Bicycle shops have long been leading the way in combining retail with community to keep customers coming back through the door

COMMENT: Is it time you got a barista for your bike shop?

The times they are a-changing, and not least on the High Street and the nation’s town centres.

Up until about 2008, consumers had been running up credit bills keeping retail in a relative state of boom, or so the story goes, but five years on the High Street is an altogether leaner place. Consumers have been scared off from racking up credit card bills, not least because unemployment is up, benefits are being squeezed and the public and private sector have shed jobs alike.

And our town centres haven’t just changed because of the economic downturn. The birth and boom of internet retail has seen a shift in shopping habits, leading retailers to change their business models and evolve to survive.
While tempting to see all that as bleak, and much of it is to be fair, there are opportunities, especially for a bicycle retail sector that has not been as prone to the doldrums during the downturn as others.

The thing is, experts and your average Joe (or Joanna) Bloggs are all wondering if town centre retail will ever be the same again. In fact, many pundits are pretty clear that it won’t be. They say that people won’t just go into their local town centres to do their shopping.

Community has become a buzz word in these predictions, with experts like Mary Portas foreseeing that town centres and previously retail-blinkered High Streets are going to have to boost their social appeal to lure people back. 

These predictions, perhaps not coincidentally, have been made as we’ve seen a growth in the number of cycle cafés. As a way of blending retail and community they’re perfect, tapping into the cycle world’s love for coffee and cakes – although that is a fairly universal love, thinking about it.

Building up a community around a bike shop is hardly anything new. But shop rides, the offer of a coffee to regulars or maybe even installing a full-time barista and café may become increasingly common in the trade as shops look to increase their social appeal to draw customers in-store. You could argue that the bike trade has been leading the way for these new retail/community combos that the experts are now saying we need more of.

Of course I’m not suggesting every bike shop needs to sell hot beverages, but for my money we’ll be seeing a lot more cycle cafés and other clever ways of drawing punters into shops – aside from special offers and sales – in the near future.

UPDATE: If you are thinking about adding a cafe to your bike shop, by a happy coincidence Cycle Show organiser Upper Street is running the Caffè Culture Show – a trade show dedicated to the café bar market – next week. Aiming to appeal to retail outlets, you can go for free if you register in advance – find out more here

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