England’s North houses a number of the largest independent bicycle retailers in the business. Both JE James and Wheelbase operate huge bike showrooms, Wheelbase in the Lake District and JE James across three locations in South Yorkshire and Derbyshire (Rotherham, Chesterfield and Sheffield).
Local riding conditions in Cumbria are among the reasons business is ticking over nicely for Wheelbase. Director Toby Dalton tells BikeBiz: “We have got some of the UK’s best road riding and MTBing right on our doorstep and events like the Fred Whitton and Gravity Enduro Series are showcasing the world-class riding here. Plus recent initiatives from the government-funded GoLakes project with at least 20miles of traffic-free paths, Way of the Roses and the Morecambe to Barrow cycle path has given leisure cycling here a real boost. The locals are all very active and into cycling, along with running, open water swimming, tris etc, too.”
Core to Wheelbase’s strategy is making use of the locale: “Given our location it has made our events a real success and they are now a key part of our business. The Big MTB Demo Weekend and Le Tour de Staveley are mainstays on the cycling calendar. Since we took over Wheelbase nearly ten years ago we wanted the store to be a true destination of cycling and hopefully we have achieved this.”
2015 has proved strong for the retailer, with a healthy start to the year, albeit a slower April and May than anticipated, then healthy growth in June and July.
“For the first time in years May sales saw us sell marginally more MTBs than road. Mountain biking never really took a dip but it is certainly on the rise and the wheel size change has invigorated the market – there are some great bikes out there now!”
JE James tells BikeBiz that it too is seeing MTB sales with the edge at the moment. It’s also a keen believer in events to support the retail business. Marketing and PR man Adam Simmonite tells BikeBiz: “Events are an important customer offer and we have delivered our second CycleFest this year. It was a fantastic weekend attendance, trebled from last year. We also put on a longer sportive called the Cyclefest Challenger and are providing support for community events and other sportives.
“We realise the importance the cycle shop plays in a pathway to participation. JEJ stores are situated on the doorstep of the Peak District, giving access to some amazing riding. Working with the Peak District National Park we will be putting on a multi-terrain sportive for this year and also a series of sportives next year.
“We will be working with Grindleford village in the Peak District to be a part of a weekend festival to celebrate the Tour of Britain passing through the village.
“Business has been good for us and we are seeing an increase in sales across the company. Our Chesterfield branch remains our best performing store across all cycle genres. We’ve recently invested in a programme of store refurbishment including new flooring, brand experience areas and new store layouts to allow an intuitive customer flow through the store. We have also invested in an online staff training portal.”
A core of local enthusiasts play a vital role in looking after cycle interests, says Simmonite: “MTB in the local area has a large and passionate following. There are a number of trail developments emerging and local advocacy groups such as Ride Sheffield and Rother Valley Riders have built teams of volunteers to help advocate and maintain new trails infrastructure. JEJames is keen to support this and the challenge from a business perspective is to be seen as a company that is supportive first and driving secondary sales second, however the recent sanitisation of some classic Peak District trails has caused a review of Councils and Governing bodies consultation processes. These still rumble on. However from a business perspective the grading of certain bridleways has allowed better access for the emerging gravel bike market. This has been a driver for us to offer multi-terrain sportives as part of the JEJames Sportive programme.”
This month the BikeBiz Regional Spotlight is focused on Scotland and the North of England.
This article first appeared in the August edition of BikeBiz. Which you can download or read online for free.