Halfords announces huge investment in cycling business online and in the high street

15,000 new product lines from premium brands + big investment in staff training to lure cycling enthusiasts… that means YOU!

by Tony Farrelly   May 28, 2013  

Halfords logo

Halfords, the UK's biggest bike retailer, is to increase its investment in the cycling side of its business massively with thousands of new product lines from premium brands such as Lezyne, Craft, Gore, Oakley, Pinarello, Fizik, Brooks, and many more. The products will be available both in-store and online, in a move that targets enthusiast, women and commuter cyclists. It will bring Halfords into competition with the likes of Chain Reaction and Wiggle.

Halfords have already signed up an impressive roster of big name brands - you will be able to buy parts from Shimano, Campagnolo, and SRAM, and clothing from Nalini, Gore, Craft, adidas & Sportful. The company is also moving into sports nutrition and will stock products from High5 and Zipvit. At a presentation to cycling journalists last week, Karen Bellairs, head of cycles at Halfords, made no secret of the fact that the company would be looking to add still further to the number of brands it stocked and didn't rule out adding to the number of premium road bike brands it stocks - currently Boardman and Pinarello - or to offering Pinarello online in the future.

The move will take up a substantial part of a £100 million investment programme announced to the City last week in the wake of poor results for the high street retailer - despite healthy growth in the cycling part of its business. One of Halfords' key targets is to significantly increase its share of the UK cycle clothing, parts, and accessories market which it estimates is currently worth £700 million per year - a figure the firm expects to grow. According to Halfords, the UK cycling market as a whole is worth £1.4 billion annually and it is currently growing at a rate of five per cent a year.

While its online offering won't at the outset have the same range and depth as the two online giants Chain Reaction and WIggle, where Halfords hopes to score is with an ambitious 'click and collect' service that brings in to play the company's 460 branches. They reckon 90 per cent of the UK population is within 20 minutes of a Halfords store. As well as all the usual online delivery options, if you order online before 3pm you'll be able to designate a store to collect from by 1pm the next day. Customers will also be able to make online orders from within Halfords stores before 2pm and collect the next day.

As part of its plan to capture a bigger share of the enthusiast market Halfords will significantly revamp 100 of its biggest stories starting in June. The retailer is placing a particular emphasis on cycle clothing and will install changing rooms and a large selection of cycle clothing plus 'tryout areas' for shoes, helmets, and glasses.

The company has already piloted various store redesigns and the lessons learned will play a big part in their 100 store revamp. One thing they did find out was that their cycling customers were much more sensitive to the in-store retail environment than automotive customers… the word 'retailtainment' was used at this point of the briefing.

According to Karen Bellairs, the company has noticed an increased demand from new and family cyclists for Lycra and other technical cycling clothing - which the company is keen to respond to. She was clear that they weren't in the business of selling people kit they didn't need but were keen to help new cyclists enhance their enjoyment of riding a bike.

Halfords will add 15,000 new cycling product lines to its business with 13,000 of them being available online through its website Halfords.com. Many of these new brands such as adidas eyewear, Lezyne, Sportful and Craft have been being added to the site since the start of this year and Halfords.com has already been significantly re-engineered to cope with Halfords planning to roll out a completely redesigned site in 12 months' time in which the cycling and automotive parts of the site will appear as two completely separate sites.

Of course, it's one thing wanting to attract more enthusiasts and experienced riders in to your shops and another thing doing it, and Halfords are well aware they've got some persuading to do to overcome a poor reputation amongst some cyclists for poor service and lack of expertise.

To counter that they plan an ambitious staff training programme for all their retail staff. Everyone working on the shop floor will be given training on the basics of cycle maintenance within three months of starting with the company. They will then be offered salary incentives to be trained to a higher level within 12 months, and then they can go on to be trained to 'guru' level. The aim is to have one cycling guru in every store within 18 months. We can also expect Halfords to start shouting about the numbers of Cytech trained mechanics it already employs.

While Halfords' investment in cycling is very definitely a response to factors within the business (over-exposure to satnavs being one), it is also further proof of cycling's continued progression towards the mainstream of British life. It signals an increased era of competition between the big cycling retailers, both online and off. It's no coincidence that these days management teams of the major players contain people who cut their teeth with some of the big supermarkets.

