With a new store opening due any day now, could it be a case of out with the old, in with the new for Pearson Cycles? Yes and no, says co-owner Will Pearson. Claiming to be the UK’s, if not the world’s, oldest bike shop you’d think this store might be set in its ways and comfortable. Not a chance, as Mark Sutton finds out…
What’s Pearson’s Cycles speciality?
The Pearson speciality is about managing relationships with customers. We try to divide our business into commercial and cultural activity for customers and staff alike. Our aim is to provide a culture of exemplary service so that our customers want to come back for the right reasons.
You’re one of, if not the oldest, bike retailer in the UK – what’s the secret of your longevity?
Having five generations of interested Pearson’s to succeed the next helps. Guy (older brother) and I see ourselves as the present custodians of the business and it is only as good as the generation in control. I think it boils down to maintaining the service you provide to your community. It is interesting that for the first 135 years this was all very local. Now, another 16 years down the line, we reach worldwide.
Got any old antique bike bits knocking about from the early days of the business?
We have a genuine Penny Farthing each and some beautiful old oil bike lamps. Guy recently rode his from Richmond to and from Smithfields to take part in the Nocturn race. Not an everyday sight, by Embankment a peleton had formed around him and accompanied him to the start.
The relics of our great, great grandfather’s blacksmith business are still around in the shape of an anvil and some tools used at the furnace to make and fit horseshoes. The anvil still gets dragged out for occasional stubborn workshop jobs or customers.
What portion of the business’ profit does the workshop represent?
As the business becomes much more service led, the workshop is becoming increasingly important as a highly profitable, internet-proof department. We have concentrated on keeping stock of more aspirational replacement equipment, which is instantly at hand to sell to customers seeking more durable and better quality parts.
How do you market your business?
We traditionally advertised our mail order regularly in the cycling press. With the advent of the large discount internet retailers, finding close out lines and scoop purchases soaks up cash and is often high risk.
Most of our marketing is done through pushing our internet site to promote the online and bricks and mortar business. Direct emailing is also a cost effective way to reach your customer, although in moderation.
Facebook has been a great way to enhance the community aspect of the business and helped link our growing numbers of Pearson CC. Word of mouth remains one of the best forms of marketing, there is nothing more satisfying to have a pre-sold customer walk in.
Had any luck with electric bikes, 29ers, or any other niche areas?
Electric and 29ers, although interesting, seem to be slow movers still. What often succeeds in one country doesn’t always translate in the UK.
Our Pearson Touche single speed addressed the market as a custom built, mudguard-ready commuter well before the general market saw the ‘fixee’ potential. Sales have slowed now, but this was a great example of spotting a potential gap and capitalising on it. We sold Touches from Orkney to New Zealand and it has been our fastest selling bike of all time.
We recently designed and supplied three custom scooters to Harrods who sold them at £1,000 each, too.
Do anything ‘beyond the call of duty’?
In celebration of our 150th anniversary we organised The Pearson 150 sportive in aid of the Royal Marsden Hospital. This was a sharp learning curve and we spent weeks organising and preparing for it. We raised a load of cash and awareness for the charity. By popular demand we now repeat the event annually. It’s great to encourage cycling and be able to return a benefit from people enjoying themselves.
What are the long-term aspirations for the Pearson Cycles business?
This year we would like to have the oldest and newest bike shop in the world, even if it is only for a day! We are just working on another, more boutique style premises nearer London in Sheen, aimed at performance cycling.
We are undergoing a rebrand for all parts of the business and are looking for distributors who would like to sell the Pearson bike range in the UK and worldwide. We aspire to develop our brand, grounded through it’s unique unfabricated heritage, but remaining ever forward looking. We will launch our new bike models at the NEC Cycle Show this year.