Rebecca Morley sits down with Alex Trimnell, Muc-Off CEO, and Alex Hall, global marketing director, to talk about why now is such an exciting time for the brand
“We’re 25 years old this year, we’ve always had year on year growth but particularly the last 12 months we’ve really been accelerating and it still feels very much like a start-up,” says Muc-Off CEO Alex Trimnell, sitting down with global marketing director Alex Hall in the brand’s new head office in Branksome, Poole. Muc-Off has moved to a larger facility as a result of its growth – in the last year it’s gone from 35 people to 50, as a result of the continued success of the business.
Trimnell adds: “We’ve been really fuelling investment in the team, in the talent within. We’ve added 15 people to the business in the last 12 months, hence why we needed to move. But also we really want to invest in talent, and I think that’s been the key thing, becoming a lifestyle brand and becoming more global, having people with the experience.
“The business has grown to the point where we can attract, and I think more people are interested in the lifestyle and not just salary, and Poole offers a great lifestyle. So, that’s been a really key drive for the last 12 months. That will only propel us further. The team is so new, there are so many new faces around the office, so that’s only going to fuel things further.”
Trimnell says that despite cleaning and maintenance not being the sexiest category in the bike industry, Muc-Off has thrived in making it more fun for dealers. “It’s become a very important category, particularly as service is getting more and more important for IBDs,” he says. “I think we see the category growing.
“We do all the product development, design, marketing, and selling all in-house. We’re a very consumer-focused brand, creating content and social stories, we do all that in-house so that’s a big part of us being a very relevant brand that’s really trying to talk to consumers.”
Hall adds: “We’re a big part of driving people into the stores, for independent bike dealers. You still have to get your bike serviced, a lot of people still have to go in and talk to mechanics and understand the relevance and the meaning behind having these products.
“An in-house creative team is a huge amount of effort and investment for the business, but what it results in is all the incredible content you see on our social channels, all the incredible stuff that we create for our athletes, and that’s the thing that people connect to.
“To support all that requires that investment, and we’ve got an area now where the guys can shoot in-house and they don’t have to go from location to location, especially for our close up bike and motorbike shots that we do. But all of that takes investment and resources, but it’s paying off.”
“It really is,” Trimnell adds. “I think we’re structured now with the office, we’re structured to be a lifestyle brand and it’s like a content machine really. We were in a first-floor office in our old office so when we had dirty bikes we had to bring them up the stairs, so life’s going to be much easier. It just means we can push, and put our foot on the accelerator harder now.”
Muc-Off’s business is booming, with current year on year growth about 30%, and that momentum doesn’t show any signs of stopping, Hall says. “When you’re growing that quickly as a business you want to be able to capitalise on it and make sure your dealers can capitalise on it. There’s that much interest in the brand, we’re seeing it in social, we’re seeing it in sales, we’re seeing it in the reaction to some of our products that we’re launching.
“To be able to go after that sort of growth means just continuing our own internal growth, so mirroring that revenue. I think in the macroeconomic climate that we’re in, and where people have concerns about physical bike stores and the bike industry, to be able to buck that trend and help our stores and retailers buck that trend as well I think is a really important thing for us.”
Trimnell adds: “The internet can’t fix bikes. It’s supporting dealers, and that again is a big driver of why we’ve gone direct, that we can work face to face with dealers to drive their servicing, support them on that servicing, and to support their mechanics, because that clearly is a future-proof revenue stream for a bike dealer, there’s always going to be a need to have bikes serviced.
“We really want to fit that future profile of an IBD and help them ultimately make more money and sell more products. When Muc-Off started it was all dealer direct, so we’re kind of going back to our roots and if feels really good. To have those conversations and react and support straight away is really exciting. It really fits our whole DNA as a business really, we try and over deliver on service wherever that may be. We want to have partnerships, it’s not just about selling products and saying that’s it, it’s a real partnership and that’s exciting for us.”
Going dealer direct
Muc-Off recently announced the launch of its dealer direct programme, offering independent bike retailers the opportunity to open a direct account with the brand. On why the brand decided to do this, Trimnell says: “We’ve had lots of different distribution strategies in the UK. We’ve been multi-distribution, we’ve been exclusive with big distributors and exclusive with smaller distributors, and I think it’s always been something that we’ve thought about because it does make sense.
“We are UK-based, and we have a distribution facility so we could supply, but there’s always been so much going on, particularly with export and growing the business, that we just felt that wasn’t our primary focus before. That’s the beauty of a distributor, it allows you to carry on focusing on the product development and marketing and all the other things.