If the cycle retail market follows a similar pattern to the grocery market over the past few decades - in which small and medium sized supermarket chains were either crushed or merged and merged again and again until just a few national chains were left - it seems that with this move Halfords have strengthened their position to ensure they'll be one of the major players for the foreseeable future.

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I think the idea of a more mainstream company taking things seriously and making an effort can only be good for cycling relations. Hopefully be a good place for car enthusiasts to see that cyclists are normal people too and not just see them in confrontational circumstances on the road.

Having have bottom bracket issues in the past on a brand new boardman mountain bike (this admittedly was sorted out straight away) I too have worries about the mechanical side of things. Perhaps Halfords can lead the way though in training keen youngsters in bike mechanics in the future as this may be where their reputation is won or lost...

posted by Stedmonkey [14 posts]
28th May 2013 - 15:38

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Halfords needs to move the bike operation away from the car parts accessory division and set up new branches while a move away from that awful Halfords company logo/wording for something newer and refreshing. Plenty of retail space out there.

posted by Roberj4 [185 posts]
28th May 2013 - 15:53

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Can someone explain what's exciting about "click and collect"?

All the hassle of going to the shop and having to carry your own stuff home, but with the added bonus of paying for all your stuff before you've done your shopping - where's the fun in that? I know sometimes going to the shop is helpful, but if you already know what you're buying, why not just sit around eating cake while a bunch of other people put your stuff in a box and bring it to your house?

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posted by Bez [370 posts]
28th May 2013 - 16:08

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"buy a Boardman from them and get it checked out by a proper bakeshop"

If you had to take it to a bakeshop to sort out the problem they must have made a right pigs ear of it..!

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posted by Zermattjohn [61 posts]
28th May 2013 - 16:11

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Just tried to buy a messenger bag, using their click & collect service, special price of only £0.80 !!! instead of nearly £15. The stock checker said that my local store had some, so I reserved one back - chuffed with being able to 'bag' such a bargain. Big Grin
But 3 hours later, had a phone call from them saying their stock was long gone. Crying So why don't they update their stock system? Argos are pretty good at making sure the website is accurate and it took myself to order one for Halfords to be bothered to do the same.
The nearest store 10 miles away says that it also has stock - I wonder if they are just as unreliable? MUST DO BETTER.

posted by Darren C [70 posts]
28th May 2013 - 16:19

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Roberj4 wrote:
Halfords needs to move the bike operation away from the car parts accessory division and set up new branches while a move away from that awful Halfords company logo/wording for something newer and refreshing. Plenty of retail space out there.

In way they are doing that under the "BIKEHUT" logo but any bike shops are better than none.There are no Evans in my town so its online , halfords or overpriced local bike shops

posted by ratattat [30 posts]
28th May 2013 - 16:24

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Globalization continues its relentless march. Small IBD's are in serious trouble (they already were, but this is adding to it quite dramatically). This is the end of the qualified local IBD giving you decent advice. Whilst previously a young apprentice could get a job in a shop and earn a living wage, now they will all have to go to Halfords and earn far less. It's only good for the consumer if the consumer himself has money to spend. If your own job has been automated/taken by a supermarket etc then stuff sourced from Halfords is not cheaper on a relative basis. Eventually globalization will backfire and governments in Western countries will end up paying people to do nothing so as to support the demand that has been sucked out of the system (i.e. we will have more people and not less people on the dole). F*** Halfords, I'm going down to Geoffrey Butlers.

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posted by theclaw [75 posts]
28th May 2013 - 16:52

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beej.a wrote:
Navigating the Halfords website is an absolute night mare... That'll need fixing for sure. On The Phone

Absolutely!

Click & connect will only work if customers find the products - or even get to Halfords' website in the first place. With google shopping, sponsored links/listings etc they may find it necessary to cut prices to get those sales. No point selling stuff at RRP if the adjacent search result from CRC/Wiggle/whoever shows the exact same item at 1/2 the price & delivered to your door.

