Make do and mend or make and break? Laura Laker talks to five local bike shops about how they are evolving with the times.
Trisports, 48 Station Road, Letchworth, Hertfordshire
Michael Humphris, owner | trisports.co.uk
If a shop is working correctly, the workshop is only going to be a small percentage of the turnover, but it’s still got to be something you promote and keep to a high standard. Your reputation can hinge around what happens with the workshop and staff, they are an integral part of the business. They ensure customers come back. In all walks of life, you are dealing with a wide range of people and personalities and we can always do better, even in small increments – you can’t rest on your laurels. There’s almost nothing you can’t buy online – repairs, upgrading and servicing are different. This is a human to human part of the shop’s offering and has to be dealt with properly. The pricing policy has got to be correct. You can’t just do jobs for £5, and the customer has to understand that they are getting a quality service for what they are paying.
In the past you could go into a bike shop and you didn’t care much, because it was a bike. The cycle world has evolved and there’s a lot of technology, manufacturers have put a lot of effort into their products and you have to project that in your business. I wouldn’t spend £2,000 to £5,000 where the workshop was a token gesture in the corner, and it was a mess. Staff need a decent wage to produce a good service. It’s no good if a family comes along and your staff don’t stay in the trade because the money isn’t good. If they’re a good worker they have to be able to earn. In April, everybody has got to step up because pension contributions are going up. Either your staff are going to take home less money or you are going to have to give them more than a 3% increase in wages.
Greenwich Cycle Workshop, 37 Woolwich Road, Greenwich, London
Jameel Auhammud, co-owner | greenwichcycleworkshop.co.uk
We opened in March 2016 and by December 2016 we became repairs only. People found out we were good at repairs and so the space filled up with people’s bikes. It’s me and my dad, he has been working with bikes since he was 12 and he’s 53 now. For me it was a hobby that turned into a job. We do the odd customer build here and there, but mainly our focus is on repairing and servicing. It’s difficult to compete with people like Evans so our focus is on strong service. We are on a decent commuter route where lots of people are heading into the city and Canary Wharf. We get a lot of people who live around here and commute. Year on year we have improved, we have lots of new customers and returning customers, so we are doing something right. I think it’s also a lot to do with attitudes and how we deal with people. If we provide service of a certain level they will do full transactions with you rather than online. Even if someone did go online, we aren’t going to penalise them because everyone likes a deal.
That’s something a few shops I know do. I just think it’s better than nothing so just get on with it with a ‘can do’ attitude. If we were to expand the business, we will probably add a collection and drop off service, but we also have space at the back where we can extend and have more staff. I think we are building a pretty decent reputation and we treat people and customers as friends. Once the work has been done they notice an immediate difference on the road and from that they know that maybe it’s better not to neglect the bike, and to get it serviced regularly. Once we repair it we tell people when to come back, based on their bike use and mileage, which we calculate. They set up a reminder on their phone. In the summer we are probably here until 8pm or 9pm just to get the turnover on the bikes. We don’t mind that. Even in February we have around 20 bikes in the shop waiting to be repaired.
Alf Jones Cycles, 82 Chester Road, Gresford, Wrexham
Andy Castle, whose grandfather started the business in 1954 | alfjonescycles.co.uk
We started off as one person in one tiny shop, now there’s nine or ten of us. I drifted into it in 1985 and I have been here 35 years. Prices of a bike have changed, from £5 to £6 to several thousand. The only thing that’s constant is that what we sell has two wheels and is driven by a chain. The pace of change is increasing in life all the time and products tend to have shorter life spans, whether that’s built into their design or not. The workshop is an integral part of the business, everything that’s out there on display has to be built and set up for customers.
It’s part and parcel of the business, we have two dedicated full time mechanics. I believe that as a consumer, if you bought yourself something that was important you would want to make sure it was looked after properly by somebody who knew what they were doing. A bike can be almost as expensive as a car, it’s a piece of sporting equipment. For me I want to take it somewhere someone has the proper tools. I would say the workshop is where your reputation comes from. Good products, decent people working meticulously and being careful. Any reputation is hard earned.
Condor Cycles, 49-53 Gray’s Inn Road, London
Claire Beaumont, marketing manager | condorcycles.com
Condor is slightly different, we are like the bigger online retailers. We are a manufacturer and we are a small independent retailer, only with slightly more buying power. We are also one of the few retailers that are Campagnolo pro shops. This means that we can fix it on the spot, whereas Halfords or Evans would take in a Campagnolo product and contact the manufacturers to talk about warranties. Our offering isn’t just that we can fix your bike, but additional things we can do to offer the best possible service, which is different from what you get online or from a multi-chain retailer. We are a premium Brompton retailer as well, that’s the only bike we sell other than Condor, and we can service certain e-bikes. For some of our customers who own hybrids and would like a general service, what we offer is probably a bit overkill, but there are people who buy high end bikes, love them and want them operating as if they were new.
We use Trustpilot for our servicing but we also ask people to give us a workshop review, and after bike fittings we send them an email asking them for feedback. We heavily rely on the reviews we get. The bike fitting we offer is free when you buy a Condor cycle or £150 for other brand bikes. We saw a gap in the market and a way to use downtime in the store. Anything we can do to bring people through the store is important to us. There are times in winter when mechanics can be twiddling their thumbs, but from February our workshop is booked up for two weeks. They have a service with us, they like the work, we rather them to buy accessories from us and they then start visiting the store, and might choose to upgrade to a Condor in a year or two. The other thing we do is a respray and refurbishment for classic bikes. We are starting to build on that, putting examples of that work online and on social media. We have quite a lot of parts here that are hard to get, as you can’t really get them online.
Cycle Heaven, three locations in York
Andy Shrimpton, managing director | cycle-heaven.co.uk
We have three workshops in York, a big store I would describe as a destination store, where we cover most categories in the market, and a more specialised store which focuses on folding bikes. If you’re strong in the workshop it gives customers confidence in what you do rather than just flogging bikes. Our workshop tends to be full all year around, and customers come back. If you have staff who are trained in both repair and retail and technical mechanics, you have a much more flexible labour force, you can move them around depending on demand.
Skillset changes as technology changes, ten years ago disc brakes weren’t a thing. People have come to trust and value the mechanics. One of ours has been with us 15 years, another joined us five or six years ago. They really know their stuff and would go up against anyone. It’s not well paid or easy work but if you are flexible and accommodate your mechanics’ needs it works for everyone. It’s also believing in what we do, we are very values-driven in the workshop. We want to convert the world to cycling because we think it will make the world a better place. I wouldn’t do it for money.