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Indie Interview: Terry Coombes of Jardine Cycles in Coventry talks shop

How did Jardine Cycles start out?
My dad, Alan Coombes, took over a failing business 32 years ago that sold a few bikes, accessories and motor spares. He quickly focused entirely on cycle sales and repairs. My brother Paul worked alongside dad, but bought him out 10 years ago. Dad wanted to slow down a bit, though he still works part-time and does the accounts.

Paul fancied a change a couple of years ago, so moved on to work for Pashley Cycles and I took the business over. I’d worked as a Saturday lad in the shop as a teenager, but after that I worked in construction. It felt good to finally take the family business on.

What’s your business philosophy?

To stock whatever it is a customer needs. If you don’t, even if you say you can get it in, chances are that customer won’t come back. We’ve got over 200 bikes in the shop and not one of those is a repeat. We stock all the different sizes of bikes, but not on the shop floor.

We’ve also never thrown an accessory or spare part away, which means we’ve got some very rare items. It’s another reason people come to us, including other shops that want us to help their customers out.

Has your business benefited from cycling’s increasing popularity?
Without a doubt. We’re seeing a lot of new faces in the shop, as well as born again cyclists. In the past around 30 per cent of our sales were around Christmas, but now we’re busy all year, particularly in the summer.

Triathlon is a growing market, but we don’t cater for it. It’s very niche and high end – we aim more for the family and commuter market. Cycle to work schemes such as Bikes for the NHS and Bike 2 Work feed into that. Customers who might have only spent £300 without being on a scheme can often spend double.

Which brands and products work best for you?
We sell 10 brands in store, with the biggest sellers being Ridgeback, Genesis, Saracen, Dawes, Python and Claud Butler. We also have a vast stock of parts and accessories, including bike computers, tyres, locks, lights and saddles. Helmets and gloves are our biggest sellers.

Who are your competitors?
There are two other good bike retailers in Coventry, plus the likes of Halfords and, of course, the internet. The chains and the internet are the biggest threats, but we manage. Service is everything.

How has your business changed over the years?
We haven’t changed much since we started. It would be easy to modernise, to put up slat board walls and sand the floors, but then we’d look like everyone else. When you walk through our shop, it smells of tyres and provides a sense of tradition and values. It’s our unique selling point.

Do you have an online presence?
We’ve got a website we update with cycling news, but we believe in the value of face-to-face retailing. The big advantage for us is the bike repair service we offer. People will always need to get their bikes fixed and once the customer’s through the door, we can start to build a relationship.

One day we may expand into online sales, but it’s difficult for smaller shops like us to compete on price, which is all online is about.

How do you market Jardine Cycles?
My dad and brother only ever used to advertise in the Yellow Pages and the customers poured in. Now we have to work hard to get people through the door. We advertise everywhere, which is expensive, but good old-fashioned leafleting offering discounts gives us the best results. After any drop, someone will come in the next day with a flyer.

What do you like most and least about the business?
We love bikes and meeting customers, but the hours are long. I’m a keen cyclist and would like to be out on my bike more, but working six days a week in the shop and with a family I just don’t get to do it.

My wife and I go out on Sundays and some evenings on a tandem. It’s incredible the amount of attention we get, so we’re getting hi-vis vests with the shop name printed on them made up. People are fascinated by tandems, although we only sell two or three a year.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Keeping the business going for 32 years.

What are your plans for the future?
My youngest son, Johnny, is still at school, but works in the shop on a Saturday. My hope is he’ll be the fourth generation of Coombes to take the business on.

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