A refurb/refit, some serious staff training (sales skills as well as with the tools) plus, in the stores I've visited, a change of attitude from being a car parts & accessories chain that 'happens' to stock a few bikes. I'm sure the Shrewsbury branch of Halfords is going to have its work cut out competing with the three well known dedicated cycle retailers located around the town. I don't see Dave Mellor or the lads at Stan's breaking out in a cold sweat at this news.

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posted by Simon E [1919 posts]
28th May 2013 - 16:55

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"I've got three halfords stores within a decent distance from either work or home - and at all three I have complained (with no results) that they won't get much more of my business until they provide SOMEWHERE TO LOCK MY BIKE!"

Completely agree - have had the same experience. It shows the derisory level of dedication to cycling that the company has at shop-level. Very poor.

However, I do welcome the move. It can only get more folk riding and that can only be a good thing. Hopefully it won't be to the detriment of smaller stores.

posted by HughATA [29 posts]
28th May 2013 - 17:01

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In the interests of fairness,I've had to use Halford's in the past and both the Altrincham and Stockport branches have let me walk in with my bike, no need to lock it anywhere.

posted by farrell [1345 posts]
28th May 2013 - 17:04

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More competition is always positive, and if more people are enthused to wander into an inviting revamped Halfords bike shop, who is complaining? Some of the more specialist bike shops can certainly be an intimidating place to visit for newbies, and from experience I know some treat new customers who are finding their feet with a certain air of snobbishness. I certainly have not gone back to some of these when purchasing high end stuff years down the line.

posted by Metjas [274 posts]
28th May 2013 - 17:22

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@DarrenC That's not click and collect that's reserve and collect, click and collect means you buy it off the website and either the shop has it, or more likely it's delivered to the shop from the warehouse - hence cut off point, they need to give themselves the time to get it to the shop.

So long as the central stocklist is kept up to date that should get around the problem of people in-store not keeping the stock database properly up to date. Hopefully.

@SimonE Halfords already do all the stuff in terms of discounting etc that other online retailers do and their online cycle business is already a very big part of their overall operation - bigger than their online automotive sales. None of the representatives of the brands I spoke to after the Halfords presentation were complaining about sales through the Halfords site - far from it - and many of them also sell through Wiggle and Chain Reaction too.

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
28th May 2013 - 18:21

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zzgavin wrote:
Can't quite think who buys the £5000 Boardman racing bikes from Halfords I saw at the cycling weekly sportive recently.

At least, not until they are able to provide some way of letting customers actually try the bikes. When I was in the market for my race bike back in 2010, I was seriously considering the Boardman Pro Carbon. But Halfords were unable to let me test ride the bike (other than, "you can do a lap in our car park"). By contrast, Evans were very happy for me to spend a couple of evenings cycling the roads between Clapham/Wandsworth/Richmond Park to try a whole variety of their bikes. Funnily enough, I ended up buying (a BMC) from Evans and in the process learned how much variation there is in the feel between very similarly spec'ed bikes. Would feel very uncomfortable in the future buying a high end bike without spending a few miles in the saddle.

Possible that Halfords policy on trying bikes has changed now, but that would seem a key requirement to be successful in selling higher-end bikes.

posted by Tjuice [107 posts]
28th May 2013 - 18:38

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I have been a cyclist for many years,i love the sport,but I really hate all the snobbery that comes with cycling in this country,so what if someone wants to buy a bike in Halfords,like the great sean Kelly said,its not the bike that makes the rider,its the man!!,just remember,the great sport of cycling was built on the working classes people in Europe on crap bikes,not middle class wankers in surrey with fancy bikes!!!!

posted by seanboy [23 posts]
28th May 2013 - 19:58

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I had a horrible experience at Halfords a few years back, and I would never, ever buy a bike there.

But for accessories it's not bad. In the past year or so I've bought a Muc Off cleaning kit, numerous brake cables and inner tubes, a water bottle and some Bloc sunglasses all at prices lower than they would have been on the web, and I've been able to walk to my local store and collect them on the same or next day.

posted by thelimopit [118 posts]
28th May 2013 - 20:01

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The Birzman pump reviewed here today is at Halfords for £39.99, not the £49.99 in the article. The shape of things to come?

