior section and counter for eight minutes (we counted them) before being greeted.

It’s perhaps hard on Halfords as its stores are invariably far larger than most IBDs, but all the same Mystery Shopper would never have been able to linger as long as this before being approached. Perhaps it’s because Halfords knows this that it has such good signage, as we’ve noted before. The section applicable to me was well labelled as were a number of offers like buy and collect before a certain date to claim a £10 voucher.

The employee took some prompting in the discussion, and sadly didn’t ask the crucial Christmas question without some very heavy hints. Not bad service as such, but the rushed chap appeared to be in the middle of various jobs across the store.

Future Cycles
Future Cycles was the only bike shop located in Leicester’s city centre – bizarre for such a vibrant shopping destination with a catchment of over 305,000 (thanks Wikipedia). Either that or we missed them. Future Cycles runs ‘Bike Park’ – occupying a great location in the city centre where customers can park their bike securely or buy a reconditioned or new bike. After asking for a junior bike I was directed to the Future Cycles shop outlet four minutes away in a boutique-y section of the city, close to art shops, chic retailers and quirky establishments. Again, I was greeted speedily upon my entry, with the shop stocking literally just one junior bike (a Kona). After a quick chat about quality (“bikes aren’t toys”) I was told that that competition from supermarkets meant he wouldn’t be offering junior bikes in future. “People come in expected to pay £250 to £300 for an adults bike, not a junior,” he said. Despite that, the shop did offer deposits, late collections near to Christmas and the like. The staffer was willing to chat, speedy to greet and provided a decent option – if slightly over my tight price brief.

Firstly another nod to the fact Leicester city centre seemingly just has the one bike shop in it. Madness. However the city has some great IBDs in and around the centre, all mindful of the competition from supermarkets in the junior and child bike category, especially in the run up to Christmas. Picking one out, FMB edged it on the day, with a variety of alternatives, offering a wealth of payment options and a salesman clued up about the struggles of Christmas shopping.

The day also backed the cliché that chain stores like Halfords can struggle to offer the kind of one-on-one service offered by independents, with IBDs swift to offer help as soon as Mystery Shopper entered the stores. IBD standards were high, but one minor criticism might be that not enough bike shops tried to get Mystery Shopper to part with more cash, but they did present options and were keen not to lose custom to those supermarket bikes by making purchasing a junior bike for Christmas as easy as possible.

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