INTERVIEW: Fisher Outdoor

Ahead of the company’s Expo this month, Fisher Outdoors’ CEO Richard Allmark speaks candidly to BikeBiz about the restructuring of the business over the past couple of years, the major signings it announced last year and the turning of a corner, plus the highlights of this month’s Edgbaston event...
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Firstly, can you tell us how business has been for Fishers over the past year?
Overall our year was successful (but definitely not straightforward); in fact it was a record sales year for us. We’ve grown revenue levels quite significantly in the past two and half years to the point where we have probably achieved an overall sales growth of between 40 and 50 per cent – and that’s in spite of all the challenges we’ve faced due to the changes we’ve been making. I suppose on reflection we’re pretty pleased with our topline figures.

Are there any categories in which you’ve done particularly well over the past year?

We’ve done well with the Sram brands. They’ve shown great innovation, which has been fantastic. I think we’ve embraced those developments and tried to drive the product lines into the market to achieve their fair market share levels – but there’s still a way to go.

We’ve also done well with Dahon. That’s a category within the commuter market that’s continually getting stronger. We’ve done very well with Look, Tacx and Smart, too. Tacx’s electronic and online training equipment keeps getting better every year and they have set the market alight –it’s been one of our biggest growth areas in the last 12 months. Lighting has also been growing well across the board and that should continue.

There are a few categories where we are not as happy with results, but we’re obviously working hard to develop our strengths throughout the portfolio.

Which categories have you not been so successful with – or which maybe need more focus?
We’re in the middle of developing a new strategy with helmets. Met has been a primary brand for a number of years but now, with it being a European-based business, it has come under threat due to the exchange rates favouring USD purchased brands. However, we are working closely with the owners and looking to put things right for the future. This season, and over next few years, we will see some real changes and developments with Met and expect it to grow well within the category. We feel we’ve turned the corner on this – and obviously the USD v GBP movement has helped us in that respect.

You made some fairly big announcements last year. Is it fair to say that it was something of a pivotal year for Fisher?
In the last two or three years, with all the corporate, structural and people changes going on in the business, we’ve done a lot less of those kind of deals than in the previous five years.

Probably from 2000-2005 we developed our brand portfolio quite significantly. But in the lead up to and following our buyout we were –and still are – heavily involved in restructuring and investing in systems and people change. This is a big part of what’s been going on in our business. So we couldn’t put as much energy into new product developments or new brand distribution agreements.

In the last year we’ve started to build the momentum again. Particularly exciting are the two wonderful licensing agreements we’ve tied up with the bspoke and Lambretta brands. It’s genuinely exciting and interesting for us, as licensing is a new area.

For 2009 we’ve also taken on Norco bikes and we’re launching WTB at the house show. So we actually have four very interesting new propositions for marketplace moving into this year.

Going back to the restructuring you’ve gone through over the past couple of years, how challenging was that? And how unsettling was the process?
It was very unsettling, both within the company and externally. Without a doubt the level of investment and restructuring we needed to go through was way beyond what we’d estimated it to be at the point of purchasing the business in 2006 – to the point where we spent significantly more time and had to make substantially higher investments in systems because it was previously such a big area of under-investment.

Ultimately, the level of change and the effect it had on our people was probably the biggest impactor to the disruption to the business. 80 per cent of our staff is new. This created a huge knowledge and experience vacuum. We had to build new processes around systems from scratch. The timeline of that restructuring continued to grow once we realised that the levels of change and improvement were so much bigger than we’d expected in the first instance. Change management within the business has been the hardest thing we’ve had to do.

We’ve turned the corner now, but without a doubt, change is the thing that unsettled some customers and some suppliers. We fully hold our hands up to that. But we’ve now got a great team building their knowledge rapidly. They are very passionate about the business and we’re getting that family feel back again, which we’ve been missing in last 18 months. I think we’ve got a very motivated and excited staff to take us through the next five-plus years. And I hope they all stay with us and enjoy the journey. I would really like to thank the staff for really being so committed through the change process and for helping us get to where we are now. That’s along with our customers and suppliers for the patience and loyalty we’ve had from them. It’s been wonderful and that’s what partnerships are about.

