One of Sheen’s much-loved independent businesses, Pearson is officially recognised as the world’s oldest bicycle business: their Sutton branch was founded in 1860. Currently it is run by the fifth generation of the Pearson family, who strive to maintain the hard-won reputation established by their predecessors. Pearson Performance in East Sheen was set up in 2012 by brothers Guy and Will. It offers precision fitting, sports therapy and physio, and an in-house coffee shop. We recently asked Guy Pearson to share his experiences of trading throughout the lockdown with us.
How did Pearson fare during the lockdown?
From the moment we were permitted to stay open as an essential business things started to get busy. We were one of the only shops on the high street that remained open and people started coming to us, first of all for indoor trainers. Once the announcement for the daily exercise ‘hour’ came, then it became quite frantic. The business hit a peak around the middle of May when our industry started running out of stock to sell, leading to a run on bikes that was described as ‘bikes are the new toilet roll’. Since then it has been steadily busy and more recently we have seen unprecedented sales in high-end products. We have done very well overall and look forward to the next chapter in our long history.
What changes did you have to make?
We furloughed all our part time and casual staff. This left a core of seven full timers who we split into 2 teams, each one working 3 days per week. This was to protect the business and keep the shop open should any one team need to quarantine. This worked very well throughout the entire lockdown. The front door was locked with only one or two people allowed in at a time and a well ordered queue was formed outside. Customers would often leave through the rear exit.
What was the biggest challenge?
The sheer volume of sales and work was difficult to cope with as we were operating at around a third of staff capacity. We tended to start early and finish late into the evening just to get through the workload. The staff were commendable and showed a wartime spirit which helped us all get through. Secondly, stock became scarcer and took longer to arrive, putting both the customer and us under pressure to meet demand.
What advice would you give other businesses?
We greatly appreciated being allowed to continue trading, and we happened to see a massive spike in our business too. Not everyone was so lucky. Trade will come back slowly but be patient, and make your customer feel special and appreciative that you are even open at all. Your customer is mostly local and if anything has been a positive is that the community feel has won through so you must build upon this. Also beware, petty crime like shoplifting and theft (especially bikes) has increased dramatically. My front door remains locked until each customer is allowed to enter once they have been vetted.
What would you do differently? And what was successful?
There are probably lots of small mistakes we made but considering we were making it up as we went along, I think we probably did most things ok. Servicing the bikes of key workers and NHS staff for free was greatly rewarding and much appreciated, it certainly kept us busy as we think we did around 60 in total.
Have your online sales grown since March?
Our online sales definitely grew during lockdown, giving that part of our business the timely boost it needed. We have only really been operating online sales in earnest for a couple of years now, however they are still eclipsed by the shop’s lockdown period.
What are your plans for the next 3-6 months?
We are developing better customer interaction online and trying to increase our catchment area nationwide instead of just SW London. We are also working on communicating better with our customer before they visit the shop so that they might be ‘pre-sold’, or making sales appointments or test rides available by booking online beforehand. All this has come out of the lockdown restrictions when we had to be time efficient and spatially aware.