Much has been made of the shop-only model and its growing appeal to business owners on the front lines of meeting demand in urban areas. CI.N verifies with a nice example, Rat Race Cycles from Peckham, to understand the mechanisms of relying on revenue mechanisms…
“I have a degree in physiology, but I liked taking things apart, maybe my parents wanted me to be a doctor,” begins Peter Owen, the mastermind behind Rat Race Cycles, now a physical repair shop based in Peckham with the sale of odd accessories. clad on.
It’s a story that will be familiar to many bike pros who have somehow landed in the industry after years of tinkering, riding and constantly integrating into the bike scene. The name Rat Race Cycles is a nod to racing around town serving typically fast and enthusiastic customers who are short on time but have a rich bike portfolio.
“For four years I was mobile only and used to drive in underground parking lots to service lots of bikes. It was great really, no mobile reception or distractions. Peace and quiet was excellent, but they weren’t to scale and required a lot of planning for the actual working days.It’s also difficult to move the range of inventory needed for a diverse customer base,” says Pete.
His home ground was a good swath of south-east London, but since 2012 the shopper has been the one to go to the Evalina Road store, first let during the Olympic Road boom and serving a diverse community from all walks of life in the region. since.
“I’ve always wanted to settle and live in East Dulwich, on the edge of zone 2, my area is a good commuting distance from the city centre. There’s a real mix in Peckham, all kinds of ethnic backgrounds and wealth,” says Pete, adding that opening during a boom time for cycling has certainly helped establish the store in the show community.
That means the shop is equipped to service everything from fixed seatposts stuck in frames, to bikes dripping with wireless shifters and internal routing. With jobs like these, the business has been able to stand on its two wheels and grow, keeping its rates respectable given the shop’s ongoing investment in training and tooling.
“Each of our six employees is Cytech 2 or higher. It is not essential, but this badge makes it possible to know the standard of a given workshop. Skills are constantly being developed to cope with industry standards and more than ever, e-bikes,” he says.
Pricing is of course a controversial topic in the trade, especially since the pandemic has seeded many newcomers to the world of bicycle mechanics. Some of those skills that took over commerce in 2020, says Pete, have since hit immovable walls (namely supply) and ended up resetting themselves in stores across town. Asked about fair pricing for a qualified service, Pete is quick to say if you have the skills, then charge your worth.
“We are probably more expensive than the others, but we are better! We punch over our weight, but then we built bikes for transcontinental racing and all kinds of high-end applications. We can justify the price and we just put them in place to reflect the movable goalposts and quirks of the product. A full strip and rebuild on an £8000 bike now includes internal routing management, di2 firmware updates, tubeless sealant refills – it’s just more complex than before. The people who have these bikes trust us to do it right.
Pete continues: “If you raise prices and nobody complains, maybe you should have done it sooner. In benchmarking our position, we consider hard-earned experience, location, training, tools and local competition. The industry is full and started by cyclists who want to help other cyclists and feel guilty for blaming other people like them, but the work is not a commodity like a set of Gatorskins.
So why did Pete choose to take the only workshop road when the surrounding shops could easily be seen taking advantage of the spoils of a busy road cycle network not far from the prime locations, as well as of a suburban trend that has grown steadily with each separate kilometer into town?
“When I first opened the store and started selling bikes, I did it just because I thought we should. I had worked in enough other stores though. to know that this was not the way the industry was going. In 2012 it was common to see showrooming behavior with a certain type of customer. This is the main reason why we stopped, not being able to not regularly sell full retail or keep every SKU in stock. It’s unfortunately always cheaper online, so the tilt towards service, where our reputation was strong, made business sense,” says Pete.
As a long term sideline to the workshop’s main business, Pete has specialized in building high quality wheels under the Owen Wheels banner. Again, skills like this cannot be exhibited and in most cases you hear that there is a specialist out there who will provide superior service to performance wheel assemblies. This reputation led to a partnership with Karen Hartley, a famous London frame builder, with Pete’s wheels featured on his bikes at Bespoked craft shows. At his busiest, Pete can spin about 20-30 wheels a week, so his hand is finely tuned to cast spokes on the hubs between bike services.
There are other specialty services built into the typical 8 am to 6 pm day (hours differ on Thursday and Saturday). Lately, the cargo bike trend in central London has sparked a new range of customer demands and service work. Rat Race finds that the rapid evolution of this segment is causing an accelerated maintenance schedule on some cargo units, with parts struggling with the workload required and very often needing an upgrade to cope.
“We have a group of nannies (babysitters) who have each told all their friends about the cargo bike lifestyle, and it has caught on. For us, Cargo Bike Wednesdays are now a thing for our shop and we educate our cargo customers on parts wear and maintenance schedules. Honestly, I don’t think I saw any in the first four years of shop, but now it’s regular; motors have made them so accessible to so many people. It’s the same in general too, I just got a Brompton Swytch conversion for my wife to return to the office, it made it more accessible for her as a regular means of transport.
Changes in consumer behavior have been well documented and few trends have been as pronounced as the change in the ways and means people use to get from point A to point B. In Pete’s Corner in London, it meant listening and adapting.
“We have seen massive change during the lockdown. Before lockdown we were operating 7am to 7pm, full shuttle hours. This trend is not coming back noticeably, so we went from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. There was no front role before the confinement, but now there is always someone to welcome people. »
The layout of the store is deliberately open and if you are lucky it is the Border Collie Poodle cross Bryn shop that will welcome you. People entering see repaired bikes in two stalls as they enter. “We don’t want that communication breakdown that can happen when the mechanics are hidden,” says Pete.
Communication was something the company did a lot to fine-tune, partly in response to Pete’s own business training, but also personal experience of encountering uninspiring hospitality staff at bike shops elsewhere. .
“We maintain an element of sales training to combat any possibility of turning off customers. I’ve encountered surly mechanics who can really alienate customers. My goal is to make 100% of our clients comfortable in our environment. We don’t want anyone staring at anyone through the nose, no matter what they walk through the door. You get reputation for this position and I don’t want it for Rat Race. Our culture is based on consciously remembering to put ourselves in the shoes of all customers. »
Written on the shop wall is a message that upholds the ethic of always striving for personal development – “own mistakes, own failures, learn from them”. It is encouraged that even if a staff member gets close to an error, they communicate how it happened to help others avoid similar pitfalls. “Near misses are good for learning best practices,” Pete says as he strives to help all ships up at the same time.
There may soon be more than a pair of mechanics on the stands to greet customers soon. Pete’s ambition has been to scale, although for now he is meeting the high local demand.
“We have planning permission to expand the workshop, but there are no builders to do so, plus there are material supply issues; everyone has extended their house so we can’t take a look at it yet. We will add two more stalls and more bike storage as a kick-start,” he says of the short-term plan.
As for Pete’s role in the mix? “My role has changed from mechanic to businessman, so I will continue to receive business coaching. Although we’ve been around for a while now, I found it very helpful and necessary to chart a path forward, so I would recommend it to others.