INTERVIEW: Andy Gowan, Hotlines

Just four years ago Hotlines took its first footsteps in the trade as a small business manned by just three staff. As we enter 2010, the distributor can quite rightly claim to be an important source for many in the trade.
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Jonathon Harker speaks to Hotlines marketing manager Andy Gowan about the blistering pace of the past years and the future...

Hotlines has just picked up Leatt, which has just released its first cycle-specific product. How do you think the brand will fare in the UK market?
There’s been a great deal of take up by DH riders, with the MX versions, so the lighter MTB specific versions can’t fail to be popular. Pre-orders have been phenomenal –riders are highly aware of the advantages of a prophylactic brace, and seeing all the top riders using them couldn’t help but create demand for a cycle orientated version.

Hotlines has picked up a number of other new brands in the last six months too, including WTB and Ghost. Was there a reason behind that burst of activity?
They’ve all done incredibly well, but Ghost particularly has been really strong, especially as we launched the brand in the UK way after all the other manufacturers. I think we have a very special range with Ghost.

WTB is the most recent addition of those two and is gathering speed well. It’s an established name, with great heritage and superb staff producing some brilliant cutting edge products –we’ve been able to work well with that.

It’s down to great brands in need of the best representation in the UK – we’re well positioned to do the job for them, so why not? We are always on the lookout for brands we think we can do good things with.

How is 2010 comparing to 2009 so far in terms of sales/performance?
Great. I think the whole UK cycle industry would agree, on the whole. Sure, we’ve added brands and this has built turnover, but we’ve also grown all our brands by phenomenal amounts through 2009. We grew by around 300 per cent in the last year, and 2010 has shown more growth with no signs of abating.

We’ve invested in personnel in a big way over the last six months, which has enabled us to work better and more efficiently. We’ve also upped our marketing spend for the 2010 season, making available more advertising, products in the media, as well as sponsoring riders and events, both at consumer and dealer level. Great response from the media has led to great coverage and reviews –this has certainly helped give us the edge over our competitors.

Have you settled into the new offices? Will you be upping sticks again before the end of this year?
As soon as we moved in we added three more personnel and we’re still looking for one more addition, so another move may be needed at this rate.

Hotlines handles a wealth of own-brands with Ragley, Nuke Proof, Brand X and X Tools. Are there any plans to add to that total? Is it a big investment to keep developing those?
There are things in development for sure – we work closely with Brant Richards at Shedfire and a dedicated research and development team to develop new products for our existing portfolio of house brands and to work on new ideas and projects. It is a big investment, but the brands are growing so strongly and it is absolutely paying dividends.

What led the firm to offer those own-brands in Europe and the rest of the world?

It is an obvious progression; there’s a huge market in Europe with space for all of our house brands and some of our other brands such as Azonic, Deity, Goodridge and others.

It’s a growing sector of our business compared to the UK right now, and it’s developing fast. We work direct with dealers throughout Europe, rather than going through a local distributor. This gives us a great advantage as we do not have to rely on anyone else, giving our customers 100 per cent great service.

How has the new website gone down with your dealers?
For us, it’s the ideal place to showcase our portfolio. It gives instant and easy access to whatever the dealer is looking for; it’s easy to navigate whether they’re looking for a specific part from a specific brand, or looking for a product category. The dealers really appreciate this and we add in extra useful features, like due date info if an item happens to be out of stock. We’ve got staff on hand striving to keep fill rates high, but obviously with popular products things do go out of stock from time to time, so it’s important to keep a good flow of info.

We’ve recently been working on increasing the amount of general brand info available through the website to keep improving on the brand recognition and profile – our news story feature, and links to our blog and Twitter make it really easy to keep up-to-date with new developments in product, reviews and riders. The dealers are always really pleased to be kept in touch with our marketing drives.

You also now supply a number of brands – Azonic, Goodridge, Lynskey and Pro-Lite – directly to Europe. Will you be offering those to the rest of the world in due course?
We have many of our suppliers being so happy with our UK performance that they enquire with us about covering other territories if they have ‘holes’ in their coverage. It’s going well and we’re building a number of solid accounts for various brands. How far the distribution will spread is obviously up to the manufacturer as they’ll have relationships built in other territories already.

Currently we distribute our house brands globally, but we have now taken up the mantel of Pro-Lite World Wide Service Centre, and we don’t envisage stopping there.

Is it tough to protect dealer margins with your brands?

It can be, especially with import costs and production costs rising all the time. Obviously with some of our bigger brands like Lapierre and Ghost being bought in the Euro zone, things have been made quite tricky recently. It’s a balancing act as you can imagine – attaining a realistic retail price to hook in consumers, and building in enough margin to keep the dealers inspired, all while making sure there’s enough in it for us for it to be profitable.

What’s going to be the biggest story for Hotlines in 2010?
It’d be easier to choose the smallest news story. Honestly, all our brands have amazing things happening this year, whether it’s the upcoming NukeProof frames, the launch of 2011 Lapierre at the end of this summer, new clothing ranges from iXS, or any of the new brands that we’re bringing to market this year.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell the trade?

Hotlines has grown from just three staff four years ago to 17 in 2010. This shows how fast we have developed into being a serious distributor for the UK cycle sector. More and more IBDs are using us as a one-stop-shop for all their needs, so we have some exciting times ahead in developing our current portfolio of brands to suit everyone’s requirements. Strong products, stock availability, speedy delivery times and great customer service are what we have built the foundations of Hotlines with and we aim to continue with our high standards into the future.

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