Rebecca Morley visits an Oxford Products dealer open day for a behind the scenes look at the company.
Oxford Products is aiming to be a one-stop shop, with the idea that a dealer can get everything they need for their store from one place, one company. From 26th to 28th February, the Oxfordshire-based company held an in-house trade show to display its products to interested bike dealers. “It’s the only way to properly represent what we do because we can’t carry samples of all our products around,” marketing director Henry Rivers Fletcher says. “Shows aren’t that popular anymore. The shows that have been successful are probably consumer shows, and when you’ve got a full focus on the consumer it’s not for the trade so much. We’re sold on this concept, but we still do lots of shows.
“This will just be available all the time for this kind of stuff. We’re still quite young in the IBD market, but not a lot of people know about it to just come here, so we have to start it somehow.” As well as its own product ranges, Oxford also had other brands it distributes on display, including Kali. It was recently added to sit alongside Acros components and Taya chains as exclusive brands, and founder Brad Waldron was on hand to answer questions from dealers. Commercial head of cycle David Jesson says: “We are certainly looking to enhance our third-party distribution offering as the year goes on. We have gaps in the catalogue that we are now actively looking to fill and we shall be looking at top brands to get behind.
“Thankfully, Oxford has the backing to make these ambitions come to fruition. Our own products serve bike retailers very well and we’re investing in new products and building the depth and breadth of the brand. Our ambition is to add a layer of premium brands that sit above the Oxford offering.” The company is enjoying consistent double-digit annual growth, and Jesson says the cycle market presents the greatest opportunity for rapid development.
He adds: “We’re aiming to double our trade in cycling every three years with growth coming from our wholesalers, UK independent bike dealers and key accounts as well as our international partners. The growth in IBD is supported by five RSMs on the road, as well as significant investment in product through our own research and development. We have three design engineers to work on rapidly prototyping new ideas with the help of our 3D printer. You will continually see more premium products appear in our catalogue. We recognise that at present the independent bike market is a hard one for dealers, so we enhance our support by offering monthly promotions, point of sale and merchandising units to boost the rate of sale and, where necessary, offer stock rotation to keep our lines fresh and fast-moving in-store.”
Behind the scenes
Established in 1973, Oxford Products is a global leader in motorcycle and bicycle aftermarket products, and its range encompasses everything that makes life on bikes better, the company says, from clothing and helmets to accessories, hard parts, locks, luggage and more. These market-leading products are designed in-house by a team of active enthusiasts and skilled technicians, based at the company’s 100,000 square foot purpose-built headquarters in Oxfordshire, UK. With the support of the latest CAD technology, a 3D printing suite and a fully equipped test laboratory, the company innovates, analyses, tests and develops unique products in pursuit of the “best experience for two-wheel enthusiasts”. Oxford’s current head office was opened in 2014 by UK prime minister at the time David Cameron. The company says it is to ramp up its brand distribution ambitions through 2019, adding some 50,000 square feet of space to its distribution centre later this year.
One important concept for Oxford is the idea of in-housing talent. Conducting a tour of the facility, Rivers Fletcher says: “About ten years ago, we started to crystallise our idea about how we wanted to move the company forward, and how we wanted to develop products, and the theme you’ll hear repeated again and again at Oxford is ‘in-housing’. We don’t want to be paying some external company margins for them to be doing stuff for us. We want all the passion and expertise in the business.
“One of the very first things we did was to start bringing design in-house. The first part of that was graphic design – over the years we’ve developed a team of eight graphic designers, doing all of our two-dimensional work. They’re involved in the product right from the start, and in some cases, they’re actually doing the product design. We also generate the consumer-friendly packaging that will go into the shops and test it to make sure it’s solid enough and it does the job of selling the product. There’s also the rest of the product cycle – advertising, brochure pages, e-shots, all the launch material and the press stuff. We have people looking after different stages of the product marketing process, all the way down to our website.”
He also talks about the three-dimensional side of production, product engineering. “There is a bank of product category managers who will look after luggage, locks, electronics, hardware, workshop, all different categories of products, divided up amongst them. “Then they’ve got to make the product come alive. Generally, their first port of call will be product engineering, so they’ll bring a product brief up from market demands, sales teams, customers, research into competitors.
“The other side is in the 3D CAD design. It could be something as simple as a little plastic clip that holds something down, or it could be patented product designs that don’t exist, solutions to products that don’t exist in the world, that we’re having to come up with a concept for. We bought a 3D printer in 2013 as our first major investment in this part of the business, and it’s been used pretty much every day since.” Between the two warehouses, Rivers Fletcher says there’s about £10 million worth of stock at any one time. “Obviously that grows every year as we grow, but that’s our average at the moment. In March, we might have £11 million worth of stock because it’s the peak period and then it might drop down to £8.5 million towards the end of the season, as the stock levels run down. We’re designing and sourcing most of the products ourselves. We have to have enough stock to support six to nine months of business at any one time, hence the very large stock.”
