Sure, the footfall is there, but the majority are shopping for clothes, make up, groceries. The enthusiast will travel, argues Mark Sutton.

Comment: What’s so great about the High Street?

This month’s dealer profile is one I’ve been meaning to do for a while. Housed inside a facility I regularly travel to on a rainy weekend, ‘Absolute’ – in the XC centre in Hemel Hempstead – has seen my custom several times and not because I’d travelled with a purchase in mind. Why then?

The simple answer, as wreckless as it sounds, is simply because it’s there, in that location and it’s right by the front door, so it’d be rude not to have a quick browse. This catches me out on every single visit and on several occasions I’ve come away with anything from coats to non-essential parts for my bike. If you consider that I’m just one of the 600-odd people passing through ‘The XC’ on a weekend you can see how all of a sudden a prime location begins to pay for itself.

This leads me to question whether the High Street really is the best place for an enthusiast dedicated bike shop, or any outdoor sports shop, for that matter. Unless you’re protesting, chances are you’re not going to be camping on the High Street, so why buy a tent there? Somewhere there’s a store on a campsite not stressing about where the next sale is coming from.

There’s a reason why stores like Rutland Cycles, for example, so quickly earn a strong reputation in the trade. Is it because of customer service? Could be. But I’d hazard a guess that it’s more likely down to the fact that everyone who rides a bike or rows a boat has been there. Can the same be said for many town centre stores?

Footfall associated with town centres is of course important, as is converting newbies to cycling. But if you’re selling mid-to-top-end mountain bikes, only a minute fraction of new customers passing your door that didn’t know about you previously will enter the shop, let alone purchase.

Now I’m not suggesting road stores pitch themselves at the scenic peak of a country lane, but location is without doubt important for complete bike sales. Much the same as you’d stop at a pub or cafe in a prime location, it’s well worth taking a look at the local geography, routes that are popular among cyclists and analysing if there’s a ‘hotspot’ that most will pass on a ride.

The other perk of non-High Street locations is the overheads. Let me guess, your landlord has been less than kind in his demands this year? It’s certainly a key reason why BikeBiz’s local was recently forced to consolidate its business. Not a month or two later and we’ve a fresh store in town, pitched up 50 foot from a skate park and a new supermarket.

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