Cambridge retailer talks about the perks of a cycle-inspired infrastructure, the impact of the Moulton and more

Interview: Ben Hayward & Son recaps on a century in the bike business

Ben Haywards is one of just a few cycle stores now in the century club. Combine that with the fact that the store, to this day, stands in strong stead despite massive local competition and you’ve got to conclude they’re doing something right. Mark Sutton finds out more from current owner Rob Turner…

What’s the secret to your longevity?
Good customer service, which can only be achieved with the right product mix and experienced loyal staff.

Looking back, what’s presented the greatest challenge to the business?
Pressure from the internet. We are very much a local shop, trying to offer relevant cycling equipment at a fair price for our market. The diversity of equipment now available online, reviewed by the world and his wife, seems to look more attractive than our offer, and of course there is always a bargain out there somewhere.

Any stories from the vaults worth sharing?
The impact of the Moulton bicycle on Cambridge in the 60’s. The style, engineering and break from traditional design really appealed to the Cambridge market, resulting in a boom in interest and sales. The great and the good all seemed to ride a Moulton. The enduring image I have is of a chap in tweeds, his bike piled high with boxes riding back and forth, puffing at his pipe. He was moving house on his Moulton Deluxe, took all day, but mission accomplished by twilight.

To the present day, what does an independent have to do to turn profit and retain custom?
Concentrate on fairly unique services we can offer – bike fitting, shoebeds, cleat fitting, cycle servicing, mobile mechanics, education, but at the same time stay fresh on the retail side.

You’ve an offsite and out of town workshop – is this a growing part of your trade?
Cambridge has expensive parking and much congestion, this was starting to impact on footfall and limit growth. We are fortunate to have a large cycle commuter clientele, so it’s important to keep a city centre presence, even though high rents make larger premises impossible.

An out of town shop became imperative. With free parking, larger display, workshop and storage areas, easy access to test riding routes and more time, we could offer something different to our main shop. In these times of austerity, we have seen more growth in our rural location.

Do anything special to celebrate the big 100?
A Rollapaluza party, a really great celebration, based at an open day with lots of competitions, offers, archives and a barbeque. The Fold a Brompton competition was very popular, while a display of a Golden Sunbeam sold to the Mayor of Cambridge in 1912 and an Moulton Safari bike from the ‘60s proved a point of interest.

Describe the typical Cambridge customer:
We’ve a large utility cycling population in Cambridge and the daily commuter makes up the majority of our customers. Students are obviously a large part of our city centre business. Getting around the Uni is near impossible without a bike. There’s also a growing leisure and exercise trade.

To what extent has improved cycling infrastructure in Cambridge helped business?
Continued growth of the cycle network certainly gives confidence to new cycle users. Interestingly, a new guided bus route in from the north of Cambridge has had greatest success in also offering a safe bike route in from outlying villages.

You’ve some strong competition locally – how have you retained and built custom as rivals have popped up?
Our phone book lists over 30 bike shops with Cambridge numbers, so our business does have to stand up to strong local independent competition, as well as from the multiples.

Trying to keep an individual character and the trust of our customers is vital. A strong web presence is also crucial – many customers shop online, or research on the web pre-purchase.

We remain adamant that bikes should not be sold in a box. Any rider needs the support of a local expert to give advice, assemble, customise and service their machine. A particular bugbear is bikes from insurance companies; rarely do customers seem to get an appropriate bike, one that is properly serviced, or any type of a good deal – shame on them.

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