BikeBiz talks to co-owner Nigel Lambe who reveals that, despite being less than a year old, the VeloCafe is perhaps his most successful coffee shop to date

Could Brighton’s Velo Cafe be about to double up?

Another cycling store turned coffee store, eh? What’s different about this one I hear you ask?

That was of course our first question too and, as it happens, this might be the first business of its type to do things in reverse, adding to its now seven branch strong chain of coffee shops with Velo Cafe. The growth may not stop here, either, we’re told.

“The park here at The Level has been massively rejuvinated in recent times, so we had to enquire about the space,” explains co-owner Nigel Lambe. “I, like others within the business, just so happen to be a cyclist too. As we all know, the amount of cyclists down south is swelling given our terrain alongside a great seafront, but there’s also a massive influx of long distance riders from London frequently in the area. A hub for good food and cycle repairs seemed logical.”

Already the choice of the likes of Upgrade Bikes (see the cover of BikeBiz’s July magazine), among others, for photoshoots and events, the bright, spacious building is increasingly bringing in corporate business from within and outside the cycling industry.

“We’ve 20 staff in this branch alone and over 100 on the books across our seven shops, so we’re ready to cater for events of all shapes and sizes. Some of your readers may already have been in for the Brighton Big Dog afterparty, or the event we held as part of the Tour of Britain. We’ve had DJs, book signings and all sorts going on in here, as well as our usual in-house catering. We’ve even managed a six-course silver service dinner.”
It’s not all about the events that turn a profit though, explains Lambe.

“We’re one of many British Cycling affiliated cycle clubs in Brighton, but our five weekly shop organised rides are all about fun, not competition. Since we opened we’ve seen curious first timers come in, get bitten by the bug and now you’ll find them off in the hills challenging Strava times. Our sales of nutrition goods, espresso aside, do seem to be rising as a result.”

It’s not uncommon for as many as 90 riders to show up on a weekend morning pre-ride, according to Lambe, the business benefits of which will be obvious to all. As much as a third are female too, bucking the trend for male dominated rides. Furthermore, Velo Cafe will have staged its first mountain bike meet ups by the time you read this, potentially adding another chunk of business.

With such a large and still growing pool of locals, you’ll see a VeloCafe team in the next RideLondon event. Made up of cyclists from all backgrounds, but none professional, the goal is to raise £10,000 for the Rocking Horse Appeal, the official fundraising arm of the Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital.

Though bike sales are not part of the business model, within the cafe you’ll find some interesting bikes suspended from the ceiling, including the Dolan used by the now Rapha Condor JLT sponsored Felix English en-route to a stunning surprise victory against Chris Hoy in the 2010 track championships in Poland. A Brighton local, English used to train just down the road at the still widely used Brighton velodrome.

The non cake and coffee related sales have been picking up, with local clothing specialist Morvelo having designed the shop’s jerseys, now widely seen around the South. There’s the usual repair items too, but like many other retailers, the margin is coming from the workshop, says Lambe.

“We don’t have any ambitions for bike sales just yet. It’s largely inner tubes and nutrition goods, as well as the odd branded up water bottle as far as physical item sales go. Something that has resulted in a few extra sales has been our free basic bike maintenance classes for beginners. They’ll often grab a bite to eat while they’re here.”

So, what does the future hold for the Brighton business?

“The first Velo Cafe has been such a success that we’ve plans for a second opening this year and further expansion going into next year,” concludes Lambe. Perhaps it’s the espresso, but there’s certainly no sign of the business resting on its laurels.

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