'I can't afford it' is Real Cycles’ owner Steve Baskerville’s favourite customer comment. Here he talks about securing those sales, the shop’s pet dog, attracting fresh faces and why the repair business has gone crazy...

IBD PROFILE: Real Cycles

Has a general decline in affluence affected your store?
As a shop that specialises in top-end MTBs, we knew we were going to be hit hard. The first thing we did at the beginning of 2008 was branch out with a second shop that concentrated on repairs and servicing to all types and all levels of bikes (Real Cycles pretty much only works on the bikes it sells).

This new business is called Bike Spanner and is going from strength to strength. We also shelved plans to re-locate Real Cycles to bigger premises; we’re now considering this again for later this year or early next. Then at the end of 2008 we reduced the staffing levels by one through natural wastage.

Other than that, it’s been the obvious: Buy carefully, spend carefully and work very closely with our suppliers who have been great at helping us with cashflow when required.

Stock wise we’ve stayed more or less the same, we’ve not tried to expand into sectors we don’t understand (road) or are not known for (leisure). We’ve always been service, not price, focused so we didn’t go down the discounting route either. I hear of many doing exceptionally well on sales at the moment, and granted some are. But a lot are getting sales at the expense of margin, which is a dangerous game to play. I wonder how many won’t have the credit or cash to buy in the new 2010 ranges in September?

How do you attract new customers to the store?
Our efforts are 99.9 per cent viral. We discovered the power of the community-based website nearly ten years ago, when most didn’t even have a website. We now own a whole host of such sites, each targeted to a certain portion of our customer base. Some of these sites have become an integral part of the scene they cater to; some are just busy, some not so. We used these sites to advertise on, for free, direct to our target audience. We couldn’t afford to pay for advertising with returns like this.

We also run a regular ad in one MTB mag. It features Kelli, a rather well-endowed lady customer. In an effort to watch our expenditure we cut it for 2009, but bought it back after getting lots of complaints. I’ll leave you to work out what parts of Kel appear in the ads.

How’s business?
Being in what most would consider the luxury end of the market, we knew it was going to be a tough year. The banks’ refusal to lend and people’s reluctance to buy big-ticket items had an obvious impact on us, but we were prepared for it.

The first quarter was okay, the first half of the second has not been so reasonable. Now things are starting to lift again and we’re seeing plenty of high-end bikes out the door and lots of expensive components too. The summer is here, the new 2010 range from our key brands are looking very strong and for most the threat of unemployment is receding, so we’re confident we can show some real growth year-on-year in the second half.

Do you do anything above and beyond the call of duty for cycling locally?

Not as much as I used to. I still play a small role in trail advocacy here in Northern Ireland, but not much. Two shops, a wife and eight and ten year-old daughters suck up most of my spare time.

How many staff do you employ and how were they trained?

Two in-house trained staffers tackle everything from £300 hybrids to £5k pro-level DH rigs. Bikes are not rocket science, no matter much some try to convince you otherwise.

What bikes or components have been big sellers this year?
Six-inch travel trail bikes. Proper ones, not those silly sub-30lb ones that break the moment the going gets tough. Proper ones, weighing mid-30s, with proper slack angles that can be pedalled to the top and walloped down the other side without worrying if anything is going to break. The world has gone mad for Fox forks lately. Then there’s telescopic seatposts and chain devices, which are all the rage at the moment too.

Done in 60 seconds…
What’s the biggest fad/one-minute-wonder to hit cycling in recent years…

Six-inch, sub 30lb, ‘do it all’ trails bikes that are ‘as capable on the DH tracks as they are on long XC rides’. Yeah, right! Capable until they break. Did the people who designed and specced these bikes ever actually ride the damn things on a DH trail?

Lycra or baggies?
Both. Lycra in the bedroom, and also under the baggies when riding the bike.

Biggest shop annoyance award goes to:
Jack the shop dog. He’s only seven months old and has caused more damage and chaos in the shop than all of my customers put together. But he’s as cute as anything, so he gets away with it without a telling off.

Favourite customer phrase:
‘I can’t afford it.’ It means they want it, so the hard part is done. Explaining to them how they can begin to afford it is always much easier than explaining to them why they want it.

Real Cycles
Owner: Steve Baskerville
Location: Belfast
Telephone: 028 90 814 914
Opening Times: Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri and Sat: 9.30 to 5.30, Wed: 12 to 8.00, Closed Sundays

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