Can Halfords become offline cycling champs?

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Cycling in the UK continues to grow strongly. There's plenty of scope - we're still a little behind our European neighbours in terms of participation levels and female uptake in particular is quite low. But, momentum is going to get us there.

Add the well-publicised health benefits to the fact that the nation boasts all three Grand Tour champions at the moment and the future looks very rosy for the 2500 'bike shops' serving every type of need.

But what does the industry feel are the next steps in its digital transformation? I for one am eyeing it up with great interest. Maybe the market-leader holds the key?

Halfords has about 25-30% share of the cycle market. When it comes to mass appeal and brand awareness, their name is unassailable. So it's in pole position to dictate what transformation might look like in the sector...and capitalise on its extensive network.

I visited the Cycle Show at the NEC last month, it had been at least two years since my previous visit. I was a little shocked to see how much had changed in terms of choice and therefore the possibility for confusion amongst newbies (and even oldies like me!). The new 'styles' of bike are of course the industry's way of opening up the sport to all, as well as re-selling product to customers that already have product. Smart. And the rise and rise of E-bikes will open up the sport to a greater extent than ever before

But newbies need guidance and at this middle-ticket spend level, with so much choice, I'm not sure the internet is the ideal teacher. Shock, horror.

Creating a live, offline environment where prospects can be confident of first class, expert advice alongside a physical product offering will surely help capture more and more of the growth that's coming. Sure, you can make films, write FAQs, publish blogs and generally do the necessary, online. But wouldn't it be great if you could put traditional retailing back on the frontline again? Where people are talking to people and answering their specific questions. Where you can sit on it, feel it, try the more rugged option, perhaps?

You would think that this was the opportunity for the 'local' bike shop, the independent, to make its mark and give Goliath a bloody nose. But the truth is, in most cases, they don't have the marketing knowledge or budget to fully capture and engage prospects at a local level. Neither do they have a collective organised that could do a 'nationwide' job of local marketing on their behalf. So, Goliath, you have the traditional retailing opportunity all to yourself, pretty much - your only genuine rivals are the online giants.

A fully co-ordinated, well-planned local marketing strategy (digital and traditional) that keeps the brand where it belongs through a series of community-based activities (local on-site and off-site events, local sponsorship and local advertising) could give it an even greater share of that growth and add inestimably to the equity of the brand at the same time.

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