Finding it difficult to sell kids bikes? It’s a tough market in which the chains are all too often unchallenged by competition. Gary Conway tells BikeBiz how he believes Dawes may have a viable alternative for parents…
You’ve just launched a new kids offering – what’s different about the Academy range and why would a dealer be interested?
Each model in our new Academy range has been carefully thought out and built to a spec, not simply a price. Our main aim was to build a range of junior bikes that perfectly fit the intended user, with components and gearing to suit their size and strength. This, we feel, will help children enjoy their experience of cycling even more and, encourage them to continue with the sport long into the future.
We appreciate that not all dealers are used to, or perhaps even interested in this level of product, but from recent feedback at our shows, we know for a fact that there is a growing market for junior bikes of a better quality and consumers are asking for this in store. What we’re offering is incremental growth to IBD’s, not simply a new range to replace an existing one. You’ll always have parents on a budget that simply want a bike for as little as possible, but, when you have customers openly asking for higher quality product, Academy now fills that gap.
The kids market in recent years has been dominated by chain stores – is this launch an attempt to level the playing field?
Chain stores and other national outlets are always going to have a large proportion of junior (and in fact all) bikes sales in the UK, but what we’re offering with Academy is several levels above that quality of product.
Dawes continues to offer IBD’s a product that gives excellent value while offering more features and benefits of lower mass-market options. This is the same whether it be junior or adult product. Academy is adding to the local bike dealer’s armoury when competing against the larger players, but as the products in question are so much different to one another, this isn’t exactly an attempt at levelling the playing fields; more so putting the IBD’s in a different league to nationals.
You created your own tooling for the Academy line, is that right?
Yes, several items have been custom made specifically for our Academy bikes. The process is not easy or particularly fast, but the end result has been well worth it. With most kids bikes being specified with ‘off the shelf’ products, we found that we had to take a step back and completely redesign certain components to suit smaller legs, arms and strength. Every model in the Academy range has our unique one-bolt adjustable stem; in 43mm or 50mm reach, this is shorter than any other 1” A-head style stem available, bar the heavy and sometimes ugly BMX stems that just wouldn’t fit the bill. The stem height can be adjusted on a specially made shim, this means one bolt allows you to slide the stem up and down – no spacers, no quill, so ideal for adjusting the height while a child is sitting on the bike. Not only that, but we’ve opened tooling for new, skinnier hybrid tyres on the 20, 24 and 26-inch models, these give less rolling resistance than wider tyres and so make hills less scary.
Also, new crank lengths on the smallest models and, double chainguards to suit the easy to pedal 26T chainring offer even more unique features. Each model size in the range has been specified individually, after all, a child riding a 14-inch bike, will have shorter legs and reach than one riding a 16 or 20-inch, so each model has crank lengths, stem and handlebar to suit.
What marketing plans do you have for Academy?
Academy has been one of our main focuses for the start of 2014. We’ve already featured the brand in several consumer magazines and websites and will continue to do so at key selling times throughout the year. As well as print marketing and, our annual road show, we’re also attending shows and dealer events with the brand. We’re trying to cover as many areas geographically as we can, with the next event being the Welsh Cycle Show on April 4th/5th – being held at Newport Velodrome. We’re also looking at increasing the brand’s presence on our new website with 360 imagery.
Is there a minimum stock commitment for the bike line?
To become an ‘Academy Stockist’ all we’re asking is an initial order of six bikes across the range. That’s not even one of each SKU. We understand that this will be completely new territory for nearly all IBD’s, so we don’t want to scare people off by demanding huge commitment. Hopefully the product will speak for itself and those initial six bikes will encourage further commitment. We’re also working on new models and, decals specifically for girls to keep things fresh.
Are you finding parents are investing more in a child’s first and second bike purchases than previously?
You’ll always get those parents that aren’t into cycling and just want to get their child a bike, any bike. For that reason, some nationals and catalogues will always have demand. We’re not really interested in competing with that though, we’d rather sell a product based on its merits, not simply on how much change you get from £100.
On the other side of the market, the side that we’re targeting, there is also a large number of parents wanting to buy quality assured product and, are willing to pay that bit more for it. That said, you can also look at the resale value of these bikes; as they are built to last, you’ll tend to find you can achieve a better sell on price when the child has outgrown it. Taking that into account, you may find Academy works out cheaper in the long run than much lower quality product.
The investment parents are willing to make in bikes has been increasing for quite some time now, including bikes for themselves.
Academy aside, what else has Dawes been working on?
We’re coming close to launching our brand new B2B website, which should hopefully give all our customers easier access to live stock info and 24 hour ordering.