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Nov 10, 2016

The Insider: Damola Johnson, store manager at Bristols Bike UK

How did Bike UK start out?
Bike UK has been in business for around 20 years and was bought out by the current directors, Lyle Finley, Richard Chaplin and Ralph Catto, three years ago. They also bought out Ralph Colman Cycles in Taunton at the same time, which had been in business since 1925.

Why bike retail?
The directors don’t have sports backgrounds, but have all worked in retail, marketing and finance. They’re also all keen cyclists and in their experience, it was difficult to find local bike shops to serve their needs. Given the growing interest in cycling, they decided the time was right to step in and change things.

How did you get into the cycle business?
I had my own catering franchise which was great for a while, but incredibly hard work, particularly doing it on my own. The recession didn’t help. I wanted out and when the chance came up, started managing the shop in Taunton. When the new directors took over, they wanted me to work at Bike UK, so that’s what I did.

Are you a keen cyclist?
I like mountain biking, though I would never have thought of going into bikes as a job. But the directors’ way of doing business is the same as mine. They want to be the best in serving anyone interested in cycling. A lot of bike shops are a bit too laid back, some even seem to look down on customers if they don’t know what they want or aren’t spending enough. We’re different. We want to give everyone quality advice and service to enjoy whatever kind of cycling they enjoy, and at whatever level – be that an electric assisted gentle ride in the park through to carving down the side of a mountain.

What’s the secret to Bike UK’s success?
Repeat custom, attracted by our quality of service and friendly staff. We’re delighted to help someone select their first bike, but we also want them as a repeat customer for accessories, or bikes for other family members or friends, or their next bike if they get to the stage of wanting to trade up. A lot of bike shops have gone out of business in the last 18 months. They’re either weaker generally or because their customer service is poor, they’ve failed to survive.

How do you keep customers coming back?
We go the extra mile and do things other retailers don’t. Examples are our lifetime annual free servicing agreement on any bike priced over £350, and our seven day exchange service where customers can swap or upgrade parts – seat, tyres, etc – on a new bike to make sure it’s perfect for them, and only pay the difference. Plus, we accept pretty much any cycle to work scheme vouchers – even Halfords!

Do you only cater to local customers?
As our marketing strapline says, we are proud to be “your local specialist” and being a local bike shop is key to our success – you can’t pop into an online store. However, our customer service and huge range does attract people from further afield, with regular visitors from the Cotswolds, Wales, and recently, even Uxbridge and Peterborough.

What do you stock?
We’ve got a huge range of bikes – 150+ in stock at any time and more bikes on display than any other local bike shop. The amount of choice appeals to customers. At the moment mountain bikes sell best, but two years ago it was road bikes. We are seeing growth in electric bikes and are also stock triathlon in the new season. Hybrid bikes always do well for us, but are not as good as two years ago. But those customers will come back in a few years looking for their next bike. Not that the first bike isn’t still good enough, but now they’ve got the biking bug, they want to upgrade to a different genre of bike.

Which brands work best for you?
Trek is our anchor brand, but we’ve got a huge choice of other bike makes across the spectrum including Whyte, Orbea, Ridgeback, Genesis, Saracen and Focus.

What about P&A?
We sell so many different bikes to so many types of cyclists, we need to cater to all their needs. Consequently, we carry a massive array of parts and accessories – I’d be surprised if there was a bigger selection anywhere in Bristol.

Do you have an online arm?
A year ago we introduced a click and collect service, again the emphasis is on customer service and convenience. We do however send out accessories by post.

Marketing strategies?
Provide high quality advice and service and gently prompt customers to spread news by word of mouth. It just snowballs, but you have to keep at it, keep providing the service. Bristol’s got a lot of bike shops. We also invest a lot of time in online marketing through the likes of Google to attract new customers.

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