Why are bike brands opening their own stores? BikeBiz examines the phenomenon...

Giant and Specialized speak out on brand and concept stores

If you’re seeking a good example of how to successfully grow a brand you could do worse than look at Apple. Not the Beatles record label (though that not inconsiderable brand has a shop too, on the corner of Baker Street), but the multi-million selling manufacturer of iPods, iPhones, iPads and Macs. You know the one.

Ten years ago this month the brand opened its first Apple Store in Tysons Corner, Fairfax County, Viriginia, United States. London got Apple’s first European Store at the end of 2004, set in Regent Street, and according to Wikipedia (which is admittedly shaky ground) is the most profitable shop in London with the highest sales per square foot.

It’s difficult to imagine a time when Apple had a low brand profile, but the company didn’t get where it is today through product alone. Apple Stores have played a key part in the building of Steve Jobs’ brand, as have similar retail offerings for many others.

It’s a phenomenon not just confined to a single sector. The bike trade has adopted the idea and a growing number of names from the business have created their own shop identity.

Giant currently has eight stores in the UK, its most recent opening in Guildford last month. The first opened its doors just two years ago in Liverpool, while in 2010 Giant opened its first retail outlets in the US.

Specialized opened its first concept store in Santa Rosa, California in 2007. In the same year the brand opened a store in Chester and since then has seen eight concept stores spring up in the UK, with a ninth opening soon in Covent Garden (with Cycle Surgery).

Trek has also now joined the trend with a store recently opened in Milton Keynes. The 3,700 sq ft retail space is the first for Trek in the UK, following a number of stores in the US. Elsewhere, Cube Bikes has opened a store in Berlin this year, and even Chain Reaction Cycles is seeing the benefit of having (at least) one stand alone physical store.

But why have these companies suddenly all decided to take their brands to the High Streets in this way?

Specialized UK managing director Richard Hemington explains: “The general retail environment across all sectors is that there is a demand from the consumer who are brand orientated to purchase in a store that can best communicate and represent the experience of the brand in question. This is particularly more relevant for premium brands and many examples exist such as Apple, North Face, Sony and – of course – Specialized.

“This is already well established in retail outside of the bicycle industry and, like Specialized, other bicycle brands have stores globally, so it was logical to see that other bicycle brands would bring that strategy to the UK market.”

“In the UK there has been a demand from Specialized dealers to expand their business in this way, giving added value to their existing business while capitalising on the value of the Specialized brand.”

Giant UK director Ian Beasant tells BikeBiz that a brand-centric industry like bikes was destined to dip its toes into brand stores: “They help build recognition by the consumer while gaining retail understanding. It’s the same in all brand-based industries.

“Brand stores are designed to achieve three goals; to strengthen consumer awareness of the brand; work with like minded partners to develop a great retail experience in areas of opportunity; and learn more about consumer demands and requirements.”

The lesson from other industries is a key factor too, in the opinion of Specialized’s head of global marketing and PR Nic Sims: “We looked at other industries and how they were represented – like Harley Davidson and Porsche – and there is a consistent look and message worldwide, and that is what we wanted for cycling and the brand. Bike shops don’t have to be the old small mom and pop style shops, especially when the top bikes are costing 10 thousand dollars.”

Sims adds: “I think that it is making us much more of a household name globally as concept stores are being opened up on busy High Streets and it is pushing cycling out to a wider audience.”

For Giant, Specialized and Trek the stores have been opened in conjunction with a partner dealer.

The shop provides a wider range of product from the brand, according to Hemington: “Each store can offer the broadest range of Specialized products to view and purchase. Each store can offer the BG F.I.T. service, not exclusive to a Concept Store but common to all of these stores.”

However, Beasant believes that Giant brand stores are about a number of different factors. “There are many great IBDs in the UK and I think it’s inaccurate to say that we offer anything above other stores,” he tells BikeBiz.

“What the stores are aimed at providing are non-intimidating retail experiences, focused on usage and brand experience. Consumers choose their purchasing destination on many factors and for some this style of store really hits the mark.”

A successful concept?
We’ve seen the phenomenon succeed outside the bike market, but how has the experiment fared for bikes?

Hemington: “By providing exclusive retail space for the Specialized products it gives clearer visibility of the brand and to new consumers an awareness of the brand that they may not have had prior. The stores are effectively a shop window for Specialized.”

Beasant says so too: “We have seen growth in all regions surrounding a brand store location.”

It comes as no surprise to hear that both brands will continue to grow their retail presence on the High Street. But, they stress, new stores and locations are arrived at organically, with no grand overarching scheme or set targets to hit.

Hemington says: “Future stores and their locations will be determined by the partner dealers. Stores will only be in locations our dealers wish to operate in, not where we wish to operate in.”

Beasant adds: “The right partnership comes first. The locations are based on areas of the country where the brand has opportunity.”

Who next?
In the ten years since Apple opened its first store in May 2001, the firm has opened over 300 across the globe, proof of Apple’s continued belief in the concept.

In the bike industry, belief in the concept appears to be growing. Between them Giant, Specialized and Trek have opened 17 stores in four years in the UK alone. It’s brought a shift in the retail landscape, if you will, and a renewed focus on the importance of brand power.

Which bike brand will be next to join the standalone store club remains to be seen. But it’s surely a safe bet that other cycling brands will be aiming to take a presence on the High Street soon.

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