Judith Smith on building the Primal Europe business from scratch

Smith on her impressive career trajectory in the bike trade
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Primal Europe director Judith Smith has had an impressive career trajectory in the bike trade. Ahead of her keynote speech later this month at the BikeBiz Women of the Year event, BikeBiz quizzed the Primal Europe boss on how she built up the business…

BikeBiz: Are you looking forward to the Women in Cycling event? And your keynote speech?
Judith Smith: I am excited, and also very thankful for the invite. Truthfully, I am also a little nervous if I am honest! The awards are a celebration of all women within the industry, and their successes, and I am very proud to be a part of it.

Whenever people ask me about Primal and how it all started, I tell them the whole story and people do seem to be amazed, and really interested in how it all started. I do sometimes find it hard to comprehend what I have achieved to date, as I am just the same person I was before all this started – married with children, a dog, doing a job I love, to the best of my abilities.

However, I wouldn’t be where I am today, without the love and support of my family though – helping me to stay grounded and supporting me through the highs, and lows of setting up and running a new business.

How big was the Primal Europe operation when you took it on back in 2011?
I set the company up from scratch from home, whilst juggling being a mum, and a having a husband away in the Navy. Never one to shy away from a new challenge, I embraced the experiences and the new opportunities in front of me. Skype became my new best friend, where all my training on computer packages and software, and accounting happened – usually late at night due to the seven hour time difference! I did have a few accounts transferred over to me which were Europe- based, but the main objective for me was to start on the UK market, and build a platform for the brand to grow from. I set myself sales goals to reach each month, whilst still getting to grips with the business side.

Over the following few weeks I was researching business fundamentals such as setting up bank accounts, merchant bank accounts, using couriers, understanding and dealing with multi currencies, import tax, training myself in Sage, VAT, import and exporting to list just a few. 

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Staff training took me to Las Vegas and Interbike in September 2011, and a great chance to see where the brand sat in the US market. I remember returning and going to the NEC Cycle Show a few weeks later and thinking ‘wow’ life is a little surreal now – from then it’s been a whirlwind of shows, meeting people, stats, adventures, new skills, networking – along the way I have met some amazing people, and worked with some great people, which I am truly grateful for.

By the summer of 2012, James (my husband) had been made redundant from the Navy, and was key to enable the business to expand further. Within six weeks, the extra growth meant that we had to employ our first member of staff to join us, and to date we now have a team of seven amazing people, who are great advocates for the Primal brand, and everything we want to achieve within that. Our staff are a mix of sporty people, who also includes two apprentices, who have completely changed my view on working with younger people, and what they have to give to a company they are passionate about.

And how big is the Primal Europe operation now? You’ve had four office moves?
Moving house is hard enough, when it comes to moving a business, that’s another level of stress and organisation skills. To date we are on office move four, and a long way from where Primal started back in 2011 when I used to work from home. 

After James left the Royal Navy 2012 he joined me in working at Primal. We realised that living and working together was not a great mix long term, so we ventured into our first offices together in August 2012. We only lasted there about six months before we were asked to move on, we had basically outgrown our hosts, who were a start up business centre.

Our current new office, which we have been in since June 2014, has plenty of extra growing space, so hopefully this will be the last for a while. Every day we get to enjoy the mountains and green space of Plymbridge Woods and Dartmoor mountains. Makes cycling to work very easy when you can explore these areas on route to the office.

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We have a great mix of staff, who are all a great asset to the company. We currently have seven of us at Primal, and I believe this will rise to nine by the end of the year as we plan further growth, both in the UK and Europe.

We have already grown an additional 30 per cent this year to date, and sun has only just started shining! The growth in cycling as a whole is amazing; it’s great to see so many cyclists out riding, and using the bike as a form of transport, as well as for leisure. 

We have also are partnered and support some amazing companies including the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA Europe), European Cyclist Federation (ECF) and VOXwomen (a channel dedicated to all things women’s cycling) to name a few, which allows us to give back something to the cycling community.

How are you involved with the team?
The team is how I met Primal. In September of 2010 James and I went off to the Cycle Show at Earls Court to see who was interested in our vision for the future, to create a road race team with a lasting legacy within our local community. After several hours at the show I found myself chatting to some friendly Americans from Primal Wear Inc., who loved our passion for cycling. In 2011 our first Road race team was launched called Primal Europe. We were sponsored with clothing from Primal for our 12 person team, but ended up with an additional 15 people all wearing and supporting us in this project. 

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At the end of the 2011 season, we had all these people that had spent money on kit, and wanted to make sure as we progressed, we did not leave the original team behind. So we set up a new cycling club in Plymouth called RUTrainingToday CC. This club still runs today, and has over 60 members. It has achieved Go-Ride status, and has an amazing team of volunteers who give up their time, to get more people on bikes.

In 2013, we first used the term #peoplesteam, a reference to where the team started, a local club organized by fans. The cycling team has continued to grow and professionalise, and we have plans to keep that going forwards into 2016. We have mixed our passion of cycling, with business, and both have grown together and evolved. We have a great mix of male and female riders on the team, and normally on race days I can be found loading and unloading the team’s equipment on the day, setting up gazebos, stood in the feed zone or passenger in the team car. Not the most glamourous part, but a crucial of the support set up over all.
I am not one for sitting back and watching others, and believe you should never expect others to do a job, you wouldn’t be happy to do yourself. I like to be able to support and help the team, and love to see the riders achieve their goals. Having tried racing once, I have totally respect for the amount of hard work and training involved, but I do get satisfaction in knowing I have helped them in achieve their goals.

What’s next for Primal Europe? Are you looking for more dealers to take the brand on?
There’s always something going on in Primal, and 2015/2016 will be no different. We never take anything for granted and understand that we are in the toughest part of the cycling market. Eurobike this year will see some great new products launched, and a key time for us to build upon the success we have achieved to date. Pop in and see us at the show and we would be more than happy to go through all the new lines with you!

We will continue to grow the custom side of Primal, both in the UK and Europe: Building on past successes, and the current business model.

We are always looking for new dealers to take our brand, both in the UK and Europe. If you are interested please email us on judith.s@primalwear.com or call 01752 696290, where one of the team will be able to help you.

Any final thoughts for the trade?
Sport England found that participation in cycling expanded by 27 per cent between 2006 and 2014. The UK bicycle market was worth just over £950m last year, and Mintel think by 2019 this will rise to £1.3bn.
So although we are placed in a very competitive market, this can be seen by all the new brands coming to market, each with their own vision of where they sit; but I truly believe Primal has something different to offer and is definitely a brand to watch in the future.
#ChoosePassionChoosePrimal

Find out more about the BikeBiz Women of the Year Awards and drinks reception at www.bikebizwomen.com

www.primaleurope.com

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