Regional Spotlight: The Midlands - Retail and manufacturing

...in the second part of our in-depth feature we look at the worlds of retail and manfacture in the region
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Read the first part of our Regional Spotlight on the Midlands here.

While you may not associate the Midlands with the nation’s biggest bike retailers particularly, the area plays a key role for at least two of them. Halfords operates two distribution centres in the region, in Redditch in Worcestershire and – since 2010 – over in Coventry in a 320,000 square foot warehouse.

Likewise Wiggle has upped sticks to the Midlands. While its head office remains in the South, the online giant’s distribution centre has migrated to Wolverhampton over the course of this year.

Thanks to those two retailers alone, the bike trade is a significant employer in the region. Halford’s Coventry centre has around 300 staff or colleagues, while Redditch – which is its true bike centre – has 50 staff and over 300 product lines.

Wiggle said it planned to recruit around 150 jobs in its move from Portsmouth to Wolverhampton. Wiggle’s new facility is 323,000 sq ft (just pipping Halfords’ largest warehouse, interestingly). The new distribution digs are three times the size of its former warehouse space and in a press statement from the online retailer there was much mention of the logistical advantages, placed two miles from the M6 and six miles from the M5.

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It’s not just about national and international retail giants, of course, with local IBDs opening up in the region including Velobici which opened a new boutique in Market Bosworth in Leicestershire in August. Housed in a Grade II Listed building on Main Street, the shop offers stylish roadwear, designer accessories and bespoke bicycles.

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One of the best-known local bike shops of the region is probably Rutland Cycling, with four stores in and around the Midlands. The firm started off with a hut-sized shop in 1981 but since then a new outlet has been built, dwarfing that original spot with a stock in excess of 400 bikes, plus lots of P&A and bike fit. Now the retailer has just opened its fifth outlet in nearby Peterborough at the entrance to the Ferry Meadows Country Park. That shop joins the outlets in Whitwell, Grafham, Fineshade and the Giant Store at Rutland Water.
At the end of last year Leisure Lakes chose the Midlands to open its largest outlet yet. The Daventry store features over 250 bicycles over two floors.

In fact there’s plenty of big-scale bike shops in the region, including Specialized’s own flagship Birmingham store, featuring over 400 of the brand’s bikes (and housing the Midlands’ largest S-Works selection in its 4,000 square foot showroom).

Manufacturing
John Kemp Starley has got a lot to answer for – probably all of our jobs, for a start. Starley was the creator of the 1885 Safety bicycle which is widely seen as the archetype for almost all of today’s bicycles. Even the fat tyred ones. The Rover Safety bicycle was tested on a flat stretch of London Road on the outskirts of Coventry. The same London Road hosts the cemetery where he is buried if you fancy a pilgrimage. If you think we’re building up his role too much, bicycle figures from around the world including Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze, Brian Cookson and Ernesto Colnago paid tribute to him on the anniversary of his birthday (in 2012).

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Having once been a hotbed for manufacturing the area has been hit over the decades by numerous firms pulling production out. From perhaps less headline grabbing departures like Clarks Cycle Systems transferring manufacture from Birmingham to the Far East (the firm told BikeBiz that it moved its manufacture away thanks in part to all of its customers moving to Asia) to generation-defining moves like Raleigh.

At its peak, Raleigh produced around two million bikes a year and employed around 8,000 people to make them. When it made the tough decision to move production employee numbers were already a fraction of that at around 400 employees, then cut to 120 at the start of the 21st Century (Source: BBC). While production moved, the firm’s Nottinghamshire site still designs bikes on-site and there’s still a manufacturing link in its wheel building facility, which it has been doing for 125 years.

And happily there is bicycle manufacturing still going on in the Midlands, most notably with Pashley, based in Stratford-upon-Avon. It’s been a strong period for the firm, particularly in terms of those ever popular exports.
“2015 has been a good year for us, we have seen a good level of demand for our special edition bicycles and the trade and carrier cycle part of our business is still in high demand, especially overseas,” says Blake Lavelle, customer service manager for Pashley. “We’ve had a great year for getting out and meeting our customers and promoting the brand. This we do at the London Tweed ride as well as our own summer event the “Pashley Picnic” which this year had a record number of riders coming to Stratford for a civilised ‘potter’ about the lanes and locally sourced refreshments.”

The firm is gearing up for a big anniversary, Lavelle adds: “Next year Pashley turns 90 years old, so we are looking at how we can celebrate the occasion. I can’t imagine the size of the cake we’ll need to give everyone in the factory and office a slice!”

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There’s plenty of P&A being created in the region, including at Nuneaton’s DP Brakes. When BikeBiz visited the factory this summer, the firm was keen to emphasise the lead-time advantages of manufacturing in the UK as well as the responsibilities of keeping things local. Technical director Frank Edwards told us at the time: “We always try to support local firms. The copper plating is done in the UK over in Birmingham’s jewellery quarter. For the powders we use UK distributors wherever we can.”

Edwards added that overseas companies had offered them chance to move production overseas: “That has been pretty tempting, but in the long term it’s not attractive. You can’t control the quality. We’re well established and have a high level of skill. We have in-house training and specialised kit that people won’t have worked on before.”

There’s cycle apparel manufacturing in the Midlands too. Shutt VR might have moved its HQ from the Yorkshire Dales to Oxfordshire, but many of its core jersey ranges and all the Tweed caps are made in Leicestershire.
Brooks of England is a firm that has, like Pashley, managed to keep making cycle product for decades – since 1886 in Brooks’ case. The cache of the company saw it launch a brand store – pretty unusual, nay unique, for a P&A brand in the cycle trade – in London’s Covent Garden at the end of 2013.

Of course we’ve only scratched the surface of the Midlands’ cycle industry – contact us if you’ve anything to add at bikebiz@nbmedia.com

This article first appeared in the October edition of BikeBiz. Read the full issue for free here on BikeBiz.com.

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Trek UK I Milton Keynes I Competitive Salary I Date Published Wednesday 20th March 2018