Regional Spotlight: The Midlands - BikeBiz

Regional Spotlight: The Midlands

The Midlands may lay claim to UK cycling's historical heartland, but what's the current state of play in the region?
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IN DEPTH: You can find a sizeable portion of the cycle trade based in the Midlands, but you’d be forgiven for concluding that’s purely down to a historical quirk.

Raleigh, Pashley, Dawes and Brooks are some of the established names that have traded in the middle of England for near to or over a century. Even key Midlands-based trade names like Moore Large and Greyville were established in the region over 30 years ago.

The Bicycle Association of Great Britain has been long associated with the Midlands too, based in its various forms in Coventry right back from Victorian times – in the late 1860s the city was at the heart of cycle manufacturing. That’s clearly not the case now and this year we saw the Bicycle Association finally sever its link with the city, closing its office in Coventry.

For the past couple of decades not all distribution businesses have felt the need to establish themselves in the Midlands, with the likes of Silverfish in Saltash in the South West and 2pure and Hotlines in Edinburgh, and countless others in the South East. 

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But perhaps it would be too hasty to assume that it all adds up to a Midlands losing its allure for the cycle trade. While many of the distributors that have launched in the last 30 years have been happy to set up in all corners of the nation, two retail giants have relocated their warehouses to the Midlands in recent years (more on that over the page). There are other signs of the Midlands pull too, not least with the UK’s longest established bike exhibition, Cycle Show. Upper Street Events pulled off the hugely tricky feat of moving the show from Earls Court in London to Birmingham’s NEC in 2011. So successful has the move been that this year’s show, taking place at the end of September, will be bigger than ever.Last month event director Chris Holman told BikeBiz: “This is by far the largest number of exhibitors the show has ever had in its 13 years, which is just fantastic.”

Giant UK is headquartered in Leicestershire, moving to its Cossington base in 2010 (stock is held in Felixstowe), so too is Islabikes near Ludlow in Shropshire. Last year when Clarks Cycle Systems opened its brand spanking new warehouse it chose to stick with the Midlands (in Hinckley) with boss Tony Wright telling us at the time: “Logistically that’s as good as it gets.”

There are other considerations too. While cycle production ‘ain’t like it was in the old days, the area is a hotbed for car production with Jaguar Land Rover and Aston Martin among others, keeping skills and knowledge (and the local economy) thriving. Just down the road in Nuneaton, DP Brakes produced brake pads for bicycle and motorbikes alike, itself a company born with roots in aviation manufacture and Dunlop.

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There are plenty of other things to draw the bike trade’s eye in the region too, including this year’s launch of Derby’s own velodrome. The 5,000-seated venue is one of a very few such venues in Britain, so now the region has a comparable facility to those in London, Newport, Manchester and north of the border in Glasgow.
Naturally your attention is drawn to the historical cycling highs in the Midlands when it was the regional powerhouse behind the bike trade. When we talk about notable Midlands cycle brands like Pashley, Raleigh, Brooks and Dawes we inevitably do so with a nod to their prestigious pasts. But tempting as it is, the fact they are still trading successfully shouldn’t be outshone by the fact that they’ve been around for a while.

DISTRIBUTION
If it’s distribution you’re after then you’ve come to the right place. The Midlands is packed with ‘em, including some of the best known in the country, nay world. That list includes Raleigh, Moore Large, Clarks Cycle Systems, Greyville, 2x2, 50 Cycles, Dawes Cycles, Extra UK, Schwalbe UK, Reece Cycles, Velotech Services, Walkers, Yellow and many others. Common sense points to the fact that being in the middle (of England if not technically the middle of the UK) means its faster to get product out to the four corners of the country, but the reality may just be that history (see page 33) and convenience has seen this accumulation.

IN THE BEGINNING
Moore Large came into being back in 1974 when John Moore formed a new company with Cliff Large, distributor for Puch. The firm picked up distribution for Kenda – which is still distributes – back in 1976, surely making it one of the longest running distribution deals in the cycle trade.

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Raleigh’s history goes back rather further than that, of course, evolving between retail, manufacturing and distributing. In 1887 Sir Frank Bowden bought part of a small cycle company on Raleigh Street in Nottingham and three years later the Raleigh Bicycle Company was born. Books have been filled on what happened since then, but a few milestones to note are the purchase of Sturmey Archer in 1902 and the launch of the Chopper in ’70. Manufacture ceased in ’99, though the firm is still building wheels and designing bikes from its Eastwood, Nottinghamshire base as well as distributing from there.

Greyville Enterprises was founded back in 1979 by current owner Alan Pritchard. It originally traded from the Aston inner city area of Birmingham but since 1989 have been based in the present warehouse at Lichfield, Staffordshire. So where does the name Greyville come from? It was a ship Pritchard was skipper of in an earlier pre-bike trade life.

Pritchard tells BikeBiz: “In order to successfully survive against competition from larger distributors the company’s policy has always been to offer excellent service and to this end all employees are active (or retired active) cyclists with a good practical knowledge of bike parts. The idea is when a customer contacts the office their call will be answered by a real cyclist with an in-depth knowledge of the company’s product range and how they function.”

Pritchard adds: “This product range has developed over the years with some names an echo from the past – who can remember the PDM Team successfully riding the Tour de France wearing Ultima clothing on Concorde frames? More recently SR Suntour has come to the forefront as one of the company’s top brands and all labels and products are excellently illustrated and described on the company’s website and in the annual catalogue. High stock levels are maintained for prompt next day delivery and the B2B ordering system works extremely effectively. A far cry from the early days when self employed sales agents (company couldn’t afford employed sales reps) sent in their orders by post!”

The Greyville boss and founder says the 36 years have not dulled the company’s desire to develop and improve both the product range and the standard of service that has proven successful over the last decades. He adds: “Meetings with suppliers at the recent Eurobike in Germany will hopefully bear fruit with new brands and products for the 2016 catalogue. Watch this space.”

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This article first appeared in the October edition of BikeBiz. Read the full issue for free here on BikeBiz.com.

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