Chiswick

posted by Chiswick [45 posts]
28th May 2013 - 20:27

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seanboy wrote:
I have been a cyclist for many years,i love the sport,but I really hate all the snobbery that comes with cycling in this country,so what if someone wants to buy a bike in Halfords,like the great sean Kelly said,its not the bike that makes the rider,its the man!!,just remember,the great sport of cycling was built on the working classes people in Europe on crap bikes,not middle class wankers in surrey with fancy bikes!!!!

Big Grin Point taken! However, if a business expects me to pay out cash for a bike or kit, I think it's reasonable to expect them to act as part of the wider cycling community - knowledge, service, bike parking etc, all counts.

As an example, there's a big bike shop in Hazel Grove, Stockport, that has just popped up out of nowhere. It used to be a car showroom, then a camping shop, and now refers specifically to Sportives in it's name. Now don't get me wrong, if they're trying to build a decent bike shop, then more power to them. If, however, they are just effectively box-shifting to turn a quick few quid on the back of increasing popularity of cycling, then I'm not interested.

BUT, to be fair, they were backing the Halfords Tour Series, for which they should be applauded. I suspect they could have capitalised on that a little more, but hey-ho.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [2976 posts]
28th May 2013 - 20:38

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People complaining about not being able to lock bikes up at local Halfords, it's (partly) a bike shop. Take it inside no-one will mind - how do you think the other bikes got there?
My current store is getting re-vamped, will take 4 weeks and i will be long gone by the time it's finished, the store I'm moving to is getting a warehouse re-vamp to provide me (not just me, just well timed move) with a proper workshop (after they took it away to make one of those awful shopfloor Bikehut service areas) and funds to replenish the tools. They are supposed to be sorting out Cytech accreditation too, so I can earn more but I've only been back in the company a month so we'll see.

I can fully see where the reputation Halfords has garnered comes from, I left the company last year after 6 years with them in various stores and shopfloor and mechanic roles. I saw everything from ex-IBD owners turned Bikehut mechanics to part time staff getting high on their lunchbreaks. The new CEO is taking a lot of (internal) praise round my way for changing things for the good. Hopefully not all hype and talented staff wont stagnate in shit stores anymore.

posted by hounslowrob [27 posts]
28th May 2013 - 20:44

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seanboy wrote:
I have been a cyclist for many years,i love the sport,but I really hate all the snobbery that comes with cycling in this country,so what if someone wants to buy a bike in Halfords,like the great sean Kelly said,its not the bike that makes the rider,its the man!!,just remember,the great sport of cycling was built on the working classes people in Europe on crap bikes,not middle class wankers in surrey with fancy bikes!!!!

"Middle class wankers"? You seem quite angry. Go for a ride, you'll feel better.

posted by Coleman [329 posts]
28th May 2013 - 21:13

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My local Halfords is just around the corner from my local bike shop where because I cycle everywhere I am treated like royalty. Won't get that in hafords.

posted by brandobiker [22 posts]
28th May 2013 - 21:25

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Just had a look at Halfords web site.Looks ok but Chainreaction are so much cheaper on all items I have bought recently.Shame because buy collect looks good but not with the price premium

big mick

posted by big mick [176 posts]
28th May 2013 - 21:58

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Bike shops should be roll-in with the bike nem con

However are Halfords still lagging behind here - the move as well grasped by none other then Clarkson is towards robust utility bikes for everyday use wearing everyday clothes. I reckon chasing the MAMIL market is following yesterday's deals.

Now if they started selling Bobbins, Batavus, and even Paper Bikes they might be catching up with the game.

The other detail has been picked up by Tesco (Metro), and Sainsburys (Local) and has never gone away from the Co-op. How many of us can remember when the Halfords stores which were conveniently located in the Town Centre closed and all went to the out of town mega shed which was basically kitted out like a car service station - plenty of workshop bays and a moderate store area. I've hardly used a Halfords since they closed the town centre stores, and with a growing population now living in city centres, and not owning cars to get to the out of town locations the wise chains are coming back in with the megastore on the corner.

There are 2 wise moves that could be made

1) get some compact but well resourced stores in the centre of town (where those who don't want to go clothes or food shopping can enjoy 'dirty' retail therapy)

2) back up these stores - and the online deals with a local "with you today" service, as the auto trade has done for years, and potentially the likes of Screwfix (also Halfords group?) can offer - this could even use cycle logistics - efficient stock management locates and delivers from nearest local source?

