Offering custom builds, retail, workshop services, online and more, Ben Cooper of Glasgow’s Kinetics is a busy man. BikeBiz adds to the workload with this interview…
So you used to write for BikeBiz – how has the business changed in the time since?
I think the biggest change is that it’s very hard to be just a local bike shop now. Even if you don’t have a website or sell online, your customers are online and probably talking about you. When I wrote for BikeBiz, I was a roving reporter visiting European shows and reporting back on the latest developments to dealers, who would then tell customers. Now customers often know first, via forums and social media.
How long have you been in the trade and how did you get into bikes in the first place?
I’ve been involved in the bike industry for around 20 years, running my own business since 1995. I’ve always been into bikes – well, since my exasperated parents bought me an early MBUK to keep me quiet on a long car journey. When I was a student I found a small local shop, started hanging out there, and then slowly started running the place when the owner lost interest. That shop went bust, but I saved some trade catalogues from the bin and bluffed my way into the business.
Tell us about the shop – how long have you been trading and what are you best known for?
Kinetics has been going since 1998. It started out as a pretty normal bike shop, doing repairs and selling normal bikes locally, with a small sideline in more unusual things like recumbents and folding bikes. Slowly the sideline started to take over, I’d already been doing a little framebuilding, but got involved with designing and building a lot more, so now I don’t do anything normal at all. I specialise in recumbents, folding bikes, custom bikes, and in the past few years getting into manufacturing parts and complete bikes.
How’s business at present?
Very good. I’m lucky in that I have very few competitors and it’s not a price-sensitive market – the downside is that it’s also a very spread-out market, I sell all over the world. Building custom modifications for Brompton bicycles started out as a one-off, but that’s one of my bigger areas at the moment.
How do you manage retail, frame building, workshop and more all by yourself?
It’s not easy sometimes. It’s not unusual for me to ask a customer to wait five minutes while I finish brazing a joint on a frame! The shop is open-plan though, you can walk in and stand next to the workshop, so I can talk to customers while I’m working on bikes or building something. The kind of people who are interested in unusual bikes are usually also interested in how they’re made.
What would you say is the greatest challenge facing the independent retailer at present?
I think I’m going to give the same answer as most other people for this - mail order. We’re increasingly in a Europe-wide market for bikes. It’s not Argos selling cheap junk any more, it’s sophisticated companies shipping good quality bikes direct to the customers. Independents now have to be something more than just a bike shop, they have to add specialist knowledge or skills.
You stock a range of electric bikes – has there been much movement here?
I don’t actually stock many electric bikes, I’m finding much less interest than I was a few years ago. I think mainly because the big companies have become involved, and even the cheaper far-Eastern electric bikes aren’t bad now. It’s not a big part of my business the way it was five years ago.
You also specialise in recumbents – how’s this market doing?
It’s a good regular market, though still not a big one in the UK. When I first got into recumbents I spent my entire student grant on my first one. They were very home-made. Now the frames are mass-produced in Taiwan like every other bike frame, and they’re assembled by decent-sized European companies.
With more niche products do you find your catchment area is larger than the typical bike shops?
It varies. For recumbents my market is UK-wide. For the things I manufacture it’s worldwide. People travel from all over the UK to visit, and sometimes even further afield. I regularly ship to customers in Japan, Hong Kong, the USA and Europe. I don’t do any real marketing, it’s almost all word-of-mouth and social media.
You’re a frame builder too? We hear that’s popular at present, but you’ve been a specialist for a while – is that right?
I built my first frame commercially in around 1999. My speciality is that I have no speciality. I have built fatbikes and folding bikes, racing bikes, touring bikes, tandems, tandem tricycles, recumbent tricycles and tandem recumbent tricycles! I do less in the way of conventional diamond frames; partly because off-the-peg frames are pretty good, partly because there’s a lot of new framebuilders in this area. I build quite a few prototypes for inventors and designers too. I built the first Paper Bicycle prototypes for instance, and there are several designs I’m working on at the moment that I can’t discuss.
How important is the world of online retail to kinetics?
Online retail is very important for me. I have online ordering for most of the bikes and parts I sell, I think it makes a big difference and often I find a customer will exchange a few emails or phone calls, have a think, then put in the order online. It’s also not unusual for an online order to arrive, even for a £5,000 bike, with little or no contact with the customer. Some people like a list with checkboxes they can tick!
Have you any plans to expand the business?
No. I’ve been bigger, and it didn’t suit me. I like building bikes and talking to interesting people. I don’t like doing accounts and dealing with employees. The current shop is around 500 square foot – it’s cosy and works for me.
0141 942 2552
10am to 5pm
826 Garscube Road, Glasgow, G20 7ET