So what do you expect from a really good bike shop? Before you answer, I’m going to tell you about my perfect bike shop.
Firstly, location is key. My perfect bike shop would be situated on a crossroads that have traffic lights and which would be on my commute to work. This way, I get to look at what’s in the shop windows whilst waiting at a red traffic light on my commute to work in the errrrr, car. The shiny and colourful things in the window will inspire me, and along with the last record I hear when I turn the car engine off, will stick with me for the rest of the day.
The building could be one of two things. The first is the classic early 20th century shop with big windows held in nicely moulded wooden frames. There are elegant wooden panels underneath and above the windows. The top panels bear the cool name of the shop, which could be the original and old shop name. The door is a half-glazed door, with a lower wooden panel that matches the ones underneath the windows. Although the shop looks very traditional, the lighting inside is very modern and illustrates the shapes and colours of the things in the windows. Alternatively, it could be a brand new, very modern and minimalist shop facade that has a completely glass front and automatic, electric doors. The name of the shop is across the top of each window and you can see beyond the window display to see a lot of the rest of the inside of the shop, which is even more tempting. Car parking at the shop is easy, as there is a big car park opposite. Bicycle parking is available at the side of the traditional shop, and in the case of the modern version, you can take your bike in to the shop and hang it from the wall on one of the cool bike hangers.
The shop, whilst being a walk in shop, also has a great website as e-commerce is as important to the proprietors as dealing with customers in the shop. Its an easy to use site and is linked to the rest of their social media sites.
If I walk into the shop with my eyes closed, here’s what I sense. Its warm in there, but not too warm. I can smell new rubber tyres, which is one of my favourite, non-food smells. I can smell fresh coffee and bread. The sound of the coffee machine delicately competes with the music being played, which ranges from classical to heavy metal, because each of the shop assistants get chance to play their favourite music. Some customers are also permitted to play some of their music from their phones etc. The sound system is not visible, but it fills the shop space with music, without it being intrusive. There are people talking, the sound of tools being picked up and put down onto metal work benches. When someone goes out of/comes in the shop door, the sound of a French cuckoo bicycle bell is heard.
Looking around now, the shop is split into several spaces. Firstly, when you enter, you are greeted by someone at the main paypoint, which sits on top of a long, glass display table. Inside this display case are some very shiny, and expensive pieces of bike art/components. The finger and nose prints of customers who gaze into the glass case are always being polished off the glass. There is a row of new bikes, that are polished to reflect the faces of customers when they peer at the deep, glossy paint finishes. Nothing in the shop has a layer of dust on it, even if its been there for some months.
Next to the glass case and paypoint, is a small area where other cycling companies are invited/encouraged/permitted to put up a ‘Pop-up shop’. This is a special, temporary shop used to introduce customers to new brands or to see the products ‘in the flesh’, rather than just on a web-site. Its popular with regular customers and brings in new customers as well.
The next area is an open workshop where bikes are built and serviced by the shop ‘technicians’. Part of this area is also for customers to learn and fix their own bikes. Its a scheme that runs for a moderate, annual subscription, and a customer gets advice, training and help in fixing their bike themselves, and in the shop. Its popular with students, commuters and bike couriers.
The next area is the cafe and the source of the bread and coffee aromas. Simple wooden chairs and benches allow customers to relax, meet up and get some advice from the shop staff. If you’re buying or having a bike built, its all done over coffee. There is free and fast wi-fi. The food is simple, of homemade sources, and exactly what cyclists need from a nutrition and ‘a treat’ perspective. On the wall in the cafe are pictures of riders, old components, some well used cycling jerseys and some vintage bikes. There is a table with a computer on it where customers can use the on-line shop and have something delivered if it isn’t in stock.
The next space has rows of new and different types of bikes on one side and used bikes on the other side. This gives customers the chance to compare prices, technologies and in some case, access to the ever-growing popular vintage bicycles.
Upstairs is the cycling, fashion boutique, with two separate areas, both equally stocked with choice and ranges for women/girls and men/boys. Its not all Lycra either. There are modern takes on traditional fabrics and fashions and for use both on/off the bike. The range also includes a ‘shop kit’ which goes from kids pyjamas to race and touring kit. Anyone using the ‘shop kit’ and who sends photos in of them wearing it in different places around the world, gets their photo stuck on the wall and a discount off their next purchase. This goes some way to creating an informal community and gets the shop brand ‘out there’.
The toilets have a range of books in them and there’s a book shop area and book swap facility. This concept also goes for the notice board, where people can advertise stuff for sale or swap.
Culturally, the shop sponsors a few races and events for both kids and adults (mens and women races). It also sends some older and serviced bikes to various charities for distribution to areas where the bicycle can be a real boost to local transport and economies. There are photos and messages on the wall of people with their donated bikes as well.
In addition to offering customers the maintenance subscription, the shop also holds some ‘design sessions’. The shop has teamed up with a local university, who supplies the design capabilities like CAD software etc and customers can be part of some design sessions which could be for themselves to design a new component or clothing, through to creative discussion sessions with others to develop a specific product. Some concepts get through to trials and the university offers business start up support as well.
In the yard at the back of the shop is a custom bike builder, start up facility. The shop invites a new custom builder to take up residence for 12 months to develop their art and products, which are also sold in the shop. This provides a platform for new bike builders to move onto their own premises (or not) and provides a link to the design sessions.
Sponsorship is sought from manufacturers to support all of the above activities and the shop allows demonstration sessions and actively invites speakers in to entertain customers in special evening events. This sponsorship is used to support some of the events that the shop runs.
Finally, and as the owner would say, most importantly, the shop brand is found in its staff, who are the ultimate ambassadors of the business. Each one is recruited for their skill, energy, creativity, individual style and positive attitude. They learn about the shop’s dedication to cycling and customer service. ‘How’ they do their work is equal to ‘what’ they do whilst working for the shop. The whole shop team represents its brand to its customer base, so whilst some are specialists in one area of the shop, they have to be generalists and be able to relate to any customer. Shop staff don’t stay forever, and a turnover of people is healthy in this game, but their experience working at the shop is memorable, and for the right reasons.
The shop has a lot of ‘soul’ and is open 7 days a week.
Reading this, you’re probably wondering that if I know what my ideal shop is, why don’t I open one. It’s a great question………
Photo by Jodie Wallace-Hill