Rugby tackled: Okay, so Rugby and Coventry’s retailers weren’t so much tackled, more like gently prodded by a Mystery Shopper eager to discover which bikes are easily smuggled aboard public transport. Was your store one of those guilty of playing hide and seek with our man of mystery...

MYSTERY SHOPPER: Rugby and Coventry

Coventry Cycle Centre
With a heron logo proudly displayed above the shop entrance, Mystery Shopper wrongly anticipated that Coventry Cycle Centre would be one of many stores dedicated to the Raleigh brand. However, once in store there was a refreshing and diverse choice of brands covering most price points and sectors.

Met by an assistant straight away, I proceeded to explain that my commute is to entail both train and bus journeys, to which the assistant stated nothing but a folding bike would suit my needs without causing me grief on transport. Going into further detail, the staff member proceeded to explain the various wheel sizes of folding bikes and their ability to fit into a small space, as well as covering which would get me from A to B fastest. Both tyres and gears were briefly discussed.

The assistant wrapped up his sales pitch well, explaining that the store was able to order in various bags tailored to the folding market. Disguising the bike in a bag was sold as a ‘sure fire way aboard transport.’ A job well done from the first visit of the day.

Differing slightly from most double-deck Halfords stores, this branch boasted a ground floor layout with signage detailing where to find the bicycles. If only the staff had proved as easy to track down as the bikes.

Despite walking within a metre or so of staff members arbitrarily playing with shelf fittings, it was ten minutes before I’d grabbed an assistant’s attention. This fleeting interest in me was short-lived though, with only a brief mention of one Apollo bike, without explanation of why I should be interested in this particular model. When prompted, a folding bike was pointed at, though not talked through in any detail. Nor were any add-on components or accessories mentioned.

The one piece of information gathered was that this would be “my cheapest option and should do the job for short distance rides.”

Mystery Shopper could see plenty more staff who appeared to be available to handle my query, though it was my feeling that a typical customer wouldn’t give a second chance here. So out I went.

Hawk Factory Cycles
According to signage, Hawk Factory Cycles appeared to deal with both trade and consumer customers, offering bulk buys, something Mystery Shopper hasn’t seen previously on travels. The store was literally in Halfords’ back garden, though sold mostly bikes up to the £500 mark, roughly what the big H specialises in.

Two staff were barricaded behind a counter on entry, but both were initially busy, so Mystery Shopper allowed five minutes before spotting one heading for the shop floor. The staff member headed in the direction of where I was browsing, at which point I gestured toward the folding bikes. He said “hello” and walked right on past.

As first impressions go, this was confusing to say the least, nonetheless, I continued to browse. After a further five minutes the staff member returned and again passed by without offering assistance.

The folding bike selection was limited to super low-end stock, so without any further reason to hang around Mystery Shopper left – thoroughly dissatisfied.

Thornton’s Cycles
Thornton’s was located out of town and despite being the last visit of the day and nearing the closing hours on a Friday afternoon, appeared busy.

Plenty of staff were on hand greeting at the entrance and thus it wasn’t long before I was approached. The assistant began his sales pitch well, leading me straight to the folding bikes, stating that public transport accepts these at all times. Once I had quoted an estimated mileage, I was prompted to look at a BMX sat next to the line of folders. Informing me that these would also work for commuting, the assistant began to become a little shaky on his logic and quickly reverted back to the more sensible folding options, demonstrating the fold on one model in my price range.

Leading me over to the counter, I was told to look at the Fisher Outdoor website for Dahon stock. The temptation to correct his supplier error was great, though would no doubt have blown my cover. Luckily, it wasn’t long before the staffer corrected himself.

Bikes Etc
Only being allowed out of his cage once a month, Mystery Shopper was struck with envy on approach to Bikes Etc. Perched on a stool repairing a bike out in the sun, this retailer was literally among the passing trade and happily chatting to any potential custom.

Due to his sun-soaked position Mystery Shopper was met straight away. The staff member explained that his store deals largely in repair and rejuvenation, though could order in many of the leading brands suited to my demands. In fact, it was, perhaps boldly, claimed that any of the bikes within these key ranges could be in store inside 24 hours of ordering.

Having held my attention with discussions about bike bags and transport issues, I left feeling that the majority of my queries were answered honestly and accurately.

Mystery Shopper was pleased to note that Bikes Etc’s workshop appeared busy, showing that the having a business model largely revolving around repairs and rejuvenation does appear to be lucrative, as reported previously in BikeBiz.


The criticisms of Halfords and one independent this month are fairly blunt, but then again, if a customer knows what he or she wants, so too will they be if your store fails to service their needs professionally. And by blunt I don’t mean they’ll hang around to yell at you like BikeBiz ‘constructively’ does, they’ll simply walk out and take their cash elsewhere without a second thought. On both occasions I could well have been ready to buy, if only someone was actually on hand to sell the bike to me.

Basic customer service is something many stores nationwide need to invest some time into. Much like those who take space at trade shows only to spend the time chatting among themselves, there’s little point in your presence unless an effort is made to show your customers some TLC.

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