The presentations following the 25-minute AGM were brim full of ideas and positivity. The BA president’s speech – whilst devoid of passion in delivery – was written from the heart and stressed the fantastic potential of the bicycle as a do-it-all commodity that could be an agent for change in terms of health, the environment and transport.
Patrick Barker’s speech (included in full below) was also down to earth, addressing the past and current weaknesses of the industry.
But the overall theme of his presentation, and those of his fellow speakers, was one of an industry that had the potential to pull together and, bit-by-bit, grow the market.
Some of the presentions were awe-inspiring. All were thought provoking. Tomorrow Bikebiz.co.uk will report on the presentations and you’ll see for yourself that we may not be the richest industry in the world, we may have lousy margins, we may have more trade and consumer shows than is sustainable, but we are all involved in selling a product – cycling – that has many key benefits on a variety of levels and which is dreadfully undersold.
Work together, sell up not down, market our product more professionally, and cycle usage in the UK could mushroom over the next 10-15 years, were today's themes.
The government is receptive to (cheap) projects that can be classed as pro-environment, pro-health, or pro-sporting success. Cycling has the potential to ring a lot of people’s bells, yet the industry has so far not really capitalised on the inherent cuddliness of cycling.
This needs to change, believes the rejuvanated BAGB. Young guns such as Russell Merry of Hot Wheels and Ian Beasant of Giant have added a pep and a verve to the BA. Old boy’s club? Yes, this aspect is still there but as the Association of Cycle Traders can now attest, there’s a new willingness on the BA’s part to involve the IBD group in BA matters.
ACT president David Wilsher, attending today's meeting alongside ACT secretary Anne Killick, said:
"We were inspired by the ideas presented by the BA today. And the AGM was followed by a meeting between ACT and BA with a view to bringing the two associations into a closer working relationship. The first sign of this will be seen via a series of jointly issued legal and technical information sheets for IBDs."
The BA is eager to gain more members in order to further its pro-cycling message. Patrick Barker (seen above) is soon to go on the road to promote the BA to key non-members.
BAGB PRESIDENT'S SPEECH
Volumes have dropped, but not as much as some would have you believe. The latest import statistics show that the net supply of bicycles into the UK still hovers around the 3 Million mark.
We arrive at this figure by adding together the imports of frames and complete bicycles and subtracting exports. Customs statistics do not differentiate but we estimate that the total figure includes more than 500,000 pavement cycles that would fall under the toy standard rather than BS6102.
Supply is of course not the same as sales, and I would guess that the upturn of summer 2001 was not sufficient to offset the earlier impact of appalling weather and foot and mount disease.
What is clear however, is that margins have dropped and continue to drop. As an industry we remain locked in to the excess capacity built up in the days of the Mountain Bike boom. We all recognise the problem but we seem incapable of doing anything about it.
It sometimes seems that our only response to falling sales is to dig deeper, discounting beyond any sustainable level, reducing average selling prices to the point where it is no longer possible for a bicycle to generate the profits needed to cover the fixed overheads of making a retail sale.
This is of course a world wide problem.
But the consequences are more severe in the UK than in many other European markets.
We do not enjoy the benefits of a North European bicycle culture – where the bicycle is a significant form of transport and is also integral to the recreation and leisure activities of a large part of the population. Where the bicycle is mainstream rather than fringe. And where the average value of the bicycle is up to twice that achieved in the UK.
Bicycles sold in markets like the Netherlands, Germany or Scandinavia are bought by people who will use bicycles for most of their lives. I don’t need to point out to this audience that this does not apply in the UK.
Nevertheless, even in the UK the bicycle has a wonderful image – if you can set aside the rantings of certain politicians and taxi drivers. Unfortunately we have not yet found a way to turn that image into profitable sales.
We all know about the problems of lack of facilities, of an ageing population, of low and reducing profitability. We all know about competing for a few units additional share in an oversupplied market. We all know how to talk ourselves into terminal despair if we want to….
But for every negative there is a huge positive : the potential upside is massive.
We can identify many failings in government policy, and we are right to be sceptical about delivery but we should take comfort from the fact that the target for quadrupling cycle journeys is still a clearly stated target.
The National Cycle Strategy has been given new life with the appointment of a board headed up by Stephen Norris. Cycling Development officers are being appointed in every English region.
Hundreds of small and large projects across the UK are gradually building an infrastructure that I do believe has already started to influence our market. It cannot be a co-incidence that the fastest growing sector in our market is on-road adult cycles, targeted at commuters and recreational cyclists.
There is a pro cycling agenda, and it is making clear progress.
The question is, does the cycle industry want to play a part ?
Do we want to influence the direction ? Can we help to accelerate the pace ?
We are lucky – there are hundreds of committed enthusiasts who are passionate about the benefits of cycling and who have a wide range of motives for wanting to promote our business. The bicycle is the perfect product – what other industry can you think of where you could go to government and ask for a contribution to your marketing campaign ?
The infrastructure is being put into place – the time has come for us to start to promote usage. Not just for transport, but for sports and leisure as well.
It can be done. Today we will hear a small selection of presentations on projects in which we could be playing a role. Projects which will make a direct impact on cycle usage. Projects that either will not happen or will happen much more slowly without industry backing.
In the current market I believe that this has to be our overiding priority and should be the absolute core function of our trade association. Over the past 4 years I have devoted time and effort to the BA for only one reason – I believe that it is the only available vehicle for an industry-wide co-operative effort to change the rules of our game.
There is money to be had. We’ve done it before. The Sustrans levy generated hundreds of millions on the back of a £1M fund. But without an industry voice and without funds we are back to fighting each other for a share of a diminishing pot.
We share a building with the Motorcycle Industry Association. They can and do promote the motorcycle as a solution for transport and environment problems. But they cannot start to compete with the broad appeal of bicycle. We spend pennies to their pounds, and get better results.
How much more could we be achieving ? As an industry we have really failed to capitalise on the power of our product. It doesn’t take much – I hope some of today’s presentations will stimulate debate and further ideas.
The objectives of any trade association must be limited to those that serve the interests of all its members. We need to set aside all those areas in which we compete, and look for those where we can be more effective by pooling some of our resources.
I have said that the primary mission of the Bicycle Association is to promote cycle usage.
We need to seek co-operation with other organisations who share this goal. A good example of effective co-operation is our joint funding of CPAG to lobby and monitor central government. The funding for this group is shared with other organisations such as the ACT , CTC, British Cycling and Sustrans. Representatives from all these organisations are attending todays meeting.
I personally hope that we can move to a much closer co-operation with other industry bodies such as the ACT. As suppliers and retailers we have many more points in common than points of difference. In the past year we have been able to speak with one voice on important issues but I am sure we can take this further if we focus on the interests of our respective memberships rather than any other factors. After todays meeting I and other colleagues from the BA will be meeting the President of the ACT to discuss potential for further co-operation.
Before I stop talking about cycle promotion, I would be negligent if I did not remind you that National Bike Week is supported by the BA with my time and your money. I hope that as the people with most to gain, we will find the time to at least let staff customers and suppliers know about the event. And it is not too late to create a Bike Week event of your own – please let Pat know if you need additional organisers packs.