The current retail environment and the struggling high street has been well reported for a long time – with many figures pointing to a bleak picture for bricks and mortar stores in the UK. 2019 was described as the “worst year on record for retail” by the BRC, with total sales decreasing by 0.1%, alongside the ongoing talk of Brexit and political uncertainty that concluded in a December General Election.
But that all seems like a distant memory now, with retail now facing the far greater challenge of COVID-19. A nationwide lockdown was announced on 23rd March when prime minister Boris Johnson told all “non-essential” shops they must shut due to the spread of the virus, but bike shops were among those excluded, meaning it remained up to cycle shop owners to decide whether to remain open for business, fully or partially.
Some stores, including Cycle Surgery, have temporarily closed, while others have put various models in place to ensure the safety of their staff and customers. BikeBiz reached to bike shops to find out how they have responded to the ongoing crisis.
Today, we hear from Dave Mellor Cycles.
Dave Mellor Cycles has been trading in Shrewsbury for 36 years and so it was an easy decision to remain open, albeit behind closed doors, to support the community that has supported us all this time.
We have been conscious of social distancing and the closed door has enforced that with minimum customers coming into the store. Our mechanics’ situation was a little different, we realised that three full-timers and one part-time could not work in close proximity. We furloughed two but one day in and one got a cough and had to self isolate – and so Steve remains and has been a star, prioritising essential workers and then questioning why any other work was being deemed essential, be it for work travel, physical health and more importantly mental health. We have streamlined our days off to work five days Monday to Friday, and all off over the weekends, and only opening 9-5 taking lunch on the hoof.
We obviously have had the massive spike in home trainer sales and thankfully our turbo trainer mountain, leftover from the emergence and popularity of the smart trainer, is now a very small pimple on the shop landscape. And no, sorry, we don’t have any smart trainers left but we do have a long waiting list for when new stocks arrive.
A positive has been Madison offering free care packages to our essential workers and whilst because of our mechanic situation we haven’t felt able to advertise for worry of over-promising and not delivering service work, the workers who have received them have been truly touched. We have loaned out a Gazelle delivery bike to a local volunteer who is delivering essential supplies of bread milk and eggs to vulnerable and self-isolating people provided by a local bakery.
To minimise non-essential travel we have been delivering locally as much as possible. Customers have been asked to choose online and either select click and collect or home delivery and we’ve been amazed at the upsurge in inner tube and sub £600 bikes. A sure sign that bikes are coming out of sheds and new bikes being used for that daily exercise.
The furlough guidelines have been fluid and furloughing staff has been taken using 1) consideration of staff own health issues, diabetes and asthma; 2) where they are living with a vulnerable older person; 3) where they felt uncomfortable about coming in. The recent clarification on furloughing says that as long as the employer and employee agree, the staff member can be furloughed and the Government will pick up 80% of the tab and we are paying the 20%.
Option three is causing, or could cause, friction. We have staff coming in who are providing amazing support to the business and local community but my worry is that as this terrible situation continues, resentment will build up seeing pictures on social media of these furloughed workers posting amazing scenery pictures out riding on full pay whilst socially responsible workers are carrying the business. Morally should these young workers be effectively refusing to work when the shop is big enough and we have work enough for them to work safely and not be a drain on the nation’s finances?