Green Commute Initiative’s marketing director Joanna Flint talks COVID-19, market changes and winning Best Retailer Services at last year’s BikeBiz Awards
How has the past year been for GCI – what impact has COVID-19 had on business?
As reflected across much of the bike industry, the last 12-18 months have been phenomenal for GCI. The demand for bikes has been unprecedented and there has been a marked increase in the number of people using the Cycle to Work Scheme to make their dream bike more affordable. As a result of GCI’s success and the resulting economies of scale, we were delighted to reduce our commission rate to bike shops at the end of March this year. GCI now charges just 5% commission on any GCI order which means GCI continues to be the best deal for everyone.
As a not-for-profit social enterprise, this important move reinforced our support of local independent bike shops, helping them to keep more of their profits within their businesses and local communities. We have seen a significant uplift in the number of large clients signing up to use Corporate GCI. Back in October, we recruited an experienced sales manager and a business trainee and, during this time, we have seen the number of corporate clients more than double. It’s been an amazing year for the whole GCI team.
How has the market has changed in recent months?
Brexit and COVID-19 have undoubtedly created a unique situation. Bike shops have found themselves in the unusual position of being short of stock whilst facing unprecedented demand. Customers have been frustrated with lack of choice and retailer patience may have worn a little thin trying to satisfy everyone. Some retailers have started to refuse Cycle to Work vouchers, negatively impacting the customer’s buying experience.
There has been disappointment as some shops also refuse to ‘hold’ bikes for 24 hours whilst the Cycle to Work voucher is generated. When we return to some sort of normality, a focus on customer service will be key as those new customers during the first lockdown will start to return for bike services, repairs and other purchases. Investment to improve the customer buying journey will be essential. E-commerce has shown how important it is and some retailers will need to upgrade their websites to bring them up to an acceptable standard.
Lockdown has highlighted how liberating the bike can be when times are tough. Active travel is in the news as people start to take more responsibility for their personal health. E-bikes are increasing in popularity as awareness and understanding grows about how useful they can be for those wishing to travel longer distances by bike. Cargo bikes are also showing signs of growth as their potential starts to be realised.
GCI won Best Retailer Services at the 2020 BikeBiz Awards. What did it mean to win?
Winning the award meant a tremendous amount to the GCI team. Since entering the market in 2016, we’ve had to defend ourselves against unsubstantiated and damaging claims/rumours from others who openly questioned our legitimacy. With the inclusion of GCI’s model in the updated DfT Guidance Notes, coupled with the BikeBiz Award and our terrific TrustPilot score, the doubters have been silenced. We have shown that GCI is here to stay, a force to be reckoned with, and one that has helped change the industry for the better.
What are your expectations for the year ahead, both for the business and the industry?
We fully expect customer demand to be high but unfortunately, the stock problems across the bike industry will also continue, meaning we’re in for a problematic year. We’re seeing more large corporate clients register with GCI as employers become increasingly aware of alternative providers in the marketplace. GCI’s ethical and supportive ethos is very attractive to socially and environmentally responsible organisations. SMEs will be particularly attracted to our pay-as-you-go scheme which does not require any participating organisations to sign up to restrictive supplier contracts.
As lockdown restrictions ease and the requirement for the wearing of face masks becomes voluntary, many commuters will want to avoid public transport where social distancing is difficult to achieve. Whilst some will start to use cars more, to the detriment of the environment, more commuters will look at alternative travel modes such as the bike. The growth in the number of LTNs and segregated cycleways will help promote cycling as a safe choice.
The Race to Zero campaign and COP 26 Climate Change Conference taking place in November should hopefully reinvigorate the momentum to reduce carbon emissions. Organisations of all sizes should be analysing their environmental impact and that of their employees, and provide staff with access to active travel options for their commute to work, such as the Cycle to Work Scheme.
We were told the point of the anti-COVID measures was to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed, but there doesn’t seem to be the same urgency to protect it from the overwhelming effects of inactivity. Cycling has the power to do that along with other forms of active travel.
Cycling should be the go-to means for everyday short trip transport for all sections of society. This means, as well as safer cycling infrastructure, we need to rebalance attitudes so that women cyclists, in particular, feel safe riding their bikes and don’t have to endure condescending and sexist attitudes from some in the bike trade as well as the driving public. It’s such a simple thing to fix, why would you risk losing business from it?
Nominations are now open for the BikeBiz Awards 2021 in association with Tannus Tyres. Enter here: https://www.bikebizawards.com/enter/