Raleigh UK managing director Lee Kidger

Sustainability, brand development and recruiting from within: Raleigh on life in lockdown

James Groves sits down with newly-appointed Raleigh UK managing director Lee Kidger as he talks e-mobility, COVID-19 and continual development

In June, it was confirmed that after two and a half years at the Raleigh UK helm, Pippa Wibberley would be taking up the role of global managing director for Accell Bike Parts. Yet for many of those with a pre-existing relationship with the UK distributor, her replacement is a very familiar face.

Lee Kidger has been heading up Raleigh UK’s P&A sector since 2018. In that time, he has overseen key brand acquisitions such as Saris, Met and Selle Italia, while total P&A sales have almost doubled.

Kidger, who began his Raleigh career as an area account manager in September 2014, believes the Accell Group recruitment process delivers an encouraging message to his inherited team. “It’s demonstrated that Accell is very keen to recruit from within, and that has to be very promising for everyone involved,” he says. “We’ve done some amazing things at Raleigh in the past few years and it’s vital that we’re able to continue that same project uninterrupted with a similar team.

“There’s continual development on the Raleigh brand, and we want to take that to the next level in the coming months. We have some exciting projects going on – which I can’t really go into right now – but it’s looking like the next 18 months will be a really exciting time for Raleigh.”

It’s been an interesting start to life at the helm for Kidger, who first discovered he would be taking on the role less than a fortnight before UK lockdown.

“The team worked really hard. We still had some essential logistics workers in from the get-go, which naturally can’t be done from home. We had one week of pausing, monitoring the situation and wondering what we should do. But with that exception, it’s been all systems go; there’s been no let-up since.

“Naturally there have been stock issues, but we’re working with bike factories and P&A brands to secure as much stock as possible. The supply chain is different from what it has been, but we are here to support our IBD customers through this time.

“COVID has, of course, put paid to a few of the plans that I had. My background is in P&A, so I know many people from that side of the business, but I’m not quite as established with the bike side. It would have been great to do a couple of weeks touring our dealer network, but unfortunately, that will have to wait!”

In line with the rest of the cycling industry, the ongoing lockdown period has left Raleigh more in-demand than ever.  “While we’re hardly celebrating the pandemic, it really is an exciting time to be in cycling,” Kidger says. “It’s equally a really exciting time to take charge of a business in this industry. The coronavirus has brought about some challenges, of course it has, but the business is in a very good position.”

Pippa Wibberley

He’s quick, however, to give credit to his predecessor. “If we hadn’t been in such a strong position for the past few years with Pippa in charge, we’d be having a very different conversation,” he says. “She’s done some genuinely amazing things, both from a business perspective and pulling the team together, and I’ve inherited a great team beside me. We are ambitious and we want to continue to take Raleigh UK on this journey that takes us to the next level.”

E-mobility has without question been a key trend of the past couple of years, and COVID has only served to accelerate that.  “Clearly, e-bikes, e-cargo bikes and e-mobility, in general, will be a huge focus for Raleigh,” says Kidger.

“It’s no secret that e-cargo is becoming more and more prominent, so we’ll certainly be venturing into that market. Conventional, mechanical bikes will remain a significant focus, too, but they will be structured to the bikes we want our customers to buy. We’re not going to be doing £5,000 road bikes or high-end electric mountain bikes. We have Haibike and Lapierre (as our sister brands) in the market to offer bicycles for these sectors. Raleigh is famous for the urban, leisure and commuting sectors, and that’s what we’ll continue to prioritise.

“We do this both as a business and then as an industry so that moving forward, we have the ability to actually change cycling. That means working with the Government, helping to change infrastructure, get more people on bikes, get fewer people using cars. We’re in a unique position with COVID, but it could be a fundamental change for the industry.”

And speaking of fundamental changes, UK e-scooter trials represent an interesting dilemma for the cycling industry – assuming legislation evolves. Some IBDs are already considering the possibility of stocking e-scooters alongside their more conventional rides, but how could that affect cycling distributors?

“Anything that is sustainable, both from a mobility point of view and transport point view, we are absolutely behind,” says Kidger.

“We’re in business to sell bikes and bike solutions, so at this time, e-scooters are not something we will be venturing into. Legislation has to change, but if their arrival means a reduction in carbon footprint, it can only be a good thing.”

He concludes: “Raleigh has the highest awareness as a bike brand in the UK (82% aided brand recognition). We need to do everything we can to harness that as best we can.”

 

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