What response have you had to the announcement about the bspoke clothing range?
The bspoke clothing range project has been really interesting. It gives us a great opportunity to work with central Government/Transport for London, which really understands and have their finger on the pulse of London’s commuter market.

The marketing opportunities we can get from working with TfL and the exposure it will provide us with is wonderful. What’s interesting about this range is that it’s for people who ride up to maybe seven or eight miles to work each day. They just want ‘normal’ looking clothes that also offer the technical functions of cycling apparel.

We have, however, realised that it’s not as easy a concept to understand as we’d initially hoped. But we’re now getting some strong distribution listings and we’re looking at hitting the market well with our launch in March. We’ve got where we want to be, but it has been something of an educational process.

Due to resistance from retail?
People get used to what products are and what they do. If commuter jackets are traditionally £60 high visibility yellow, then that’s what people are used to. Changing the status quo isn’t easy, but we’ve been through a process of re-education and we’re happy with where we are now.

What’s great is that with the TfL link, we have some strong marketing opportunities and the chance to look at areas we haven’t traditionally targeted. But that is right for this brand. We’re not aiming bspoke at the cycling fanatic, so we need to look at a wider communications strategy.

Meanwhile, the Norco and Lambretta deals see you move into complete bikes this year...
Norco was the first full traditional bike range commitment we’ve made and we’re really pleased to be working with them. Norco is a wonderful business with a great team of people and I believe that the future should be strong and successful for us both.

The Lambretta range covers complete bikes, but this is a unique, iconic brand and lends itself well to a number of different areas. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun over the next few years in terms of developing some really interesting stylised urban, sporty bikes, along with accessories and some apparel. Lambretta is a very big deal for us. I’ve spoken with a few other licensees and what’s really exciting for all of us is that the owners of the brand have just signed a contract to launch Lambretta scooters again. Production and distribution looks set to kick off in 2010 so once again that will bring brand awareness of Lambretta right to forefront.

In addition, these are global deals for us, so as we develop products with wider appeal, we will look to distribute them outside the UK – but all in good time!

Any other highlights to look out for at the Expo?
One of the important things for us this year is to further develop our partnerships with our customers and our suppliers – basically trying to pull the supply chain together.

We’ve got a couple of seminars lined up to this end. Our chairman, Alan Smith (who has been in retail for many, many years) and I will be talking about the marketplace and how we feel about moving forward over the next year or two in the current climate. Alan has managed some very large corporations through recessions, so he can offer great wisdom and insight.

Meanwhile, one of our challenges is establishing gold standard levels of customer service. Our sales director Mike Cook and customer service manager Dan Kidd are holding a two-way seminar on customer service and ecommerce.

And while all of our suppliers will be proudly demonstrating their ranges we’re also expecting some special guests, including Beijing Olympic Gold Medal winner, Jamie Staff, who will be at Expo on Sunday February 15th.

EXPO HIGHLIGHTS

LAMBRETTA
Launch of the Lambretta brand with a special preview of the Lambretta Bike created by Fisher, the Li 126

WTB
Launch of the latest brand added to the range, covering tyres, saddles and grips

ROCKSHOX
BoXXer launch.

MET
2009 range of helmets

SANTINI
-2009 fashion and 365 range will be in stock
-Team Replica Kits
-AW09 fashion range

BLOC
New 2009 range including new cycle-specific styles and stand units

MAXIM
New flavours and new handy tablet for hydration packs

TROY LEE
2009 range plus T-shirt line

BSPOKE
Launch of clothing range with POS

TACX
First look at the new Bushido and demo of Fortius Google Earth

VDO
New X-Series

MASTERLOCK
New Gold Sold Secure D-Lock

SCHWALBE
New Ultremo R, Rocket Ron, Fat Albert Front and Rear, Marathon Plus/Extreme

Visit www.fisherexpo.co.uk to register

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i-ride.co.uk I Burgess Hill, Sussex I Competitive Salary Plus Commission I Date Published Tuesday 20th November 2018