An open letter on retail

By David Middlemiss, associate director of the Bicycle Association

How is the retail sector viewed when it comes to the mission of growing cycling? This is the aim of the Bicycle Association’s advocacy work: to get more people on bikes, representing the whole UK industry with one voice.

Delivering on this purpose, speaking for all and increasing the efficacy of our advocacy work demands new engagement with retailers. I’d like to explain briefly how, as a not-for-profit, a critical and trusted advisor to the Government, we will do that in the years ahead, such that your trade association becomes a do tank as well as a think tank.

It’s going to start with listening to retailers, alongside other voices, then recognising and supporting appropriately, so that ultimately we seize the transformative moment provided by Government funding and commitment to cycling, post-COVID.

A confession: when I was young and stupid, my first job was for a large oil company. The divisions in which my fellow new starters joined included such exotic offices as Exploration, Production, Aviation and, in my case, Refining and Logistics. The odd one out, to my narrow mind, was Retail or, as it was sometimes sniffily disparaged, ‘Shops’.

While the important strategic decisions, from tax and tariffs to production and quality, seemed to be taking place up the chain, what a simple life it must be to play shops! A rude awakening occurred when I somewhat unexpectedly became a retail area manager, the ‘sharp end’ I’d once derided made all the more pointed by the presence of the public. On top of being shot at and robbed on a daily basis while ‘delivering the brand’, my retailers had somehow to endure my ‘counselling’ on correctly merchandising their stock and understanding their own margin.

Gradually, I learned to listen to their different, canny experience and I became, slowly, a little wiser and more effective. While the analogy may be tortuous, albeit true, the lesson holds. When it comes to bolstering our advocacy, we’ll start by listening to retailers.

While we’ve already made a start with our Independent Retailer Forum, in the summer of 2021 the BA, in conjunction with Sports Marketing Surveys (SMS), will conduct our biggest listening project to date. We want to know what retailers, alongside our long-standing member base of brands, manufacturers and distributors, think of our advocacy programme and what else should go on it.

Retailers are not passive purveyors of products, a simply necessary link in the chain between factory and customer. Rather, they are the experts in understanding what motivates people to become cyclists, and also what stops them: they are the day-in, day-out ambassadors for cycling in all its forms.

This ‘cycling census’ won’t be lip service to an engagement project. The motivation is to ensure that the industry can advocate for the most effective use of resources at this transformative point in time – and who better than retailers, those who put people on bikes every day of the year, to help inform this?

Along with listening, how about some recognition? After we consult with retailers this summer, the BA will also be acting to recognise the advocacy for cycling that has been a broadly unheralded fixture of our retail sector. We are fortunate to have passionate and committed investors in cycling amongst our membership, particularly our leadership group. In addition, around the country, we also have retailers giving their free time, expertise and products to encourage cycling at all levels.

Sponsorship of clubs, assistance for bikeability, provision of free services for key workers, donations of unwanted (not anymore?!) products to local charities, the thankless guiding of mums and tots rides… the list goes on. Contribution to the work of the BA through the Retailer Advocacy Fund comes on top of that. Just as retailers have a unique understanding of the challenges people face when thinking about cycling, so they are also great ‘doers’, putting bums on saddles where they live and work.

A whole-industry trade association is there to support its constituents. As a not-for-profit with no commercial interests, we have to operate within obvious parameters. However, just as we advocate for common interests, so we can better support common interests.

The Market Data Service (MDS), powered by SMS, live for over a year, is a great example of this. Covering over £1.7 billion, some 70% of the whole market, access to game changing market insights is free for participating retailers. If you haven’t signed up yet, then do so!

This year, we are also working hard on delivering a project to reduce cycle theft, with plans to extend this to help improve security at bike shops. Provision of open source documents to support retailers in a time of rapid legislative, environmental and societal change is another project in train.

A new, expanded programme of events and meetings, open to everyone within our industry, is also in development, building on some very well-attended virtual events delivered in the last six months. Rest assured, we’ll only create content where we have a unique angle and the output is not simply informative, but applicable.

In 2020, the BA helped keep retailers open by securing essential status for the sector. It followed that up by helping secure an unprecedented £2 billion commitment to funding for cycling and walking in the Government’s Gear Change vision. The data we have been able to gather from services like the MDS played a vital role in this. These are potentially transformative moments.

We need not, must not, be passive bystanders to what happens next. The battle for the effective use of that fund is just beginning and we’ll be better able to shape the allocation of funds at a local level if we’re informed by, and in turn mobilise, the retail network.

Growing cycling is the theme that unites manufacturer, distributor and retailer and, with our limited resources, it is the participation of retailers that will transform us from think tank to do tank in the years ahead.

Therefore, retailers, please complete the cycling census when you receive it this summer! You already contribute to the work of the BA and you are advocates yourselves in your communities. Help us advocate for the most effective policies and funding now and, as part of a unified industry, we’ll help grow cycling together.

About the Bicycle Association
The Bicycle Association (BA) is the national trade association for the UK cycle industry. The BA strives always to represent the best interests of the UK cycle industry to Government, stakeholders and the general public – with the highest standards of professionalism. The mission of the BA is to grow ‘everyday cycling’ in the UK and remove barriers to cycling for everyone.

About the Market Data Service
The Market Data Service (MDS) is a not-for-profit service run by the Bicycle Association for the benefit of the UK cycling industry. The Market Data Service provides game changing retail sales market insights for the specialist and generalist sales channels. Subscribers receive access to real, monthly sales data across bikes, parts, accessories and services; data which can be cut and diced in thousands of ways: by category, channel, price-point, brand, product, even by region to give your business the insight you need to drive performance, stay competitive, and boost your bottom line.

About Sports Marketing Surveys
Sports Marketing Surveys (SMS) is the BA’s data partner for the Market Data Service. It has 35 years of experience providing specialist quantitative and qualitative insight to the sports and leisure industry, supporting some of the biggest brands, retailers, events, venues, federations and governing bodies around the globe.

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