Distributor round-up: Madison and Sportline

2021 has undoubtedly been an unorthodox year, with independents, brands and distributors alike feeling the inevitable effects of a turbulent period for businesses the world over. BikeBiz catches up with several UK distributors to reflect on a bizarre yet successful period for the cycling industry.

Today, we hear from Dominic Langan, CEO, Madison and Sportline

Overview
Year to date to the end of August we have managed to be level with last year in all areas other than bikes, where we have seen some slippage purely down to lack of stock rather than lack of demand. Last year, when we went into the pandemic, we had significantly more stock than we have now and that allowed us to really maximise the opportunity. This year, we have not had the same luxury and stock availability has prevented us from achieving our full potential but having said all that, it is still a very decent year in the making.

It is fair to say we saw some slow up in trade in July with the Euro 2020 football tournament, Boris’ “Freedom Day”, some good weather and the Olympics providing plenty to distract. However, we saw this rebound again in August and I certainly expect the rest of the year to continue in a similar vein albeit with stock deliveries dictating the final outcome.

Brand changes
The two notable brands we have gained in the last 12 months are Vittoria tyres and the CRC Smartwasher. Launching a brand like Vittoria in a pandemic is a very new experience for us and we had to think differently to how we would have usually launched the brand. I couldn’t be happier with how Vittoria has done this year and the reception we have received from our customers. Vittoria has been an incredibly supportive partner as well as being such a progressive and innovative business. We are planning significant growth for this brand in the years to come.

The CRC Smartwasher is a back of house product for every bike shop. This eco parts washer is proving a huge success with our customers and our various service plans make it a simple and affordable workshop essential. We have exited intentionally from some smaller brands in our portfolio, where it is clear the commercials are not viable, but this is a constant review process for any business and a reaction to not seeing sufficient demand from our customer base.

Behind the scenes
We have been investing heavily in our IT infrastructure, including a total restructure of our IT team to meet the demands of the future which completes this autumn. We are introducing an all-new “Product Information Management” (PIM) software which radically changes how we manage and control content and other digital assets for all the various platforms and feeds we support now and expect to support in the future.

Additionally, we are investing significantly in inventory optimisation software to improve our demand planning. This is a hugely sophisticated software implementation which will ultimately help us more accurately forecast, identify trends and ensure the money invested in stock is invested in the right stock.

Along with these projects, we continue to invest and enhance our B2B platform to further improve the user experience. Freewheel also remains a big focus for us as we expand the retailer network and attract more consumers to the site. Outside of IT projects, our in-house wheel building production is growing rapidly and we are planning to install a second wheel building line in late 2022.

A post-COVID world
I have to say I have found the media celebration of road traffic returning to pre-pandemic levels a rather disappointing step backwards from our optimism last year when we saw such high cycle usage. I do think the world has changed and whilst I do not think the office is dead, I do think the daily commute will not be the same.

I expect a hybrid of working remotely with periods of time in the office, when relevant to be there, will be the new norm. We all need to look at all the journeys we are making and how we make them as well as other lifestyle choices if we are to ever meet our environmental targets.

People have had a chance to reevaluate their lives and question why things need to be done the way they used to be when there are alternatives. We have amongst the worst productivity levels in Europe and yet we also have the longest commute times! Working from home has worked from my experience.

I don’t think it is healthy to be working from home 100% of the time and not everyone’s circumstances are the same, but saving two hours plus a day not commuting is not only good for the planet, it is good for productivity and for people’s wellbeing. Why should there be any reluctance in welcoming this change other than if you are a commercial property landlord or a manager that needs to see people outside their offices to make them feel in control?

I suspect we will see greater cycle use in cities and towns as people look to avoid public transport and as councils implement more low traffic neighbourhoods and safer cycling infrastructure. High costs of fuel, congestion charges and low emission zones will also drive people to look for alternative transport solutions.

E-bikes and e-cargo solutions are definitely going to see strong growth and we need to find ways of making these options more affordable. I remain very optimistic about the future of our industry post-COVID but as ever we have to keep adapting and making sure we remain relevant.

IBD focus
As lockdown has eased, we are more easily able to engage physically with the retailers and certainly we have been helping with in-store support services such as visual merchandising, training and branding support to help stores refresh their in-store customer experience after a long period of very unusual trading.

Freewheel saw huge growth during the pandemic which helped retailers continue to support their customers during a very challenging period. We can now resume the expansion of the network as we have a long waiting list which need to be visited and trained up before they can officially join. We are also back at national events as well as locally organised store events so, gradually, we are returning back to a more normal level of dealer support. 

At the moment, stock is where the most support is needed and we have implemented systems to prevent stockpiling and to share inventory as equitably as possible over our dealer network in our best efforts to keep the workshops functional.

2022 and beyond
I am hopeful that by the spring of 2022, life will be as back to normal as it possibly can be. I hope the vaccines and some form of global herd immunity bring COVID to a more controllable level than it is now. Hopefully, we will see catch up with production starting to balance with demand and as an industry get ourselves ahead of the curve once again where we can be innovating and driving the industry forward.

We are an incredibly social industry, both domestically and internationally, and it would be great to get to see everyone face to face again without having to say “you’re still on mute!”

Read more distributor round-ups:

Andrew Walker, commercial director, Moore Large

Lea AdamsCEO, Greyville Enterprises

Simon Ford, sales director, Extra UK

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