Pennine Cycles turns 72 next month. BikeBiz caught up with co-owner Sandra Corcoran to reflect on 18 years at the helm

Pennine Cycles was originally founded by Johnny Mapplebeck and Geoff Whitaker on 6th July 1946. Having ridden in the Italian countryside during the war, the pair returned from service with a renewed passion for cycling.

Mapplebeck continued as a director at Pennine until he was 80, when he retired and emigrated to Canada. At the time, Paul Corcoran had already been managing the business for a number of years, so he, along with wife Sandra, snatched at the opportunity to take the reins in 2000.

“It feels incredible to have been running a business with my husband for the last 18 years, Sandra explains. “It’s something we both love to do.” 

So, in such a challenging climate, what’s the secret to maintaining a 72-year-old business? “I believe our experience and knowledge of cycling really sets us apart,” Corcoran continues. “Paul and I have both been involved in cycling in many different ways for over 30 years, so we’ve seen things come and go. That experience allows us to offer genuine, first- hand advice. We also customise many of our products, which I think is a major attraction for our customers.”

One key factor for Pennine – as with many established brands – has been a balancing act between maintaining repeat customers while attracting the next generation.

“Although we sell bikes and accessories for all ages and abilities, our key customers are cycling enthusiasts who love to ride their bikes,” says Corcoran. “We have a host of customers who have been buying from us for many years, and we always have new customers who are completely new to cycling. We love to help them enjoy riding their bikes, teach them cycling etiquette and give them the advice to keep improving.

“Unfortunately, customers come and go,” she continues. “They are not always loyal, so you have to continue to promote yourself and help new customers find you, as well as offering great customer service to the ones you already have.

“Cycling is a changing industry, both in technology and fashion, so it’s important to stay ahead of the curve; know what’s happening now, and what’s to come.”

Pennine – perhaps understandably over such a lengthy existence – has been at both ends of the spectrum when it comes to distributor relations. “We have some great relationships, but there have certainly been some which have been... less than great,” laughs Corcoran. “Naturally, good relationships are very important, and the support of distributors for small bike shops is essential. At times, we have felt as though distributors forget that we are their customer, and that any issues we suffer can reflect badly on us as a business. “We’ve had frustrations, but overall, there are some great distributors around, and the ones we currently purchase from are very supportive.”

It hardly needs explaining that the cycling industry has suffered in the difficult climate of the past few years. Bike sales are more competitive than ever, and the impact of the internet is being felt increasingly throughout the market.

“It’s certainly been difficult,” says Corcoran. “Larger retail stores are now offering bikes, while people are buying refurbished rides from non-profits. The fact that accessories are now being sold in high-street stores is of further significance. Of course, online sales have also had a large impact on cycling shops, with large e-commerce shops selling large quantities at cheaper prices. “There have been times where we have seen items being sold at retail for less than the wholesale price, which makes it difficult to be competitive.

As Pennine looks ahead to the future, Corcoran is succinct: “We’re extremely excited by what the future holds for our brand. We are currently looking into the possibility of having a small e-commerce presence as well as continuing to grow our brand, letting people know we are still here, both in our local area and worldwide.”

     

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