Products Oxford had on display included its full range of lighting, and Jesson says the new 2018 lighting range had been a ‘huge success’, with lighting sales up 25% last year. He says: “Historically, we’ve only had lights up to about £20, but we are starting to premiumise. We’re finding our stores are really interested in buying a whole collection from a supplier, not a bit of this and a bit of that. We can be their lighting supplier for the whole season, across a whole range of user needs. Everything we’ve been doing is almost the one-stop for the retailer. But we still have the budget lights in our essentials range.”
Oxford also has a new range of gloves for the summer, as well as the winter range which had been new for 2018. As with the lights, Jesson says it’s about the dealers having ranges that are suitable for riders all year round, and being able to see these products at Oxford. “Historically, our business has been very seasonal, it’s all been summer focused, so we’ve been building our winter range up,” he says. Oxford will also have a new range of kids helmets coming out this year, he continues. The in-house graphic designers are given a brief for the products, and then they need to work with the factory, due to the structure and shape of helmets. “You have a flat piece of design and then when they’ve formed the polycarbonate over the shell it distorts everything,” he says. “You have to allow for that in the design, it’s a really fiddly thing to get right.”
Also on display was the Metro Glo, with ‘Phyzibility’, defined as ‘a state in which the human form is able to seen’. The helmet achieves this definition with a 360-degree fibre optic moulded into the shell, allowing the head to be seen from all angles in low light conditions. “This is to fit with the winter cycling, commuting from a safety point of view. Something like half of all accidents happen as a side impact for cyclists, because they’ve got the headlight pointing forwards and the rear light pointing backwards, and they don’t have anything that lights the sides up. So we created this as a product to help illuminate.
“If the driver can relate to the rider as a human, and there’s actually been some research done, then there’s some kind of instinct that says: ‘I’ve got to look after my own’, and their driving style softens a bit.” He adds: “We have a helmet for every occasion, for a more serious mountain biker to a commuter. We do very well with helmets and they’ve been one of our fastest-growing categories.”
A world stage
“Oxford is the backbone of the business,” Rivers Fletcher continues. “It’s profitable, it’s sustainable, it’s distributed not just here but all over the world. Our third party brands are purely UK distribution, however, Oxford is a global thing for us. The world’s a massive place. Every year our export business generally grows quite significantly more than our UK business, because our UK business is quite mature. In export, we’ve got the whole world to go out to, millions and millions of consumers.
“We generally have a good, better, best philosophy. We may start with a fairly simple functional product to fulfil a category, and then work up a better product with more features, more technology, and then once we’ve learnt more about the market we’ll develop the best product. Good, better, best – with three different price points. What we want to achieve in bicycles is really a reflection of what we’ve done in motorcycles, which is to become a really useful, friendly one-stop shop for a dealer, with products that the consumer asks for.”
Oxford also designs its display systems alongside its own packaging. “These are all bespoke,” Rivers Fletcher says. “Within the 22 years that I’ve been at Oxford, I’ve been developing display systems and we’ve been doing it well before that as well. They’re market-leading displays and they do an amazing job of dragging the consumer over to them. A consumer can walk in, have a wander around, and these will draw them over. They’ll pick up some items they didn’t realise they needed, and a few others that they did. We’ve been doing this system for a long time in the motorcycle business, and we’ve had a lot of success with the product development, we just want to copy and paste that success.
“We’ve only just started on the bicycle side, we’ve got a long way to go. But investing in great guys on the road, people who know the market and the customers, and then having a really good support system here for them. We have a really proactive returns department, so if there are problems they are dealt with quickly.”
The company is also working closely with IBDs to make sure it knows what it can offer them and the support it can give, as Jesson says it’s ‘a tough world out there’. Rivers Fletcher adds: “Our focus is on the products that we develop, the brands that we’re bringing through and what we provide to the dealer. We don’t make our products just for our showroom, we have a team of merchandisers who take these out to the shops and build the shop.” Jesson adds: “The whole premise really, if you strip back the shine, of what Oxford does is about making the dealer’s life as easy as possible and supporting them because we know that retailing is a tough business to be in.”
Rivers Fletcher concludes: “We do have a few shops that say: ‘Do you know what? I don’t need anything else. Can you just run the whole thing? Here’s an empty shop, can you just fill it?’ That’s why being a one-stop shop is quite important to us.”