Plain and simple: Devon retailer Simply the Bike, like many others, anticipated battening down the hatches through tough times, yet with a little hard graft has delivered some of the store’s best results in recent years. Mark Sutton finds out how these have been achieved...

DEALER PROFILE: Simply the bike

Can you tell us a bit about your business model?
We aim to provide quality products and services using friendly, knowledgeable staff. We don’t discount our bikes as we prefer to stress the value of them and the service provided by us. We include a free service with all bikes and include a free helmet or accessory pack. Additionally, we offer cycle hire and repairs.

We believe in building a good working relationship with our suppliers by ensuring we settle our invoices on time.

How have you prepared your business for the general decline in the economy?
We’ve ensured that we are really clear on the customer type we want to appeal to and that we stock the bikes and accessories appropriate for them. This helped us identify what stock we don’t want to hold in the shop, allowing us to reduce inventory cost.

Once we were clear on our customer base, we proactively went out and met them. We carried out numerous ‘road shows’ with local businesses, where we took along a selection of bikes for them to review. This worked very well with businesses that are participating in Cyclescheme.

What forms of marketing do you use to attract customers?
We prefer to ‘self promote’ the shop. We’ve attended road show events with the local council, local schools and businesses and also met with the Forestry Commission.

How’s business at present? And to what do you attribute any rises/falls in footfall?
Despite the gloom of the recession, business has turned out to be much better than we anticipated. This is due, in part, to people either buying new bikes or getting older bikes repaired as they see cycling as a more economical way to travel. Customer numbers have been reasonably consistent, with May being our best this year.

Are you involved with furthering cycling in the local community?

In addition to promoting cycle safety to local schools, we are currently in discussions with a local scout group to provide them with cycle related workshops one evening a week.

The training given to local schools involves a checkover we’ve dubbed the M-check. We take along numerous bikes with deliberate faults on them. The M-check is demonstrated and the pupils are asked why each point is important. We split them into teams, give them a picture of their allocated bike, ask them to pick a team name and appoint a captain. They are then given ten minutes to M-check their bike. At the end of the session, each captain is asked to show the rest of the class what faults their team have identified on the bike.

Recently, we’ve assisted local riders with bicycles and equipment, as part of a sponsored cycle across America to raise funds for a local hospice.

How many staff do you employ and how are they trained?
Currently, there are two of us in the shop, myself and Donna. I am Cytech 2 certified, which Donna will achieve in the near future. We believe anyone working in our shop should hold some level of Cytech accreditation, as it shows understanding of cycle mechanics and workshop practices.

To what extent does the web affect your approach to trading?
We don’t compete with web discounters –it’s the wrong way to take our business and can only drive margins downwards.

However, we do have a website where people can view our products before they come in. We only put accessories on the web if they’re in stock, so customers can order items knowing they’re available, and we don’t have to order something and pay the postage costs.

We used to price match, now we don’t. We tell the customer immediately that we can’t match the price, explaining the value of buying from us. We try to avoid stocking products that are heavily discounted on the web.

Quick-fire questions…

Would you rather have a bicycle shaped object for repair or a customer asking for a discount in your shop?
We’d take the BSO without question. In addition to the money we receive for the repair, it gives us a chance to help the customer understand why BSOs aren’t such good value for money as they first seem. It brings a new customer into the shop and hopefully when they see the level of service offered, they will buy their next bike from us.

Lycra or baggies?
Baggies! For the simple reason that they are much more forgiving than lycra.

Most worthwhile trade show of the year?
We’d have to say the Core Bike show, due to it being held in a smaller venue and open to trade only. This means it’s a bit more informal than the Cycle Show at
Earls Court, giving us a more relaxed atmosphere to talk biz.

Favourite customer phrase?
What sort of deals can you do for cash?

Telephone: 01803 200024
Opening times: Mon –Sat: 09:30 to 17:30

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