Lancashire’s The Fell has taken a unique approach to retail, starting a high-end brand prior to opening a showroom from which to sell. Mark Sutton talks to Darrin Robinson about his three-in-one business…
BikeBiz: How did The Fell come about and what do you consider your area of expertise?
Darrin Robinson: We started with a clean piece of paper in terms of building Beacon a couple of years ago. I had made a couple of small acquisitions a couple of years back. After a lot of thought we decided to design a new business from scratch that kept the best attributes of the acquisitions, but added all of the things that we wanted Beacon to deliver. Beaconfell was born. Within Beaconfell, Beacon is our bike brand, The Fell is our retail platform and Protool Cycleworks is our service brand. Having said that, most of our customers from those early days are now customers of Beacon.
The aim has always been to build a range of premium quality, competitively priced bikes that are good enough to win a grand tour upon, with customer service to match. Equally, we wanted our products to be accessible to all cyclists, whether novices, triathletes, club riders and Olympians.
While there are some very good brands in other areas of the UK market, such as direct web sales, we felt there was plenty of space in the British market for our offering. Our store only came once we had built Beacon and were entirely happy with our range.
You’re based on the doorstep of the Trough of Bowland – good test ride grounds for those considering a Beacon purchase?
We have some of the best riding in the UK on the doorstep of our store, it doesn’t get any better. Our roads are tough, hilly and rough they are a great proving ground for our bikes. Equally, our bikes are winning some of the toughest races anywhere in the world.
Haribo Beacon rider James Shaw recently won Kuurne Brussels Kuurne on his BF-100 against 200 of the best young riders in Europe across the cobbles of Belgium. We also just won with a 1st 2nd 3rd and 6th in the Cadence Junior Road Race in Wales last week, whilst our TT bike won a hilly TT in Yorkshire last weekend ridden by Haribo Beacon Pro rider, Pete Williams.
Would you ever become a retailer/distributor for the brand, or sell label abroad?
Building our Beacon brand allows us to do things our way, to the standards we work to. I will keep all options open, but for now we are only selling via our own The Fell_01 Store.
Do you feel that gradual distribution model changes will encourage more dealers to go down this route?
I’m not sure our model would work for too many dealers, we are firstly a builder and it has taken two years to build that side of our business with our suppliers and trading partners. The retail outlet only then follows. Building that infrastructure in the current climate is very challenging for any business.
What differentiates your business from competitors in the area?
There are some great brands already in the market both near us and nationally, though we offer something very different in experience for the customer combined with some really great quality bikes. Our customers appear to like what we are doing, so we believe that our approach is working.
The UK market is very large and growing, so we don’t see any great crush between competitors, or a shortage of potential customers. There’s plenty of space for everyone in the market and some great brands already out there. We are just adding to that in our own distinctive way and focused upon our own business rather than our competitors.
What’s the split between store sales, the workshop and online for your business?
All areas of our business are growing and we are happy with our progress. Online is not part of the business model at this point in time, but watch this space in that department.
Tell us about the ProTool workshop – some high-profile bikes go through here, is that right?
Yes, ‘Spike’ Taylor who is one of the company’s directors, was former head mechanic for British Cycling for eight years. He’s built bikes for the likes of Chris Hoy, Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins and Victoria Pendleton. We build bikes for professional teams now, including Haribo Beacon and we build every customer’s bike to the same exacting standards that Spike and Iain set for the business.
Davina McCall was recently seen aboard one of your bikes – how did this come about?
My contacts in the industry meant that Sports Relief approached us when they began to plan Davina’s Sports Relief challenge. We gave our time and resources to do our bit for Sports Relief, which meant that Iain McClellan (one of the other directors) and I spent a week on the road in February with the BBC team supporting the charity event.
Davina and her coach Professor Greg Whyte trained on our bikes for three months before the event. We then also provided all mechanical bike support for the event and a fleet of bikes for the various celebrities and guests that came along to ride with Davina. Since completing the event Davina is still riding her Beacon BF-80 and we expect to have her with us on our stand at the NEC show in September.
How big a part of your business is:
Pro bike fitting
Bike fit comes with every bike so it’s fundamental to our service. We have members of the team dedicated to that speciality.
Cycle to work sales
We are part of the bike to work scheme, that has just started and is going well.
Finance based sales
We are currently developing financial products to help customers access our bikes.