The Bike Mill in West Yorkshire has changed its entire business model to adapt to the modern industry. Rebecca Bland visited the store to find out more.
This piece first appeared in the October edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here
Compared to even 10 years ago, the landscape of the cycling industry is considerably different. Online, discounted websites rule and buying a bike for RRP is generally a thing of the past.
And with this change, the role of the local bike shop has also changed. Hubs of advice and knowledge, they are incredibly valuable to consumers but in a different way.
And working with the consumer rather than against them is the reason The Bike Mill in Queensbury has been so successful.
Formerly known as Firth Cycles, Ryan Crayden-Reed took over from former owner Barry Firth in July 2020 after working there for 12 years.
Moving from sales person and mechanic to bike shop owner was a leap, but after a year he renamed it the Bike Mill, as it’s situated in an old mill, and has continued the shop’s reputation for being approachable and an important part of the community. Something that Crayden-Reed suggests is because of their different approach to being a bike shop.
“We changed to repairs only maybe 12 years ago, and all the reps that came in said we were mad, we’re a bike shop that doesn’t sell bikes. It’s crazy. But you just can’t compete with online, you’ve got to buy new bikes every September, sign up for the next ones, and it doesn’t matter what brand you’re talking to, even if they say they’ll protect the price – it’s still so cheap online.”
Moving to a repairs and servicing only model has done well for the shop, and in the future, they’d like to entirely do away with selling accessories and focus on becoming a one-stop shop for components.
“We’re cutting off basically all accessories, and we’re going to become a workshop. The idea behind it is at the minute there are thousands of pounds worth of accessories that no one’s really bothered about. It sits there all year, and we sell one in a blue moon.
“So you’ve got all that sat there, whereas what we need sat there is, cassettes, chains for every different standard that there is now. We want to be that shop that you can call in and go, ‘I’ve got a race tomorrow. I need this’, and we’ve got something that fits. So we’re running it all down to then build up all the cassettes and things there and become, in a way like a Kwik Fit of the bike world.”
Moving to a workshop oriented shop also means that the Bike Mill doesn’t have to worry about storage space or putting down a lot of cash for bikes that they might not even sell. And this is all part of adapting to the current environment – something that Crayden-Reed thinks we’ll see more of from other shops.
“The industry has changed so much. Bikes have changed so much. And customers have changed so much that you can’t hang on to it. You’ve got to adapt. You can’t put people down for getting bargains online, because we all do it.
“We all shop on Amazon. We all shop on Chain Reaction Cycles from time to time when they’ve got cheap stuff. So you can’t have a go at your customers for doing the same thing.”
Adaptation isn’t just taking place within the structure of the shop, however, as e-bikes become more and more popular. Crayden-Reed estimates that nearly half of all workshop queries are now for e-bikes.
“I reckon our repairs are probably 60% unassisted, 40% e-bikes these days. My theory on it is, people don’t go and buy bikes with cash anymore.
“They buy bikes on finance. So if you’re going to buy a bike on finance, and you’ve got five grand to spend, you either get a top end manual bike, or you get a mid to high end e-bike, and why would you not buy one with a motor?”
Crayden-Reed is now a firm advocate of e-bikes and their benefits to the wider cycling community. While he may not sell them, he can certainly provide advice and mechanical know-how to customers who might not be entirely convinced.
“I am a massive believer in the e-bike now. To start with, I wasn’t. I didn’t jump on board, because it felt like cheating, but then I rode one. I push e-bikes because they basically make cycling for everyone again.
“It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a bit of an injury, or if you’re just not fit, have no motivation or no time to ride consistently. Jump on an e-bike, and it makes it so much fun.”
E-bikes are just one of his areas of knowledge, but at heart, Crayden-Reed is a mountain biker and has been since he was a child.
The shop staff are almost carefully curated to balance out knowledge gaps, with Euan Cameron and Will Thompson the resident road racers of A. Fawcett Racing (a team that the Bike Mill sponsors). There’s even Ralph, the shop dog, who brings another level to the already relaxed atmosphere.
Between them, they encourage customers to enjoy riding – and there is no discrimination for what they ride or wear.
Even turning up to the shop, they insisted on coming out and looking over the electric city bike I rode there – a sign, in my eyes, at least, that they are cycling enthusiasts, not just salesmen or mechanics with a chip on their shoulder about brands that constantly produce bikes with squeaky brakes.
The future looks bright for this little workshop in a busy corner of West Yorkshire, with knowledge unbound, friendly faces, a playful spaniel, and an adaptable attitude, they’re ready to adjust to whatever turn the cycling industry takes next.