BikeBiz quizzes the East Anglia-set bike retailer on cycle to work, job satisfaction and bike fraud...

DEALER PROFILE: Mandarin Cycles

The savvy staff at East Anglia-set Mandarin Cycles thwarted an attempt to con them when a dodgy customer said he’s send a courier to collect his bikes ‘bought’ over the phone at the end of last year. We spoke to general manager Nick Ball…

Where are you based?
We have two shops based on the outskirts of Norwich and a large superstore close to Lowestoft town centre.

What’s your background in the cycle trade?
We started as a standalone IBD after the director spent time working for some of the UK distributors and other cycle-related firms.

Fraudsters targeted your shop in November – are scams like this getting more common?
I think the cycle industry is possibly seen as a new easy target as high-end bikes are becoming more readily available. We have certainly never been targeted before this and having looked online we are certainly not the only ones to have fraudsters aim at us.

You seem to stock a wide selection of bikes in the shops. Do you try to offer something for everyone?
I like to think we are a family-orientated cycle shop which offers everything from the kid’s first bike to the serious cyclist needs. However you can’t please everyone – but we try our best.

How strong is cycle to work business now?
Cycle to work comes in spikes. Right now it’s booming and we are taking plenty of vouchers each week. During some of the quieter periods we only take two or three vouchers a week.

The poor start to last summer seems to have affected most cycle businesses. Did recent sales make up for the wet summer?
It seems that our sales of low-end cycles are still fairly poor, however an increase in the £400-plus sales has more than made up for this and the quiet summer. I think it’s been a difficult 12 months for most cycle retailers but we have pulled through.

Can you describe your typical customer?
This really is difficult. We offer such a range that in a day we can serve one customer who wants a bike for the odd ride at a weekend to someone looking to do long distance touring. I would say 60 per cent of our customers are commuters and the rest are an eclectic mix.

What are your plans for the shops?
In all honesty we have outgrown our main Norwich store and will be looking to either expand or relocate it in the near future. Hopefully some additional shops may follow in 2013 as well.

What are the best and worst parts of the job?
The best part, as cheesy as it sounds, is seeing satisfied customers leaving the store to start a new adventure with a bike. I love getting more people on two wheels. I guess the worst part is when you get those customers you just can’t help as they want what only the Halfords and Toy R Us type stores can supply. As much as you try and educate them there is just no getting through.

Is it tough to get along to all the shows?
It certainly has been this past year. One of our main mechanics dislocated his ankle and had to have six weeks out. It put us back a lot and had us running on minimal staffing.

What do you think 2013 has in store?
I think that all depends on how kind Mother Nature is to us. If we have a real summer this year I can see big things for 2013. The Olympic effect will still be burning and I think after Wiggins’ triumphs there will be a lot more interest in serious cycling.

Any final words about Mandarin Cycles?
I like to think we provide a high level of customer service and work standards. I believe this has helped us win through in some of the more difficult times. All of our mechanics are Cytech trained and I highly recommend having qualified mechanics on board.

Shop info:
Opening Times: Mon to Fri 9-6,
Sat 9-5 and Sunday 10-4
Established: 1997
Location: Two shops on Norwich outskirts and one superstore in Lowestoft

This article was first published in the January edition of BikeBiz, which you can read in full here.

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