Gary Bird talks to BikeBiz about his latest store opening - a road only store occupying a former pub

Retailer profile: Hoops Velo, Farnham

With 25 years behind him in the cycling business Gary Bird has opened yet another cycle store, this time dedicated to the often very specific needs of the road connoisseur. BikeBiz asks Bird what Hoops Velo will be doing to help the customer put in the extra miles…

BikeBiz: You already own East St Cycles – why open a separately branded store?
Gary Bird: I already own East St Cycles in Farnham where I began my business in 2004. In 2005 the Walton Cycles group, who I’d previously worked for, folded and I ended up with the Walton On Thames branch. ‘East St Cycles 2’ was born.

In 2008 Richmond Cycles, a well established store in South West London, became available and I snapped it up. I retained the name as my philosophy is about having a multi-local business, rather than making an assumption that replicating a brand or product portfolio in differing markets works.

In 2011 I opened the first Trek concept store in the UK in Milton Keynes. This is a concession in a large Cotswold Outdoor store. We have about 4,000sq ft and share the space with Cotswold, Costa Coffee and Up & Running.

I’ve just opened Hoops Velo, a road only shop in the same town as our existing store. I wanted to increase bike buying traffic and create a more regional rather than good town store. Specialising in one sector helps create this.

I’d love to suggest that the name has some meaning, but I completely made it up and figured that it would be abbreviated to just Hoops quickly. Nice and catchy.

So Hoops Velo will be exclusively road and perhaps cyclocross bikes?
Hoops will service all road customers from £600 to £10k plus. I hate the idea of having a snobby shop and want it to be inclusive. The £600 customer often morphs into someone with several bikes, so why alienate them? I think the concept will work as it’s way more specific and rather than trying to be a mini department store, that is the traditional quality IBD.

How many staff do you employ across the businesses now?
With Hoops I’m up to a staff of 35 in total. If I ever see them all together it scares the shit out of me frankly. As it’s only then do you really recognise the amount of mouths to feed.

How’s life as a retailer/distributor?
Now we have taken on the Volagi distribution I’m planning on keeping it separate from my day-to-day retail business. I think there is a natural retailer opposition to buy from who they may consider to be a rival competitor (I’m not, unless we are in close proximity, of course). Volagi is a road disc brand with a very distinctive look, they have had excellent reviews internationally and we consider that road disc will be as popular as 650B in off road. It’s the future.

I want strong shops to sell Volagi and I have a desire for them to consider it a profitable brand to invest in. We’ve sold four in the last ten days at a quiet time of the year and all at full RRP.

What are the greatest challenges to overcome for a retailer in the present climate?
The biggest challenge for any retailer right now is adapting to changing consumer habits. I’d suggest stocking brands that aren’t slaughtered online (they do exist). Not trying to sell everything under the sun too. Why have three computer brands or four tyre brands? Have a lean business, get better margins off a smaller select group of distributors who are not indiscriminate about who they themselves sell to. Then if necessary offer a brand match. This reassures your customer who may hold the view that everything you stock will be available online cheaper. Frequently it’s not.

Beyond coffee, how else are you engaging customers with the business?
I think dwell time is what it’s all about, so coffee and cakes are important. It’s a couple of quid for a cake, but in terms of achieving conviviality with your customers its really helpful. Twitter, Facebook and the forthcoming website and blog are key to putting us under the noses of potential customers.

What’s been driving trade in the early days?
So far the majority of revenue has come from clothing sales, it’s really easy to sell quality product in a nice environment. The free parking will help grow workshop revenue as we become more established and having a highly visible, professional looking workshop gives the end user faith that their bike is in safe hands. The high-ticket bike sales, although not as frequent, are always the icing on the cake.

Outside of work, will you run any shop rides, promote cycling locally, or attend any events?
We’ll be strong advocates, supporting local riders and getting into the press locally, regionally and nationally where possible. Shop rides, demo days and talks from inspirational people even from outside cycling are planned.

I want the store to be a brand and it needs to be different to achieve this and have a voice of course.

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