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

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posted by A V Lowe [471 posts]
28th May 2013 - 22:01

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Depends on the store. The Halfords next to where I work was quite happy for me to wheel my bike in, lend me a spanner for my wheel (no qr to prevent theft and forgot to drop said spanner in bag) and repair a puncture on their shop floor (pissing outside). All the staff were cyclists which maybe helped and we did the usual LBS chat on routes, kit and bikes. The team defo saved me a 10 mile walk.

Their strength will the entry level cyclist who is a bit daunted by the LBS and even Evans for that matter. I know a huge number of guys who are cycling quite simply because they got a 'bargain' or a cycle to work from Halfords

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posted by giff77 [1040 posts]
28th May 2013 - 22:10

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I got some bike hut bars for my daughter's mtb and they seem good quality.

I've been anti-halfords in comments in the past but if they are prepared to put in the 'hard yards' and turn the image around then all power to them.

Anything to promote cycling.

posted by Super Domestique [1592 posts]
28th May 2013 - 22:11

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They need to pay attention to detail - specs on their website have been wrong numerous times..bike images wrong..all things Ive pointed out via twitter to no avail.

Even the pinarellos have incorrect specs to images...with this new extended product range they will have to attract existing knowledgeable customers and not just rely on rich mamils.

These kind of issues combined with the total lack of any knowledge from in-store staff - incidentally none of whom in my local store cycle with any local clubs - is where I see they are going to mess up. They will end up as a Decathalon style store.

posted by NeilXDavis [111 posts]
28th May 2013 - 23:38

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Having used Halfords recently and in response to the naysayers, the independents need to watch out. Instead of the ignorant elitist attitude I've experienced on several occasions in independent stores I've found the Halfords staff to be happy, knowledgeable and pleased to see me. They just need to start stocking both Castelli and Bianchi.

posted by dog_film [7 posts]
29th May 2013 - 9:15

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They've got their work cut out to become serious players in the £300+ part of the bike market but I reckon they can do it. Training and in-store environment would address a lot of it and they've got the money to do it and apparently the will too.

Perception is a harder thing to change, even if they do pull their socks up- there's some pretty serious anti-Halfords sentiment out there, but that can be turned around too with good products and service.

If they sort themselves out and fly the flag for cycling among the people who are more likely to be in Halfords than an LBS then that can only be a good thing I reckon.

posted by Chuck [358 posts]
29th May 2013 - 10:18

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It will be interesting to see how Go Outdoors respond to this. We've just had a Go Outdoors open in Milton Keynes and it appears to cater for a similar market as Halfords, but does have spares from brands such as Schimano.

Given that we're spoilt for choice in MK. Halfords, Go Outdoors and Trek Bikes all within 0.5 mile of each other, an Evans Cycles in the centre and FIVE independent bike shops! Cool

Having had a bad experience with my local Halfords, I for one will never take my bike back there for servicing. Their numpty bike mechanics failed to tighten up my headset! Angry

David Palmer
Milton Keynes

Specialized Secteur Elite 2013
Team Raleigh Road Bike
Carrera Vulcan V-Spec

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posted by djpalmer32 [50 posts]
29th May 2013 - 13:49

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tony_farrelly wrote:
@SimonE Halfords already do all the stuff in terms of discounting etc that other online retailers do and their online cycle business is already a very big part of their overall operation - bigger than their online automotive sales. None of the representatives of the brands I spoke to after the Halfords presentation were complaining about sales through the Halfords site - far from it - and many of them also sell through Wiggle and Chain Reaction too.

Thanks Tony. I'm surprised their online sales are so big, the website is dreadful.

Interesting comments from the trade, perhaps our general perception is not representative of their current and/or potential customers.

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posted by Simon E [1919 posts]
29th May 2013 - 13:56

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On the rare occasions I've gone in to look for emergency bits or a random browse I've never found Halfords remotely competitive on price either with online or the LBS. Surprising given they would have the purchasing power but it indicates to me that they are catering to a less savvy 'newbie' market as others have pointed out.

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posted by joemmo [779 posts]
29th May 2013 - 17:21

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