SWEETSHOP REALITY: IN PRAISE OF THE INDEPENDENT BIKE SHOP

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As kids, most of us wanted to own a sweetshop. As adults, the thought of owning a bike shop shop is similarly intoxicating. Yum yum yum, shiny things!…But opening a bike shop is not easy. Keeping it open, far harder.

As kids, most of us wanted to own a sweetshop. As adults, the thought of owning a bike shop shop is intoxicating. Yum yum yum, shiny things!

A few years ago a friend and I looked into opening a bike shop in Soho, London. I researched property prices, how to get stock, wages, etc. I did the figures and we dropped the idea like a stone…Opening a bike shop is not easy.

But I know a lot of brave souls who have gone for it this year. Perhaps its a function of the huge explosion in the popularity of cycling. Perhaps its just because there are a lot of cyclists of a certain age who get hacked off with the day job and decide to do something they love.

The current cycling market is dominated by supermarket style deals on bikes you can ride, but that’s it. £80 boxes of nasty metal. Most bikes sold in the UK are, frankly, crap.

Going up the scale from that, on the high street you have Halfords, which is making a mint from cycling, and concentrating its efforts towards bikes rather than cars. Very much a sign of the times. Halfords sell lots of cheap bikes, and some mass-market mid-range stuff.

Then you have the bigger chains, of which Evans Cycles is the largest. They compete across all ends of the scale. But less so the high end, where service and credibility are key. But they are raising their game.

And then there’s the Independents. They come in many creeds and colours, from the family shop selling scooters and cheap hybrids, to the ultra high-end racing specialist. Etc. They are getting squeezed from all sides.

Perhaps the greatest source of pressure to the bike shop as most of us know it are the Online Discounters. The Wiggles and Chain Reactions. These are companies with huge buying power, who purchase in bulk, and don’t have the same huge overheads of a (relatively) small shop. An independent has to pay for premises, wages, etc. An online retailer can be based out of a warehouse, with a few people answering emails. Hell, that’s still not easy, but with major investor support, these companies are going for hardcore growth by grabbing as big a chunk of the market as possible. Thats business. But many independents won’t survive.

These discounters cannot offer the personal touch. That chat with advice. So they offer cheap goods. That’s fine if you’re experienced. But what this has created is a culture of popping into the local bike shop to try the shoes, or get the advice on chainrings, but then buying online. This will slowly kill the bike shop, with their ever tightening margins.

I’m no angel, and do buy cheap online, but if I try stuff from my favourite local shop, I buy it there. If you get service, maybe the extra £5 is worth spending in a place that’ll help you out long term. Obviously we can’t support bad, unhelpful shops, but we should should help keep alive our independents. Otherwise we’ll be getting all our advice online and choosing whether to buy from Halfords or Wiggle only in 10 years time!

Bikes are an especially good purchase from a shop, as any good retailer will offer at least a basic fitting (often a biometric fitting is free with decent bikes), great advice, and the all-important after sales service.

This leads me to Swift Cycles, opening this very weekend in Spitalfields London, on Strype Street. They know they must offer great service to compete, and have also invested in a fitting and getting trained in a Retul fitting system.

swift cycles

Swift Cycles

I know Jon & Simon through mutual friends Chris & Luke from Us Design, who have worked with me. I’ve seen the shop grow from an empty concrete warehouse, to my visit last night, with boxes pilled high full of tyres, lights, bikes, pedals…You name it. They have to unpack and display all this in 2 days!! Best of luck chaps.

John and Simon

Alex -mechanic, Jon & Simon – owners, Swift Cycles. Some Coffee.

And lots of boxes and nice space.

I would say it’ll be fun, but after the 12th cup of coffee and 2000th barcode, maddening?

VeloSport

Velosport, Putney. My photos are there. Thought I’d mention it. Ahem.

Steve opened Velosport in Putney, on the Upper Richmond Road earlier this year. He’s a fellow Kingston Wheeler. I’m also a tad biased that my photos are featured in the shop, chosen by Dave Ladkin, another Wheeler friend and designer! The shop looks beautiful and the guys in there are great.

But there’s stiff competition in that area, not least from Pearson Cycles, just down the road.

Pearson Cycles

earson Cycles Sheen frontage. Oh, look, can you see

@shirishkulkarni from @ChildlineLEJOG?!

These guys have had literally the oldest bike shop in the UK, and now they’ve opened their second 150 years later! The shop is really unusual, in that its not bright and metallic, rather it is clad in wood and blue tiles. It makes for a really welcoming experience.

Will Pearson

Will Pearson, owner/manager of Pearson.

Lovely chap. But don’t tell him that.

Will Pearson and his brother Guy, together with @BikeTart Rich, make a potent combination of experience and friendliness. They are of course different from Swift and Velosport, in that they have established relationships in the trade (which is vital) and have their experience in the original shop to fall back on. But the space is a huge investment and by no means an easy ticket to an early retirement.

Bike Tart

Honestly. You ask @BikeTart and the mechanics to flap their

hands in a silly way, and there’s always one who refuses.

Whatever happens, all these shops are run by great people. Owners and staff who love cycling to the core. They know their stuff. Pop in if you’re nearby, and if you’re not, support your nearest in New York, Sao Paulo or Carlisle! They’re risking their necks every day to better themselves, and all cyclists.

~

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