Reinventing the wheel: How bike shop chain has had to diversify to survive and thrive
- Credit: SIMON FINLAY
In recent years, cycling has become the country's fastest-growing participation sport – but that popularity has attracted the big boys. Mark Shields reports on how one Future50 member has been evolving.
In recent years, cycling has become the country's fastest-growing participation sport – but that popularity has attracted the big boys.
With deeper pockets and international supply chains, the major chains have moved in to cater to the thousands of newbie cyclists with money to spend getting themselves kitted out on two wheels.
In many places, the local bike shop – which for decades may have served a loyal and niche group of customers – has felt the squeeze.
It was that threat that prompted a change of direction at Pedal Revolution, a Future50 member with stores in Norwich and Gorleston.
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'The old-fashioned bike shop on the corner has gone forever,' said director Neil Turner.
'The old way was to open the door and wait for people to come in, then sell them what you had on the shelf.
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'But customers now want different things.'
Around five years ago, Pedal Revolution made the decision to adapt, branching out into community projects and cycling events such as the Tour de Broads 'to challenge, stretch, and develop our customers' cycling ambitions'.
These include youth coaching and racing initiatives, recycling and upcycling projects which have given away 1,000 bikes to communities, and school projects to enthuse youngsters.
In its shops, it has had to compete with the national chains on customer service and staff knowledge, with the aim of turning 'a process into a passion', but it also has 24,000 customers on its database, proving its 'engaged customer base', said Mr Turner.
This month Pedal Revolution completed the acquisition of Fatbirds, the UK's leading titanium bike specialist and will open a new shop in King's Lynn to serve the west of the region. Turnover for the 20-strong group continues to grow gently, and is expected to hit £3m in 2018.
The merger also offers Pedal Revolution a proven online model, which it can combine with its high-street stores.
'We are going to use the Fatbirds IT systems in our stores and to create an online capability for our product ranges,' said Mr Turner.
Fatbirds sells around 75% of its bikes online, while Pedal Revolution sells nearly all of its bikes in its shops.
The new company's bikes are aimed at the higher end of the market, with prices ranging from £3,500 to £20,000, while Pedal Revolution's highest-volume sale remains the £350 commuter bike, said Mr Turner.
The King's Lynn shop, on Edward Benefer Way, is due to open later this month and cyclists will be encouraged to use the shop as a base as they explore the scenery of west Norfolk. It will employ six people, though that could grow to 10 within a year, the company hopes.
'Future50 challenged us to think differently'
Pedal Revolution's inclusion in the Future50 has been a reminder that drive and energy are not the sole preserve of the start-up, and the company says it has benefited from the link-up.
Director Gareth Edwards said: 'Future50 has been a big motivator for our business and team. The advice and guidance from partners such as Nwes has stretched our thinking and raised our expectations.
'As a 20-year-old business, I like to think we are a great example of how a mature business can innovate and compete against national and international competition.'
Mr Turner added: 'I want to encourage established businesses to do something different. I would urge them to get out there and talk to the likes of Nwes and the other partners.
'Future50 gets local businesses to challenge themselves. You don't have to follow the sheep: if you have the experience in business, then you should take confidence from it.'
Dreams of Pedal Park live on
One ambition remains on the horizon, however. Plans for a cycling centre at the former RAF Coltishall were drawn up and looked set for approval, only to be scrapped at the last moment by Norfolk County Council.
'Our long-term goal is still to create a cycling centre for our region,' said Mr Turner.
'This region has so much to offer cyclists of all ages, abilities and ambitions. It is flat, relatively quiet and has fabulous scenery. It would be great for cyclists, families and our local economy to have more cyclists attracted into the region.
'We are constantly being asked about another plan for our Pedal Park initiative and sooner or later it will happen. It will complete our vision to make Norfolk a cycling hotspot.'