Camino Park, James Watt Way, Crawley. Sounds like a pretty ordinary industrial estate. It’s not. Surrounded as it is by motorway junctions and gas-guzzling one-way systems, the easiest way to locate the new Evans HQ is by glancing out of an aircraft window a few metres from the ground as it either takes off or lands at Gatwick.
An airport radar station is a stone’s throw from the glass-fronted building that, since March, has been the nerve centre for Evans Cycles, Britain’s biggest IBD.
The HQ is in one of the two identical new-builds to the immediate south of Gatwick’s runways. A transport node of a different kind is directly opposite the Evans HQ: a bridleway runs from James Watt Way past Rowley farm on to Lowfield Heath and ends at Charlwood House. Some Evans staffers use this rural bridleway as their conduit to and from work.
Sweaty, inside-out bib shorts hang in the changing room area. This comes complete with showers, naturally, and is about the size of a small mom-and-pop bike shop.
The Evans HQ is big. 53 000 sq ft big. Is it the only IBD in the UK with a receptionist? A proper one, that is, with a posh reception desk in an airy reception area…
The Evans HQ is a distribution hub for the nine Evans stores in the Greater London area, plus the mail order division and website which, combined, is as busy as one of the bigger stores in terms of turnover.
Stock for all the stores is dropped at the Gatwick HQ and distributed by Evans liveried vans to the individual stores.
These vans also call in to the new Evans standalone service centre on Grays Inn Road in London.
This workshop sells accessories, but no bikes. It could be the start of a trend. London cyclists often have to book in their bikes for remedial work. An average wait is four weeks. This is not good enough, believes Evans MD, Mike Rice, especially with the likelihood that the £5 downtown congestion charge will soon create many hundreds of new London cycle commuters:
“If the servicing blockage isn’t remedied in London, it will inhibit cycling. It’s unacceptable that bikes can’t be serviced for a month. With the £5 congestion charge, London is going to get more cyclists so these people need to be catered for.”
Mechanics at the new service centre, and at other Evans stores, are paid well over the industry average, even by London standards. An experienced Evans mechanic can earn upwards of £20 000 a year.
For retail director Mike Cunningham this is par for the course:
“People think it’s an unskilled job but it’s not. Plumbers don’t work for less than £70 an hour, we shouldn’t undersell our expertise in the bike trade. Our average selling price on bikes is £400. Bikes at this price and above often come with all sorts of fancy extras, such as rear shocks. These are beyond the servicing capabilities of even the most dedicated of home maintenance enthusiasts.”
The first Evans store was opened in Kennington in 1921. There was an original Mr FW Evans. He sold the store in 1950 to Joe Smith who gifted the enterprise to his son, Gary, in 1974. It was a wedding present. Towards the end of the 1970s, Gary Smith upped sticks and moved the shop to larger premises at Waterloo Cut.
This shop prospered and in the boutique-bikeshop mini-boom of the mid-1980s the Evans formula was franchised out to become a loosely amalgamated chain of five shops. By 1993, the franchisees had all been bought out and the chain came under Smith’s central ownership again. In 1997 a distribution centre was opened in Leatherhead. At 10 000 sq ft this was a fifth of the size of today’s Gatwick distribution centre-cum-HQ.
Evans Cycles dominates London and the home counties. And MD Mike Rice believes there’s scope for more Evans stores. He, and Cunningham, are constantly seeking potential new trading locations.
“We’ve talked about spreading the formula away from London but logistics would be a problem,” said Cunningham.
“We have regular strategy meetings where we discuss moving to new areas, geographical or product wise. But why do something you don’t know about? We’re very busy already, do we need to put extra strain on the company?”
Rice agrees. He believes it makes more sense to concentrate on bikes rather than bagels, on Greater London rather than Glasgow:
“We would lose our focus. We can’t act on a wing and a prayer. To put in fringe products is defeating the object,” said Rice.
“We don’t look at what others are doing. We look to open where population densities are high, where there are lots of people already on our customer database and where the potential customer profile fits into a band similar to our other stores,” said Cunningham.
“We’ve been offered bike shops but for the cost involved we don’t find it appropriate to buy.”
And the Evans formula wouldn’t work everywhere, believes Cunningham.
“We try to accommodate the majority of consumers but there is still lots of scope for niche IBDs that can offer something that little bit special, whether it is downhill, triathlon, tandem or service workshops that a general store like Evans cannot offer.
“We work hard to ensure that we sell what our customers need, not just what we like. Our customers often do not see themselves as ‘cyclists’.
“They play other sports, do other things. They go to the gym, they ski. Cycling is just one of the activities they fit into their lives.”
This doesn’t mean Evans Cycles isn’t evangelical, said Cunningham.
“We’re in business to make money but along the way we get more people cycling. Specialist IBDs don’t convert people to cycling, they survive by catering to existing cyclists. We like to think we help to create new cyclists. Evans appeals to the mainstream part of a niche market.”
Mike Rice, 36
Started at Waterloo in 1985 whilst a student on a Production Engineering degree course. Worked at Evans for four summers and once he graduated he opted to work in bike trade. Opened Croydon store in 1990. MD since 1993.
Andrew Terrington, 31
Worked at Waterloo Cut from 1988, managed Croydon Store from opening in 1990, appointed general manager for warehouse and distribution in 1997. Appointed operations director in 2001. Managed overall project for re-location from Leatherhead to Gatwick.
Mark Smith, 29
Worked part time within various Evans stores, whilst studying for economics degree. Qualified as chartered accountant with Arthur Andersen. Appointed finance director May 2002.
Mike Cunningham, 34 (left)
Worked at Covent Garden Cycles in 1990 whilst a part-time student. After a period overseas got sales assistant job at Evans Waterloo. Worked part-time at Waterloo Cut whilst studying for a four year teaching degree. Decided to do, not teach. Made retail director in 2001.
Annual turnover: £12m
Bikes vs P&A: 50/50
Bike sales: 12 000 a year
Stores: 10, plus B2C website
Staff: 170, inc 40 at Gatwick HQ
Customers: 65 000 on database
EPoS: 10 years with Stockturn
Brands: Specialized, Trek, Cannondale, Saracen, Kona, Ridgeback, Klein
Top: Camino Park HQ
Middle: The warehouse is on three levels
Base: MD Mike Rice