British bike maintenance product manufacturer Weldtite has a long history of supporting riders, from professionals to the everyday cyclist. Alex Ballinger travelled north to Weldtite HQ to hear more about the historic brand
This piece first appeared in the December edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here
The Weldtite story is unique amongst cycling brands, and dates back to the early Second World War. Initially based in London, Weldtite started out by producing puncture repair kits to support the British and Canadian paratroopers using folding bikes to get around during operations while fighting the Nazis. From there, Weldtite grew and grew, eventually outgrowing its London HQ and moving north to be able to hit its potential.
Today Weldtite manufactures more than 15 million bike maintenance products every year in its factory in Barton, on the banks of the River Humber in North Lincolnshire. Earlier this year I made the trip up north to visit the Weldtite HQ and see first-hand the processes that go into the brand’s best recognised products.
Owning your products
Speaking from the joint-showroom/boardroom above one of the Weldtite production facilities, tucked away in an industrial park just outside the town of Barton-upon-Humber, Weldtite marketing manager Dan Leather explained how the brand maintains its competitive advantage: “In our market here in the UK, it’s the fact that we manufacture on site, the fact that we have 80-plus years of experience in the sector as well, the fact that we are owning more and more of our products, in terms of chemical make-up. That then translates into either better value for the consumer, or more sustainable products, better for the environment – and I think that’s really important.”
Weldtite’s team of around 35 employees (down from around 60 in the unexpected boom in demand during the coronavirus pandemic), also includes an in-house chemical scientist, who helps hone and perfect Weldtite’s product offering.
From those unique beginnings as a puncture repair kit manufacturer (still a major part of the Weldtite business), the company is now also known for its range of maintenance and cleaning products both for the everyday consumer, and in bike store workshops.
Sales and marketing director for the brand, James Buckle, said: “We’re under no illusions we create an impulse buy product. There’s not many people that wake up in the morning and go ‘I’ve got to buy a bottle of bike cleaner today.’ They buy it while they’re in store fixing their bike, or buying a helmet.
“So what we want to do is create interesting POS, that draw people’s eye to the product so you can maximise revenue for bike shops, so that they can have a product on the shelf that’s enticing, that people know, and want to spend their money on.”
During my tour of the Weldtite facilities, which has recently been expanded to include new units in the industrial park, I saw the processes that go into each bottled product, from the closely monitored chemical storage, to the bottling and labelling processes, all carried out in house by the Weldtite team, who can quickly switch between product to keep up with demand.
Adapt and overcome
Despite the opportunities posed by the coronavirus pandemic, Weldtite was another brand that felt the turbulence during the boom. But amidst the chaos, the company managed to keep its lead times relatively short, hitting a maximum of five weeks for delivery during the toughest period. Buckle said: “It’s been crazy. It really is up and down. It’s been so hard to predict the last few years and I think everybody in the industry is in the same boat.
“What has become apparent is due to long lead times on certain items – mainly componentry on bikes – what that created is a massive panic to buy last year, and I think lots of people overbought at distributor level and retail level. So that’s been difficult for us to manage this year, because obviously you base the next year on previous performances, so it’s been hard to manage stock.
“The furthest we went up was about five weeks (lead time) during the height of the pandemic, when it was really crazy, so I think we managed it quite well. That’s been one of the trickiest parts of the last couple of years,as well as the price rises on raw materials, which have been really difficult this year. Trying not to put that price on to the end user is difficult, and we’ve managed to absorb a lot of costs internally here, and we’re going to continue to do that as best we can in the future.”
A sustainable future
Sustainability has also been an increasing focus for the Weldtite team, who have been working to remove as much plastic as possible from its manufacturing, both in packaging and by recycling. Weldtite has also increased the amount of reground plastic used in its products, whether that’s by sourcing recycled plastic or taking its own waste plastic and putting that back into the system, having invested in the machinery that allows them to reuse it.
Sourcing materials locally is also a key focus, reducing the carbon footprint associated with shipping products in. Leather said: “Everything we do in-house, and everything we do with our chemist, is going through that process of making products better, but also less harmful where necessary, and more sustainable as well. That’s really important for us, and we’re making sure we’re ahead of the curve.”
The future for Weldtite is a look across the seas, as the company hopes to continue its international expansion, in Latin America and in Southeast Asia, while also trying to navigate the ever deepening labyrinth of European business after leaving the EU. Leather said: “We’re making sure we partner with the right people in those regions, are developing those relationships to reach a whole new set of consumers.”
Buckle added: “Long term partnerships are really important to us. If you look at a lot of our distributors, we have been working with them for a long time, so building long-term sustainable relationships with people is important. We don’t see them as customers, it’s more of a partnership than a transactional relationship.”