DEALER PROFILE: Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative

Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative first came on to the retail scene back in 1977 and has gone from strength-to-strength in the following 32 years, not least picking up a ‘Best Specialist Chain’ BikeBiz Award last year.
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From opening new branches in Scotland and the north of England, to ramping up its online presence and employing more than 100 people (some of whom have been working at the firm for 20 and even 30 years), Edinburgh Bicycles has stuck to the co-operative origins that it went into business with in the late ‘70s.

After creating an online retail service in 1996 – back when the internet was still a relatively new proposition for most retailers and consumers – Edinburgh Bicycle went on to have an eye-catching start to the 21st Century. It took over Cycling World in Aberdeen in 2002 and the year after made its first step south of the border by taking over Newcastle’s Hardisty Cycles.

The retailer then went on to open a brand new shop in Leeds in 2006 and then followed that up with another store in Manchester in 2007.

Recipe for success
But what has given the firm the platform for that growth? And what makes a successful bicycle dealer? BikeBiz speaks to Edinburgh Bicycle’s managing director Jeremy Miles for his thoughts on the essential qualities for a successful bicycle dealer:

“Enthusiasm is important – the shop should have a buzz. Differentiation is also an important area for every retailer – what is it that you offer that your competitor does not?”

Keeping an eye on the latest industry fashions is vital too, says Miles: “Staying abreast of market trends, or even helping create them is equally essential,” he adds.

Edinburgh Bicycle’s co-operative structure gives the firm some pretty unique features, contributing directly to help make the business a success, according to Miles: “Edinburgh Bicycle’s inclusive worker’s co-operative structure is a key motivator for our staff. For instance, potential rewards like annual cash bonuses and free share awards are equally shared by all members. We hope that these rewards give co-op workers an incentive to offer exceptional service.”

The MD believes that the retailer’s unusual structure has been key in attracting great staff too: “The co-op structure has a history of attracting exceptional workers – people who would not necessarily be attracted by work at a conventional bicycle business.”

And that co-op structure means that staff members are involved with different parts of the business – as with the open forums that allow every co-op member to have their say and influence working conditions.

But it’s not just the co-op structure that makes Edinburgh Bicycle a successful business. Size matters too, according to the chain: “Successful retailers need to be large enough to enjoy economies of scale, but that needs to be balanced – retailers also need to be small enough so that each branch enjoys sufficient autonomy to feel connected to their local cycling community.”

“Experience and knowledge of cycling and bicycle retailing is also important,” Miles tells BikeBiz. “Add the zip and zest of new recruits and you have a potent mixture of experience and youthful enthusiasm.

“We’re staffed by cycle enthusiasts of all disciplines – from triathletes to downhillers, BMXers to commuters.”

Miles also believes that intelligently organised shops and a non-intimidating atmosphere have been vital in welcoming a broad spectrum of potential customers: “We aim to make our shops the kind where an enthusiast would feel at home and a complete novice would always feel welcome and not patronised.”

Miles tells us: “Stocking a world-class choice of bicycles and cycle equipment is important too – ours is the biggest bike shop in every city with an Edinburgh Bicycle Co-op branch.”

Preparing for tough times
With difficult trading conditions ahead for retailers inside and outside the bike business, Miles tells BikeBiz how Edinburgh Cycle Co-op is going to face the challenges ahead: “Trying to maintain a consistent message of quality and value for our customers is key in turbulent times.

“Other challenges we face are price volatility from supply and also dealing successfully with the shift in the make-up of the competition from IBDs to super IBDs,” he adds. “Edinburgh Bicycle is excited about the challenges that we face in the next few years as bicycle retailing emerges from the recession,” Miles concludes.

“The opportunity to provide the bicycle consumer with an increasingly exciting and differentiated offer through a high quality chain of stores is one that we are relishing.”

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