Back when the sun was out, our man of mystery visited retailers in the Wiltshire city in search of a recreational road bike for about £500

Mystery Shopper quizzes the bike shops of Salisbury

Occupying the classic retail-park-slightly-out-of-town location, the Salisbury branch of Halfords has a prominent bike rack right outside the entrance as well as bike displays throughout the front of the store.

After a few circles of the bike department I approached the staffers behind the counter. One had already clocked the fact I was circling the prominent Boardman display and focused his sales pitch accordingly. He emphasised the great value in the brand – ‘good components, a really solid frame, great for the money’. Interestingly he pointed out the bike was cheaper than the equivalent in a brand like Specialized, with more bang for your buck, a strong competitive move backed with POS saying the same. I mentioned finance and the staffer explained the C2W scheme, telling me to check my employer offers it and telling me how much I could save off the RRP – signage also made this point. He did warn that you might not own the bike at the end of the period (“it’s rare, but it does happen”) and to his credit told this matter of factly without scaring me off. Overall, a very good solid sales pitch.

Hayball Cyclesport
Much closer to the centre of Salisbury is Hayball, located in a quaint shopping district with small roads and old fascias that manage to absorb a branch of McDonalds in an aesthetically pleasing way. After a few minutes of browsing the lone salesman asked if I needed any help. After providing my ‘road bike for £500 pitch’ he wryly informed me his bikes started slightly over that budget, but went on to explain why. Focusing early on a Cannondale Synapse, the staffer sang the praises of the brand, pointing out its pro race record. Comparing bikes is a great way to pin down a customer choice and this chap used the technique to great effect. He also went into depth on the importance of getting the fit right, with an in-store jig employed for the purpose. In the pitch we discussed componentry and we even broached the topic of where the bikes were built as well as more retail-based matters like finance. He also explained the benefits of scaling up to a more expensive bike. This friendly sales assistant was chatty, emphasised the need to get fitted and gave this potential customer plenty of compelling reasons to come back in. A brilliant effort.

Stonehenge Cycles
The cycle customers of Salisbury are clearly very lucky, as Stonehenge Cycles proved to be another top performing independent bike shop for the city. With a shop on either side of the road, I entered the road and tri branch, walking into the middle of a sales pitch. I was soon offered help, however, and directed to a display of Giant bikes. The salesman provided a bike on the money, but explained how an extra £50 or £70 would get me better forks, gearing, etc. When I mentioned finance he was keen to give me examples of how little I’d pay monthly – and how little difference a more expensive bike would make to those monthly payments. Having said that, he also sang the praises of the £499 bike leaving all options seeming attractive. He too pointed out the benefits of coming into the shop to get properly measured for the bike – saying they’d get me on a roller/trainer to see how I rode. He also explained why the triple butted, hydro-formed frames are better than your average, cutting through the jargon. I walked out with a written out list of bike and finance options and, again, plenty of reasons to go back and make an order.

Hills Cycles & Fishing Tackle
Situated a short drive from Salisbury and towards the Stonehenge tourist hotspot, Amesbury’s Hills Cycles (& Fishing Tackle) is located off the end of the High Street and was another popular shop on the day of Mystery Shopper’s visit. Again, my £500 road bike brief was hit more or less on the nose with the staffer happy to chat through the options. Sadly I was met with a flat ‘no’ when I asked about finance, although it does appear the shop offers Cycle To Work business, which would have been a potential alternative. Overall though, the staffer provided sound advice and left me with a catalogue for the brand that he’d focused his sales pitch on (Merida). Speaking of which, the salesman did a good job of selling the brand to me, had a natural sales patter and was quick to offer help when I walked inside the shop – probably the fastest on the day, in fact. Maybe not hitting the heights of the two other exceptional IBDs on the day, but nevertheless a good solid performance.

Cycleworld has a number of stores set in the south of England, including the Portsmouth store that scored well in Mystery Shopper earlier this year.

With that in mind, it was sad to see that the Salisbury branch of Cycleworld had been closed down, with the shutters pulled and ‘To Let’ signs looking for interested parties.

With no prior knowledge it’s interesting to muse on what led to the closure of the outlet. While not in the centre of Salisbury the site isn’t too far outside it and enjoys a location that is virtually opposite a typically busy branch of Tesco. So surely Cycleworld would have picked up plenty of passing trade then?

In fact location may have been what did for the store. The Halfords branch visited by Mystery Shopper is located just a few feet away. Not to say it couldn’t have competed, but it would have made life significantly harder.

[Editor’s note: Since we ran this article in the May magazine Cycleworld has contact BikeBiz. The firm said it came up against local planning authorities, which turned down their retail planning permission, thereby and forced them to close. There’s more on that in the next issue.]

While sad to see a closed down shop in the city, Mystery Shopper was blown away by two of the city’s independent retailers in particular. And the other two shops visited weren’t bad either. All in all a strong showing and in a Mystery Shopper first, we’re handing out the Star Store accolade to those aforementioned shops – Hayball Cyclesport and Stonehenge Cycles.

It’s encouraging to see two IBDs really spelling out how important a bike fit is to rider enjoyment – leaving the average punter more tempted to go back in store to part with their cash rather than online, I’d wager. Not a bad way to secure business.

Note: On the day of the visit independent store Nash Cycles was closed.

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