Renowned for being one of the few specialist electric bike retailers in the UK, Cycling Made Easy is a beneficiary of the overdue emergence of the power assist bikes domestically. BikeBiz talks to Ray Wookey about his store’s service and a possible franchise startup…
Tell us about Cycling Made Easy and why you decided to go e-bike only?
Our store came about as a result of my thinking that it seemed a good idea to have employees travelling by bike. While exploring where my staff came in from I found many lived in hilly areas, so I looked at e-bikes, which presented the solution. Having said that, eight or so years ago the quality disappointed me.
When I sold my business in 2008, I noticed the market had become buoyant in Europe, but had no strength here in the UK.
I thought we could be pioneers in the market and initially we had considered pedal cycles, but thought it lacked focus. As a result we have a 2,000 square foot showroom within a stones throw of a large population selling just electric powered product.
How’s business? How many staff are on the books now?
We’ve got nine staff on board and have doubled our sales each year for the past few years. What’s surprising us is the uptake of quality bikes stretching into the thousands. People are prepared to travel to get specialist knowledge too. Buying an e-bike is a significant purchase, so customers demand the correct level of expertise. It’s not a knee jerk, bike in a box experience, with us the service is tailored to customers.
You’ve been open long enough to watch the market’s evolution. What key changes have affected sales in past years?
An important thing for us is that we offer a broad range of different branded bikes. If you offer just the one brand when somebody arrives you are limited in meeting their criteria. We deal in all the sub sections of electrics. Importantly, our suppliers can deliver excellent back up service to us in store. Commuters don’t want to be without their bike, so it’s important to have a well-stocked and prepared workshop.
We’ve found an increased tendency to sell crank driven units, particularly the reliable Bosch system, which we are confident in recommending. Our mechanics have all been in for the Bosch training so we’ve become a bit of a service hub. We also have the software here to determine fault codes on a variety of bikes. We don’t just ship a box out to anybody, we will do a full PDI and test ride on every bike, so that any problems are pre-diagnosed.
Demo days are a big part of engaging new customers – tell us about your events:
It’s not just demo days, we take all customers on an accompanied test ride. This enables us to explain the bike on a one-to-one basis and we assist in any confidence issues or tweaks needed to tailor the experience to the buyer. An awful lot of conventional cyclists are dismissive of e-bikes until you touch on whether other family members could benefit. We appeal to quite a cross section of people, sometimes you get regular and perhaps previously experienced cyclists who just would like to keep up with a faster field.
As a specialist, can you tell us is the ‘older rider’ stereotype true?
We’re seeing now an increased availability of bikes that you’d be hard pushed to tell are electric. Commuters in particular are looking at bikes capable of powering them over a modest distance and the suitable bikes can be quite stripped down and minimalist. The technology is integrating and reducing in weight, so is aesthetically more appealing. The advent of things such as the Nyon e-bike technology from Bosch that allows in-built navigation and fitness assessment via the on-board display will draw new plugged-in audiences over time. The system also alerts the rider to text messages.
The product has amplified out to become so much more than just a power assisted bike. It will get to the stage where cyclists will ask, why would I not buy an e-bike as my next ride, it offers so much more than a standard cycle.
How lucrative is an e-bike sale in comparison to a standard cycle?
The advantage of selling e-bikes is that the product is naturally of a higher retail value, but on the counter you must back this with the resource to manage a more complex sale, including qualified staff and the right diagnostics equipment.
A husband and wife team will often come in and buy a pair so both are on the same playing field when they go for a leisurely ride. We always ask the purpose of the customer’s use of the bike. We will assess the level of technical need with every customer and so each sale is tailored to the customer’s skill level and budget.
And how about the workshop, what’s the most common job for an e-bike specialist?
Our workshop time is largely spent PDI’ing new bikes and setting them up. The old issues don’t exist so much nowadays as the product has become plug and play. It’s a much more grown up product now. We have the battery testing equipment here, which is a big plus.
What steps must the industry take to further educate the consumer on the e-bike?
We are a BEBA member, but only pitch in here and there on nationwide ideas and legislation discussion. What we do often is promote the market to local councils and organisations. We provided 12 bikes for a staff pool for Croydon Council for people to assess how they get on with power assisted cycling.
What’s coming up next for Cycling Made Easy?
In future we hope to roll out more stores and would like to partner with others who are interested in joining as part of a Cycling Made Easy franchise. We’ve been so incredibly busy this season, but this is the next step for the business to branch out in 2015.
If Eurobike is anything to go by, e-MTBs are popular, is this the case on the ground?
We do a lot with Scott, KTM and Haibike e-MTBs upward of £2,000 and all are performing above expectation. They all look cool and are surprisingly agile on the trail. I myself get to work and back on a Scott electric MTB. That’s 500 feet every evening.
How popular is the Cycle to Work scheme with the e-bike buyer?
Largely it’s over the threshold. We’d like to get legislation through for up to £2,500 tax-free, but that’s something we’d like the providers to nudge the Government toward.