Our journey along the A1 reveals some strong and surprising performances from some outsiders in the business...

Mystery Shopper face to face with Bedford and Biggleswade’s retailers

On our travels Mystery Shopper has come across a lot, parking tickets, sat navs leading us across army training camps and much more. It gets better, though. Read on to find out which bike shop stunned us with the advice ‘buy from a bloke in a van’ this month…

On the back of a sterling experience in Cheltenham last month, I’d hoped the winds of change were blowing through stores nationwide and that Biggleswade’s branch would similarly impress.
This experience was, to put it blunty, quite amusing from my position of anonymity – one in which this Mystery Shopper had to strain to resist a guffaw at the advice being dealt. Granted the assistant was proactive in approaching me, but I almost wish he’d have stayed away given the coming experience.
“Why would anyone want to take a £1,000 bike through the dirt,” said he, while err.. selling me a Boardman. “You’ll wreck it,” he continued.
So what about the Carreras, I ask. “You’ll buy two of those for the one Boardman. They’re not up to much when compared to a Boardman’s build quality.”
I thought he’d just said I’d wreck it with a little mud?
“Your best bet is to go up to Chicksands and mingle, see what they ride and I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but I believe there’s a bloke who sells bikes from his van up there too, he’ll see you right,” concludes the salesman.

Go Outdoors
Largely a curiosity visit, BikeBiz has noticed the rise of non-specialist chains gradually entering the bike market.
Go Outdoors is no exception, aside from the gradual creep being more of a full-on assault on the family cycling sector. Knowing I’d not find my performance mountain bike here, I switched the brief to ‘canal workhorse’ and proceeded to seek assistance.
It was refreshing to see a healthy workforce in a store as large as this and I was stopped on three separate occasions by staff looking to help. One even offered to fetch me a trolley so I could ‘take a bike home today’.
During my time with one assistant I was told of the store’s ability to fully PDI check a bike and glancing over at the Park Tool clad workshop, it was a believable claim, especially given the staffer’s reasonable depth of knowledge. While no expert on technical elements, I can see families being suitably impressed by the Diamondbacks and Claud Butlers on offer.
As a specialist in outdoor gear and with a growing presence nationwide, this could be another threat to the independent cycling business specialising in family bikes.

Cycle King
Arriving during a delivery, staff were flying in and out the front door shifting boxes. Luckily for customers, the boss had a sharp eye on potential punters and instructed a staffer to take a moment to serve those on the shop floor.
Though limited as to what could be offered for my “up to a grand” budget, the assistant was able to contrast and compare the Ferrari ‘Colnago’ line and a new European import label seemingly an exclusive of Cycle King.
Comparing and contrasting the two, my helper was strong on his spiel about build quality, understanding that Colnago’s Italian-made frames were renowned in design and finish, as well as pointing out carbon seatstays on the hardtail and explaining how this benefited the ride in jargon free language.
Perhaps the only let down was to leave feeling like I’d done the sale part, speculating about when I would return to buy, without any suggestion of deposit. Otherwise, I can’t fault the knowledge and advice given here on the day.

Pedals Cycles
A specialist of family cycling with a penchant for collecting retro and antique bicycles, Pedals is as interesting as a museum as it is a bike shop.
It’s on the scruffier side, with a workshop invading the shop floor slightly, but as such there’s presumably always somebody at the door ready to serve, as was the case on my visit.
Two staff were on hand, with one of the pair explaining that with my brief he could order in a bike of my choice inside seven days, if I knew what I wanted. I quoted a few brands off the top of my head with a mountain bike inside my price bracket, though the first of these was ‘unobtainable’.
As the conversation progressed, the assistant suggested that stock of a number of mountain bikes was soon to be available and I’d best pop back in a week’s time for a look. I’d hazard a guess that most would not return, however, the assistant was strong in his emphasis that his workshop would see a thorough safety check on every build, something he said would perhaps be lacking elsewhere.

Transition Cycles
Stockists and advocates of Cube and Specialized, among other brands, Transition is one of those stores where you immediately know that you’re in the presence of riders.
Quickly seeing to customers, which for a slightly out of town store wasn’t lacking, Mystery Shopper was quickly greeted.
From the start the sales pitch was very much about brands, with emphasis placed on the reputations of both the aforementioned labels, as well as on Transition’s own customer service reputation. Incentives for buying here were provided in the form of concise and value for money service plans, as well as the promise to make sure the bike was fitted correctly for my dimensions.
A Cube slightly above my budget was removed from a difficult to reach rack in order for it to be properly demonstrated and the assistant’s enthusiasm and personal Cube ownership shone through in his depth of knowledge as a result. Near faultless sales pitch, though could have asked for deposit to cement my custom.

Testing the worth of a non-specialist chain aside from Halfords proved to be worthwhile on this occasion.
Though cycles presumably makes up no more than a tenth of the business, Go Outdoors proved to be strong on the customer service front, with staff incredibly pro-active when meeting custom, despite being by far the largest premises we’ve visited on our travels. Whether or not every store is as strong remains to be seen.
There’s no taking the shine off the star store, however, whose main merits on this occasion was an enthusiasm and knowledge born from actually riding and a knack of charming a customer to a brand, or store. Transition was near faultless.

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