Sigma Sports has been serving the south-west London and Surrey bike community since 1992, opening their current flagship store in Hampton Wick in 2011 as the brand expanded alongside the corresponding bike boom.
Now Sigma has an e-bike only showroom in nearby Kingston-on-Thames to showcase the rapidly-expanding market of battery-powered machines on the market – everything from tiny folders to capable cargo bikes to grin-inducing MTB downhillers.
We sat down with deputy manager Jack Ford to see how the relatively new store is getting along, what is cool in the world of two-wheeled electric transport, and how you can experience the Sigma range of e-bikes in person over the coming months.
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CS: How long has the store been open now, Jack?
JF: We are coming up to 18 months. And I did three months in the Hampton Wick store before that.
CS: Was the thinking that e-bikes had outgrown the space there and needed their own showroom?
JF: Yes, and also to be able to properly display and talk about the huge variety of bikes. They are the future and this is a great platform to establish ourselves as a proper e-bike retailer. Here we can educate people about what e-bikes are, with a team of staff who know everything about all the bikes, all the categories, rather than being an add-on to a traditional space.
CS: What was the range of stock initially? Predominantly electric versions of the brands that the main store dealt with?
JF: Admittedly, it was quite a new area for Sigma when we first opened, so we started with the core brands from our road bike store, then expanded from there. I had sold electric bikes for three years when I was at university so had a good base knowledge of what works well and the brands in general, so we pooled our knowledge and came up with a good portfolio of bikes that is right for the e-bike customer. For example, Reise & Müller and Tern are two brands that I don’t think we did previously. We have a good breadth of options now.
CS: When a potential customer walks through the door and is unsure what kind of e-bike they require, how do you guide them?
JF: That’s what we are here for. The most important question we can ask someone who comes through our door is: how do you envisage riding your electric bike? Some people want a specific bike, in a specific colour, by a specific manufacturer, and that’s fine. But there are a lot who don’t know what they want and lean on us as retailers to know the ins and outs and intricacies of different models, different batteries, different motors.
We take it from that initial starting point and narrow down to three or four options, and use our demo fleet too, and hopefully reach the correct decision as to what works best for them. It’s not about who spends the most money, but what is the right bike for that particular person. More expensive isn’t always better. You can spend £1,800 and get the best bike you’ve ever had.
CS: The last time I was riding round Surrey Hills, there was barely an unpowered mountain bike to be seen. It’s a huge growth area, yes?
JF: At places like Peaslake and Surrey Hills, local to us, a good 65-70% of mountain bikes are electric. And it’s irrespective of age. There is still some stigma around electric bikes, the idea that they are only for old people. It’s farcical! The new gen 2 Levo SL from Specialized is marketed as the most fun mountain bike you can buy. And that’s really refreshing. E-bikes are cool, and people are coming round to that fact.
CS: Attitudes to e-bikes are certainly shifting, yes?
JF: Absolutely. I’m a proud roadie, but equally there’s definitely a side of road riding that is very stubborn, very traditionalist. When disc brakes came in, there was a massive kick back against them, and now almost everyone rides them. We are getting there with e-bikes.
I would not be back on my road bike if it wasn’t for an electric version – I was injured for two and a half years, and I had a demo loaner for three months. You can ride with the power off like a normal bike, or switch it on if you need it.
We push how much fun they are. It is type 1 fun – you can smile while you are doing it. Sometimes people need reminding that cycling is fun!
CS: Talking of fun, not to mention practicality, you’ve a good range of cargo bikes here. How are they going down?
JF: At the Hampton Court Artisan Fayre, I was lucky enough to take the Tern cargo bike out first on the Sunday and was there for a good four hours, with a massive queue of people with big smiles on their faces – kids and parents alike! It was great to see the enthusiasm.
We are definitely pushing the cargo bike side of things. They’re not cheap, but probably cheaper than a car – no tax, no ULEZ, no fuel, as well as more fun, and greener. It is a big priority for us. They make so much sense in cities.
CS: How was the Hampton Court gig for you? A good chance to get potential customers on bikes, presumably?
JF: We always say the first 40 seconds is the most important thing, and that’s why we do shows like the Hampton Court show with a big fleet of demo bikes. It’s the biggest hurdle to overcome, getting people on the bikes. A good 85-90% of people who try one end up loving it. They understand it more and know what it really is.
Friday it rained, so I don’t count that! But Saturday and Sunday were amazing – it was really hot. We pushed it from a ‘bums on seats’ point of view, rather than a marketing perspective, and I personally think that was a good way of doing it. All the pressure was off both the consumer and us, giving people the opportunity to ride some really nice bikes without the pressure to do anything further.
We managed to get over 300 people on bikes over those days and it was an easy event to run. I’ve been doing events since I was six, as both my parents were event managers, and I know when I see a bad one! For us, maybe we could have pushed the sales aspect a bit more, but it was nice to approach it from a different perspective.