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.
Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.