Expensive bikes deserve an upscale store interior. And Sigma Sport has a store that makes you want to spend money. John Ryan reports
When you buy an Audi or a Porsche, the chances are that before you part with your hard-earned readies you’ll have visited a showroom to take a look at some of the very shiny options that could be yours. And as well as the products, you’ll expect an environment that will be suited to the products that are on offer - it will be slick, shiny and well-designed.
The expectation forms part of the upscale image that sports or ‘executive’ cars traditionally carry and if you were presented with a lacklustre showroom you’d probably head for the door. The environment is part of the business of being cosseted and having the feeling that by acquiring an expensive car in some way you’ve arrived.
Now think about bicycles. Over the last few years, the top-end two-wheeled form of locomotion has undergone a revolution that has seen very expensive racing bikes becoming the preserve not of the semi-pro club rider, but of the well-heeled middle-aged male who sees this as a way of proving that his days may not be numbered.
Walk into an independent cycle retailer and the chances are good that you’ll be surrounded by men in search of their youth, with many being quite happy to part with upwards of £2,000 in order that they can climb into the saddle and start burning rubber.
The point, however, is that unlike the environment offered to the customer for an expensive car, it’s a fair bet that the interior of a shop from which a bike of this kind is sold is likely to be oily, relatively dirty and frequently crowded.
The myth goes that this is the way the bike shopper likes things to be and that if you visit an indie bike shop, expectations are wildly different from visiting a car showroom. Around three weeks ago, this status quo may have changed. Sigma Sport, an independent cycle retailer based in the posh greater Kingston suburb of Hampton Wick, has opened a three-floor, 6,000 sq ft store that will feel familiar in terms of ambience to those who have an Audi or perhaps a Ferrari parked in the garage.
The interior has been created by Nick Butterfield a designer, keen cyclist and Sigma Sport customer. He obtained the commission to work on the new store (there was a much smaller branch just around the corner - now a clearance shop, until January) from a combination of taking part in regular Sigma Sport organised rides and by knowing one of the partners in the business.
“I knew all along what I wanted to do, it was a matter of persuading the partners,” says Butterfield. And looking at the exterior of the store, all evidence of the former occupant of this long building, DHL, has been excised. The frontage is white rendering with black window frames and is lifted by a large picture window through which lots of expensive-looking bikes can be seen, and a glass portico that fills the height of the building.
Peer at the upper level of the latter and the lozenge-shaped, black and white Sigma Sport logo can be seen, reflecting light from the overhead skylights that are a continuation, at roof level, of the treble-height glass frontage. It’s a clinical and efficient-looking fascia, developed from what would have been a fairly mundane building in its DHL avatar.
But the full impact of what has been done is not clear until you step through the door. Jason Turner, one of the two owners of Sigma Sport, a business started from a bedroom in his parents’ house in 1990, says the store’s location is deliberate: “We always wanted a secondary location because we don’t want people coming along asking for a BMX bike for little Johnny. We’re a destination and people come to us because they know what they want.”
And what they want, it would appear, is a store that explains itself when you stand on the threshold. You don’t have to be overly observant to note that there is a large, light-filled atrium with a feature staircase filling a fair portion of it, while immediately in front of you is a very clean looking reception.
The staff are all uniformed, and there are a lot of them, and unlike many independent bike shops, the entrance is not filled with wannabe dispatch riders, with a roll-up behind the ear and an attitude that makes you consider whether you really want to go in. lnstead, the reception carries the brand name and a graphic on the wall with a ‘Workshop Menu’ where the ‘W’ in workshop is formed from an image of an appropriately kinked bicycle chain.
It’s the kind of detail that typifies what many visitors to the store will encounter if they choose to look closely. But the chances are that they will instead be dazzled by the array of two-wheeled machines that are on offer.
For anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the better end of cycling, the names Trek, Specialized, Pinarello and Colnago will be familiar territory. There are in fact eight brands to choose from in this store and each has been given its own area. Each brand has roughly equal space, according to Turner, with three on the ground floor and five on first.
And all of these branded areas have their own character, specific to the brand. Turner worked with the brands on the appearance of all the branded point-of-sale material in the store and says while he is generally happy with what has been done, there is still a lot of work to do.
That said, inspect the Colnago area and you get an idea of the quality of this venture from a slick-looking black Colnago-branded chest of drawers at the back of the space. Slide one of the drawers gently out and there’s a bicycle frame within, cushioned on black velvet. It’s the stuff that mid-life crises are made of, according to Butterfield, himself an owner of several expensive bikes.
And the point of this store is that it’s about more than buying an expensive bike. Equipment, ranging from short-sleeve rubber wetsuits (for triathletes apparently) to devices that allow you to cycle without actually going anywhere, is on display and you could spend hours and a great deal of money before you actually got to the bikes.
All of this is displayed in an environment that is predominantly black and white and where the sole concession to colour is provided by the graphics depicting racing cyclists that adorn the walls. And in keeping with the upscale car showroom ambience, there’s a high varnish wooden table with matching benches on the first floor where you can relax and have a cup of coffee as you discuss the merits of a possible purchase.
Head up a further floor and there’s the workshop (spotless) and a club room, complete with vintage leather armchairs and tables. There’s even a changing room and shower, should the exertion of cycling to Sigma Sport require a quick freshen up.
All in all, this is a store that takes UK cycle retailing to a new level and the really curious thing about it is that allowing for the price tags attached to today’s racing bikes (£5,000 is not at all uncommon), something of this kind has not been done before. For those in search of the open road and a bike that will turn heads, this is not just a destination store, it’s a store that you will want to spend time in. Just don’t go if you’re after a BMX bike.
Sigma Sport, Hampton Wick
Size 6,000 sq ft selling space
Design Nick Butterfield Design
Owners Jason Turner and Ian Whittingham
Cycle brands on offer Eight
Outstanding feature Staircase and atrium