BikeBiz catches up with Karen Archer, CEO of Rutland Cycling, which won Best Omnichannel Retailer at last year’s BikeBiz Awards, to find out how it adapted to COVID restrictions and what’s in store for the year ahead
How has the past year been for Rutland – how did you adapt to COVID-19 restrictions?
The past 12 months have been incredibly challenging for the business and during those first few days, I really did not know what would happen to consumer demand.
However, it was very clear as we entered April that we would have to quickly adapt our head office teams to remote working, add additional resource into our despatch and bike building teams and ensure the safety of our colleagues and customers in our stores that remained open for essential retail.
The obstacles were enormous, but we are a resourceful, agile team, and I was very pleased with our collective response.
How has demand changed for bikes, as well as repairs and servicing?
Demand has remained incredibly high for bikes and PAC as well as repairs and servicing throughout the last 12 months.
The winter period, where we traditionally see a slowing down of sales, did not follow the “normal” pattern and November and February, usually the toughest trading months for us, were incredibly busy.
Our workshops have been and continue to be inundated with work and managing customer expectation with the supply issues surrounding parts has been difficult. We have added to the workshop teams to manage the lead times and are busy recruiting apprentices into this crucial area of the business.
What impact has the pandemic had on the split between online and in-store sales?
Initially, we took the decision to close all but two of our stores as we were seeing a huge spike in online orders, and we were focused on controlling costs.
However, most of our colleagues at stores were quickly deployed into other duties utilising their skill sets to support the online activity, customer service and operations.
The bias was heavily weighted towards online throughout April, May and June but we did see a return to a more normalised level of trading throughout the remainder of 2020.
The third lockdown was the hardest for our store network, but we made the decision to keep the stores open for trade to ensure continuity for our customers, click and collect options and the ability to continue to support the online activity via the workshops.
Rutland Cycling won Best Omnichannel Retailer at the 2020 BikeBiz Awards – what did it mean to win?
We were delighted to receive the award as it was public recognition for what we firmly believe – we have a fantastic blend of sales channels, hard-working, knowledgeable, loyal colleagues, and a desire to put the customer at the heart of everything that we do.
We are a team, whether you work in HQ, stores, online or in operations, and receiving the award for Best Omnichannel Retailer is testament to this philosophy.
What are your expectations for the year ahead, both for the business and the industry?
I think the future is bright for both Rutland Cycling and the industry. Challenges around supply will be with us throughout this year but the opportunities are enormous.
We have seen a huge shift in demand, and this will continue given the ongoing and uncertain impact of COVID, the work/life balance realignment, the emphasis on health and wellbeing and the permanent changes to cycling infrastructure.
It is exciting and daunting in equal measure, but we need to be brave and capitalise on the momentum to cement long-lasting change and sustainable and profitable growth for our industry.