“But I think now we’ve got to a point in the business with the scale we are and the team, that we felt we can give dealers a deeper partnership than we can get through a distributor. Distribution has been great for us and it continues to be a critical part of our business obviously for export, but it’s got to the point where we can invest in our own B2B site. That’s a significant investment and we’ve not been able to afford that until now, and having our team on the road and out there talking to dealers.
“It came to a point where we thought the environment’s changing, the internet’s clearly changed the bicycle industry, dealers want more, they want to work closely with brands, they want to feel the energy. As good as a distributor can be, the energy is less than when we deal directly with the brand. We know we can drive innovative product level, opportunities, and merchandising opportunities that won’t ever really work through a distributor.
“So I think on many fronts we’ve warmed up to it, but we just felt that this was the year to do it. It feels like it’s a very significant year for Muc-Off. It just feels like a fresh start on so many levels. It really does feel like a start-up, it’s a very talented and hungry team. It just came to a point where we just thought this is the time, it feels right to do this and the response already seems to be fantastic.
“Dealers seem to be really open and keen to do that. Obviously, as a maintenance brand going direct we were nervous that shops may say: ‘not interested, we don’t want to open an account just for one brand’, but we’ve not had that at all. So it’s been a really great start.”
Hall adds: “For dealers, how do we lower the hurdle to make sure that they’re selling as much Muc-Off at the best price possible? Lowering those hurdles means having a great B2B website that is very easy to go on, delivering on great credit terms and great service terms as well for those dealers, so that they can get the best possible service. We want to be best in the industry, not just best in our category, for how we work direct. If we do it right it’s win-win.”
“It’s only upside for the dealer,” Trimnell adds. “They get to feel that energy and be part of the brand. It’s not just us preaching to them what we do, it’s hearing their feedback and being able to adapt product development and adapt what we do. We’re very feedback-driven, whether that’s consumer, distributor, or IBD feedback. It’s that quick reaction to hearing what people need to be a better partnership, that we can react to really quickly. Because we’re so self-contained, and still a small company, we can do that and react quickly.”
One of the reasons for the location move was the proximity to Muc-Off’s R&D facility, which is ‘a stone’s throw away’ on the same business park. “The beating heart of the business is innovation,” Trimnell says. “That innovation really just fuels my passion, because I love performance and I love making things go quicker, so that’s really fantastic. We don’t ever say: ‘that’s done, it’s selling really well, we don’t need to worry about it now’. There’s a lot going on there, and I’m building my product team so there’s a lot to come on that.”
Hall adds: “I think some of the stuff that we brought out with regards to our tubeless sealant programme and tubeless valves and disc brake covers, these things that really capture the imagination of the consumer. We see when we post on social. If you flick through our social channels, when someone sees a tubeless post or disc brake cover post, the engagement is off the scale.
“I think it shows with going dealer direct, it shows with us moving office, and it shows with the product, that we don’t rest on our laurels at all. It’s always like: ‘What’s next?’ Sometimes we have to pause and reflect on success, but asking ‘what’s next’ is what’s driven us forward all this time and is what’s accelerating us now.”
Trimnell adds: “We’ve got such a predominantly young team that I think that energy is that start-up mentality, it’s really important to me that this business has no ego. But that’s the drive to be better and improve, as soon as you feel like you’re number one or you’re winning, that’s when an athlete, race team or business starts to lose their edge because they feel that they don’t need to work that hard because they’re so good, and that’s dangerous. We’re the opposite of that.
“It all goes down to thrilling consumers, and we are also the consumer, we are cyclists and motorcyclists. We’re really developing products for ourselves. It’s so exciting to be able to find a problem and then create a solution, and then tell the world about that and see that energy. It’s so exciting to get that feedback loop, to create something that’s not there, and then it’s there and then people are using it, it’s really cool. That’s a big part of the fuel, and there’s a lot more things to solve and a lot more things to improve on bikes, so it’s lovely feeling that fuel. The more consumers get excited the more that excites us to do better.”
Hall concludes: “The momentum over the last year and this huge double-digit growth we’re seeing has lead to this dealer direct point and then we’re going to accelerate from there. We had this momentum already, the team growth, the office move and then top of that going direct with this huge programme for us, a lot of work has gone into that. With those things combined we’re really excited about the second half of the year, and then what we can in 2020.”