One of the perks of being editor of Cycle Lifestyle is getting invited to industry events. Last week, I attended a press event organised by Halfords, the biggest cycling retailer in the UK. It shows how far our magazine has come that we were among a handful of ‘key media’ invited to a hotel in the Cotswolds where we were presented with Halfords’ latest business initiatives in the cycling sector.
As ever, I banged on about the importance of encouraging would-be cyclists, but I was reassured by everyone I spoke to at Halfords that their ‘core customer base’ is ‘family’ cyclists, including ‘kids’ and the ‘mass market’ (which comprises customers buying bikes for £400 or less). Halfords offer regular instore workshops for kids, and have created a shiny new website that features product videos and easily comprehensible specification lists to simplify the information available to newcomers.
It turns out that Halfords are focusing their growth strategy on converting new cyclists into enthusiasts. Nothing wrong with that – the more keen cyclists there are, the more they’ll tell their friends, and the more mass cycling will be catalysed. With a drive towards accessories and parts (culminating in an impressive 15,000 product lines now available), an expanded range of higher-end bikes, next day delivery promised, and a renewed emphasis on service and repairs, Halfords are really upping their game to meet the demands of the cycling revolution which is currently sweeping Britain.
I had some interesting discussions with senior figures at Halfords about how to market cycling to would-be cyclists. I don’t think any cycling company has truly cracked this nut. The industry still, to a large extent, relies on a stream of new cyclists arising exogenously without necessarily coming up with a dream slogan for encouraging cyclists to give it a go. Granted, the Cycle to Work scheme provides a financial incentive, but that’s not the same as really getting into people heads and inspiring new cyclists. Crucially, I don’t think any company has devised a slogan that stops people being afraid of cycling. With the ultra-refined persuasive techniques of modern marketing, you’d think this could be done by someone, somewhere. In the absence of this golden ticket, it seems like companies are fighting over the next best growth area, selling better bikes and fancier accessories to newly established cyclists.
Anyway, having thrown that gauntlet down, I must say it was a pleasure to meet the team at Halfords, and to witness their extremely hard work, which is bringing affordable and quality cycling products and services to millions of Britons.