It’s not often we’ll make such a statement about a bike shop, many of which suffer from the inevitable grime covered carpet, but walking into UBYK feels a lot like walking into a time machine. First impressions are crucial for some, particularly those spending real dosh and this Oxford-based store – if it can be called that – has a car-showroom-esque cleanliness about it. It’s a modern, engaging environment, with tablets playing demo videos built into the walls. The spaciousness is certainly preferable to the sea of wheels approach, but where are the staff?
They did of course greet on entry, as all good bike shops should, but they’re by no means standing idle waiting for footfall.
“Ubyk started out online with ProBuild, based largely around our self-developed custom bike builder,” explains former graphic designer, turned Ubyk co-owner James Heath. “I used to run a design agency and got into marketing and SEO. I was doing very well in that industry, but it was boring, I’m a mountain biker, I wanted to put my skills and passion to better use. With our business built around the high-end custom market, it’s important that we’re very web and tech savvy, hence the staff being all well versed in building SEO, design and many other cyber skills needed to run a business like ours.”
The eCommerce side followed the build of Heath’s ProBuild platform, which in turn has spurned the need for a showroom and a motion capture clad bike fitting room to give customers a bricks and mortar venue to watch their custom build come together.
With so much backroom effort going into driving people toward Ubyk’s online portals, it’ll be no surprise to learn that when you type ‘custom bike builder’ into Google, the store comes out top, even ahead of Brompton’s own custom design page.
The attention to detail is astonishing, with Heath’s team having to manually cut out every bike part that can be adorned to a build in photo editing suites. Imagine that task every model year. But they do it, and well. Every component in stock is weighed in house and a combined tally, as well as the cost adjustments, are calculated in front of your very eyes as you build.
Think it’s a niche market, all this tech wizardry? Well, seemingly the demand is there – in fact the site has now been reproduced for the French, Australian and Swedish markets with customers from far away having been drawn in by the appeal of the platform.
“We had to translate and reproduce a heck of a lot,” says Heath. “We noticed via analytics reports a lot of traffic stemming from France, too much to ignore. The work is paying off, we’re shipping bikes worldwide. Some of our brands can’t be obtained in these territories and our strong web presence is bringing people on the other side of the globe straight to us. We’re adding two more countries this year too.”
It’s a risky tactic though, warns Heath. “Google Adwords is potentially dangerous if you don’t know how to manage it. It’s pay per click stuff, so if you generate a lot of traffic, but don’t get the sale you can very quickly be making no money at all. It’s not for everyone. Our site gets around 3,000 hits daily, so even we have to be careful. Interestingly, our way of doing things returns a peak sales period of January through April, so it fills the gap where most bike businesses may be quieter.”
It’s paying off for Ubyk, however, with the eight in house staff – with a combined skill set of photography, film, design and website coding - having driven the business to a position where it is one of the UK’s biggest Santa Cruz dealers, a top dealer for Nukeproof and Lapierre and increasingly big in the road market too.
“My professional partner Neil is the roadie and has a solid business background, so brings with him the expertise we need on that front. We actually re-do our business plans twice a year. Ours is such a fast moving business model it really is essential to be on top of things.“
Ubyk’s method hasn’t gone un-noticed within the industry, with Singletrack naming it showroom of the year, as well as making an appearance in BikeBiz’s own trade-voted top 20 IBDs (2015 entries are now being accepted). Those impressive accolades are perhaps dwarfed by one other claim.
“If you head over to Ekomi.com, a review pooling platform as used by Google Analytics, we’re actually the highest rated bike shop in the whole of the UK with a 4.9/5 rating. Online represents about 80 per cent of our turnover, so we’re quite pleased with that,” says Heath.
Not too dissimilar to the publishing business’s content distribution evolution, Heath is now finding 30 per cent of his site’s traffic is now coming via tablet and mobile, for which he will invest in a site upgrade this year.
“The ProBuild platform lends itself to tablet use. It’s our corner of the market and one for which we have made every effort to protect where copyrights on our platform have been possible. Investing profits back into building a future for the business has been very important from the beginning.”
It’s a strategy that’s paying off, with Ubyk’s turnover sat at £1.23 million last year and a projection for £1.8 million in 2015, though “we’ll aim for 2,” says Heath.
“The custom build route, once you’ve taken into account the way in which most cyclists upgrade their complete bikes, doesn’t work out any more expensive in the long run. We’re hopeful that, for the affluent customer at least, this is the future of bike retail.”