Mystery Shopper’s visit to the home of British Sugar, Bury St.Edmunds, was largely very positive, with a sweet sales pitch from Halfords, a guided tour from Revel Outdoors and a very personal service from Hardcore Hobbies. Sadly, the visit was ever so slightly soured...


Hardcore Hobbies
As a specialist for BMX and skate goods, Hardcore Hobbies wouldn’t have been able to supply the freeride bike sought elsewhere on the day, so Mystery Shopper took this opportunity to replace a few spokes on the 20-inch steed.

The resident BMX expert soon spotted me in store and quickly set about finding the correct length of spoke, of which two sizes were required on both the front and rear wheels. Without any hesitation the correct sizes were quoted and supplied, showing the shop’s clear expertise in its field.

Perhaps more impressive, though, was the interest shown in myself as a customer. Kicking off a conversation about what kind of riding I took part in, the assistant told me about a few local skate parks and spots worth checking out, as well as discussing the store’s shop team.

Hardcore Hobbies staff gave the impression that they were highly passionate about their niche and the local riding scene, all the while displaying the technical knowledge needed to run a successful business.

Mick’s Cycle Centre
The first impression of Mick’s Cycle Centre is of a well kept, tidy store that’s highly presentable. However, on this occasion Mystery Shopper arrived with what appeared to be unfortunate timing and was greeted by the store assistant having a semi-heated argument with a customer on the phone. Sadly, this set the tone for the visit and having wandered an empty store for ten minutes seemingly having been ignored by the two staff on hand, Mystery Shopper went to leave. Thankfully though, I was stopped on the way out.

The experience wasn’t redeemed quickly, with Mystery Shopper’s brief of a well-built freeride bike appearing to baffle the assistant to begin with. Once it had been established the bike would be used for heavier off-road use, the Specialized Rockhopper series was recommended, though little detail was provided as to why I should go for these bikes.

Mystery Shopper took away a few website addresses and a bit of information on what various price points would buy me in terms of longevity. Otherwise the assistant’s tone was largely dismissive.

Cycle King
Despite being the largest Cycle King store BikeBiz has sent the man of mystery to, this store was no less a sea of wheels than any other Cycle King branch. Having browsed stock for a few minutes, missing a key model in the process, Mystery Shopper approached the counter, listening in on a conversation about a recent fight on the way to the counter, which could be intimidating to some shoppers.

Once greeted, I was pleasantly surprised to find the assistant to be polite and honest in his advice, though he did undersell the store by confessing that local Revel Outdoors would satisfy my brief better. Leading me to one model in the window matching my brief perfectly, the staff member explained that this build would be a good base to build on and perfect for someone looking to get back into off-road riding.

Providing one of the best Cycle King experiences of Mystery Shopper’s travels, the assistant rounded off his sales pitch with precise explanations of current components, detailing what would likely need replacing, should my riding progress to include heavier usage.

Revel Outdoors

Spotted from quite a distance down the street, Revel Outdoors has a stunning, open glass front, displaying a selection of sleek bikes highlighting the store’s speciality.
Once inside the large store, an assistant greeted Mystery Shopper on entry, largely thanks to a well placed counter in line with the entrance.

Providing a guided tour of the bikes in store satisfying my brief, the assistant neglected to ask my budget, which I found gave some scope of what various price points in the top end will buy you. When a price closer to £1,000 was quoted, the staffer was happy to discuss various brands with the aid of several catalogues, stressing that any of the bikes could be ordered.

Key to his pitch was the comparison between price points and an emphasis placed on investment and quality, as well as specific details such as warranty coverage and reliability. Mystery Shopper left with a business card with key models scribbled on the rear, as well as a good lasting impression thanks to the assistant’s willingness to offer “further help and support once I’d given a purchase further thought”.

Halfords has pledged to put ‘people in the know’ and Mystery Shopper is happy to confirm that appears to be happening in the retailer’s Bury St. Edmund’s store.

Displaying customer service rarely seen in chain stores, or even some independents, the clearly busy mechanic stepped away from the job in hand to help. He explained that as a smaller Halfords branch no Boardman bikes – best suited to my brief – were in stock, though could be ordered in by what turned out to be a heavily plugged Reserve and Collect system.

Seemingly knowledgeable beyond his years, it was clear the staffer was an enthusiast and discussed very fine spec details, even showing an example of a splined bottom bracket, having been told Mystery Shopper has a habit of rounding tapered systems. Upgrades were discussed as I explained I’d likely modify the bike over time, though he stressed that early investment would pay off in the long term. As Halfords visits go, this was by far the best of Mystery Shopper’s time on the road.

Dare I say it… Halfords was the most impressive of the visits and capable of satisfying my brief. The assistant had his sales routine absolutely spot on, making him perfect for the shop floor. It was also encouraging to see such a depth of technical knowledge and understanding of product.

Hardcore Hobbies, though unable to supply a freeride bike for obvious reasons, offered a new level of personal service, sparking up conversation about must-visit local riding spots while attending to my query. Sadly, I feel Mick’s Cycles had been caught on a bad day thanks to an irate customer on the phone. Nonetheless, Mystery Shopper was made to feel unwelcome by the dismissive tone of the female assistant who laughed at one customer explaining their brief. Following that, there would have been little chance of a sale or return visit.

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