Being entrepreneurial with bikes
How do you take a piece of German engineering and turn it into the must-have piece of kit for cycling enthusiasts? Bdaily recently spoke to Ian Hughes, a former radio DJ turned bike distribution entrepreneur, about his latest venture; turning the UK on to electric bicycles.
Ian originally moved to the North East to work on commercial radio, and spent 10 years as a presenter on BBC Tees; an experience that was “incredible” for him.
During this time became interested in wind surfing and other sports. It lead him to become a sales rep for a sporting goods company, and eventually into selling mountain bikes.
With a little finger still in the broadcasting pie, Ian spent more and more of his time on the road with ATV sales, an early adopter in the mountain bike boom.
Then came the breakthrough with sports brand Scott. Ian explains: “There was an opportunity to promote the Scott brand in the UK. Company headquarters were based in Switzerland and the guy who owned the company at the time wanted a subsidiary rather than an independent distributor.
“I had to put together a plan detailing why they should house their UK base in the North East. In about March 1994 we incorporated the company and started trading out of Cramlington.”
Scott UK distributed the brand to independent bike shops around the country, and Ian ran the business for some 14 years, turning over £15m and developing the brand into a household name for high-end bikes.
Ian describes working with the Swiss company as “very precise.”
“It was a great experience in running a business because everything was worked to the nth degree, to a plan and on budget. It worked like a Swiss watch,” he said.
After being made redundant 18 months ago, Ian looked at the trade and realised he was ready for a new challenge.
“I didn’t particularly want to get back into the corporate numbers game, but realised the electric-assist bike market was quite young in the UK.
“Most of the product was quite cheap, low quality, and low performance. I knew Marcus Storck was a highly regarded designer of mountain bikes and made electric-assist bikes under the name of Storck Raddar.
“I put a plan together and we hit it off. In short we started trading nearly two years ago.”
Ian’s latest venture, Storck Raddar UK, is based in Gateshead and serves a distribution base of 20 electric bike stockists around the UK.
The “concept” shop was started in November 2012, offering a bespoke service for customers where the bike is tailored made to their requirements.
The UK market needs a certain amount of education on electric bikes, and this is part of the work Ian and his team have ahead of them. He explains: “We’re doing a lot of promotions to let people know what the product is all about.
“We describe it in terms of someone who might want to cycle to work but isn’t quite as fit. It’s like pedalling along with a huge invisible hand behind the saddle. You can get up to 15 mph without too much effort.”
Ian strives to be innovative in the marketing of the product, and his approach steers away from the hard sell. One quirky idea involves car dealer Benfield Motors offering bikes to their to customers while their electric cars are being repaired.
As with other high-end products, the approach to sales is very much about the customer experience and might involve taking the customer out for a ride or working closely with cycling initiatives.
“There’s possibilities for companies with large plants or areas where their employees need to move about - this is a great solution for that. Likewise for police services and paramedics with kit on them for example,” adds Ian.
Will it be difficult to sell high-end bikes in a time of austerity? Ian believes not. The customer base is executives and high earners who want the quality and customer experience that a brand like Storck can give them.
Americans look to the European road bikes because they are seen as cool, and carry the kudos of extensive European R&D and the Tour de France.
On Storck, Ian says: “They’re very Germanic in a sense, as it’s a function lead brand. Marcus Storck is a fantastic engineer and it’s been great to work with him on this as I think that comes out in the product.”
Bdaily readers are invited to exclusive pre-sale access to the Storck Raddar showroom at The Watermark in Gateshead. A sale begins on Saturday February 2nd, but Bdaily readers can contact the team for access to the sale before the hand.
Those interested should telephone: 0191 493 2654 or email: email@example.com and mention the article.