Rebecca Morley visits Bob Elliot & Co in Lancashire to find out more about the distributor’s in-house wheel brand, KX Wheels
This piece first appeared in the November edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here
Having full control over a product range and quality of the product are two of the big advantages for any company looking to manufacture in-house. One such brand making the most of those benefits is KX Wheels, which was established when distributor Bob Elliot & Co decided to manufacture an in-house range of replacement wheels.
BikeBiz’s senior staff writer Rebecca Morley recently travelled to KX HQ in Buckshaw Village, Lancashire to see the wheel building unit and machinery first hand. “KX Wheels came to market in 2019 after distribution of Wilkinson Wheels became unavailable to us,” Bob Elliot & Co director Paul Elliot told BikeBiz.
“We found a wheel machine company in France, took a flight out there and spoke to them, and they had some second-hand machinery. The one that we got was 12 years old, but we bought it. We brought it in and within three months we were building wheels.”
The company then started manufacturing in-house in its main office/warehouse facility using the 12-year-old wheel building robot, but with the addition of a state of the art lacing machine. “It was something we’d never dreamt of doing,” continued Elliot. “We were really lucky that we had a wheel builder working for us anyway, a very experienced, good wheel builder. We beat some of the competition to it and from there we’ve grown it out of the building, we had to buy another building last year.”
The company purchased a new building off-site – a 3,500 square foot dedicated facility for wheel building, and within its first two months this was full to the rafters with componentry, machinery and built wheels.
“Since manufacturing our wheels, we have taken sales of this sector up over 150% whilst experiencing continued growth,” said Elliot. “We now have a brand new wheel building robot which offers automatic tightening, truing and stabilisation of every wheel to precise tolerances.”
The company is targeting the replacement wheel market and workshop and service is a key component to the business, continued Elliot. “We see this is a natural growth area for the IBD. Our wheels are manufactured and priced to help replace the everyday wheel through repairs or upgrades.
“During the first three years of our manufacturing, we have brought a higher end specification wheel to market which is using better quality stainless steel spokes and sealed hubs. All of our wheels are branded all the way through with KX, from the hub, the rim and through to the coloured hang tags to give a more professional finish.”
The reaction from the market has been excellent, said Elliot, with ‘astonishing’ retention from customers using its wheels by coming back and reordering. “[It’s] a huge compliment to the team we have here who have not only got the project off the ground but have maintained and improved standards in the short space of us manufacturing.”
During my visit I even got to see how a KX wheel is built – giving me a full picture of how the build goes and the machinery used. Elliot continued: “People who buy the wheels, rebuy them. All our wheels are produced consistently to a high standard, and finished with a coloured hang tag.
“The feedback we get is very good on presentation, and also the wheel build as well. It’s also trying to work out the flows of popularity, because we’ve been out of stock for so long, actually trying to predict what we need right now with this current climate is really tough. We’re still being quite reactive.”
Like most in the cycling industry, Bob Elliot & Co has seen a fair share of challenges with KX Wheels since manufacturing began a few years ago. “Manufacturing was brand new to us, that was something we had to research quite a lot,” said Elliot. “It’s quite daunting really, we had nobody to lean on.”
From never manufacturing before, the company had to fast-track its way into it in a few short months in 2019. This included using its technical team and experienced hand wheel builder to go through everything from scratch. “We now have excellent production and ordering planning in place together with logistical successes working between two facilities,” said Elliot.
“We have also been hit with Brexit and Covid-19 through this time which has brought extra challenges, whether that be sending to Northern Ireland or a hugely increased demand when we were still trying to find out our capacity levels in the early days. Working with machinery has been new to us too, but with the help of our fantastic suppliers in France we have overcome any minor niggles we have had.”
On the impact of Covid on wheel building and the wider business, Elliot said: “It was massive for our distribution side, but for the wheel building side we were just settling down, just starting to get good stocks, and then before you knew it we just couldn’t build fast enough. Every wheel in the building sold out, the wheel builder had nothing to build because components weren’t coming in quick enough.
“The first two years of building wheels has been stop-start, it’s only been this last 12 months that we’ve started to get good, strong stocks on the shelf, good component levels, very few ‘out of stocks’.”
The new building was also very timely as it has created more room to store, meaning the company could build more with the new machinery. “The new building is rented and we couldn’t sign the lease quick enough,” added Elliot. “If it had gone on one more week, we would have had a container arriving and no where to put it. We would have had to have put it off site.”
Bob Elliot & Co has ‘exciting’ plans for 2023 and beyond, said Elliot: “A fairly popular brand has left our portfolio recently but this has opened the door to a huge amount of options to help improve our range and further gain market share. In the coming months we will share this information through the trade.
“We have recently been delighted to add Ass Magic chamois cream to our range as well as Blub lubes and cleaners to complement our other ranges of cleaning product and to replace an outgoing brand. We will continue to focus heavily on workshop and service for now, and the years ahead as we see this is an asset not only for the IBD but also for online platforms as well.”