Crankalicious: Handmade in Britain

Rebecca Morley chats to Crankalicious director Tony Hetherington in Elsenham, Essex about the role the brand plays in the bike care market

Crankalicious’ products are made by the brand at its premises in Elsenham, Essex – taking the ‘handmade’ part of its logo very seriously. Using bespoke formulas, high-quality raw chemicals and various methods of measuring, heating, melting, stirring and pouring, the products are created in small batches. The maximum pour size is a few hundred litres, so the brand can develop products from batch to batch if it needs to. For the final touch, it applies the labels by hand. There are no robots there or million-pound production lines.

The brand was launched in 2016 and offers a wide range of products and accessories that ‘take cycle care to a new level’. It also has a selection of accessories, designed specifically to complement its products. “People often still hear of us for the very first time at events or even in the small advertising we’ve done,” says director Tony Hetherington.

“What’s working very well for us at the moment is giveaways, for example, we have what we call Kwipes. These are what I call ‘quick wipes’. We’ve got five of these in different parts of our product range. They’re small heavy-duty wipes, you can use them and throw them away. They’re recyclable and they’re biodegradable. They’re super useful for bike packing holidays, for trips to Portugal for three days, as it means you don’t need to take products through security.

“We’ve also found a use for them in giveaways. Anything from track days or even events where they’re giving away goody bags, we find the best way for people to start using our products, to get invested in our products, is just to use them. The moment they’ve used them once they really love them and enjoy them, and they come back for more. Our return rate is fantastic, we’ve just got to get there in the first place.”

The Kwipes work as a standalone cleaner, but they are also designed to complement other products in the Crankalicious range. They’re available in Carboniferous Matt Detailer, Epic Hide Vinyl Cleanser, Gumchained Remedy Chain Cleaner, Like Pneu Tyre Cleaner and Pineapple Express Bike Cleaner. They work well for shops as well who might want to do giveaways but don’t want to give whole bottles away because they’ve got limited budgets.

“Other than that we’ve got our 100ml bottles which work very well as an introduction to the brand. It’s an odd pricing point, people are less sure on spending £12 on something to try it, but they’re more than happy to spend £4 on something to try it. It’s a tiny distinction but actually it’s the difference between us getting in with them or not,” he continues.

Crankalicious is a flexible company that’s also in the UK and it will listen to feedback. This is a company that says it wants to work with retailers, as opposed to saying: ‘Here’s a product, take it.’

Hetherington continues: “We’ve done a lot of small retail events now, Sunday club rides and that sort of thing, to actually getting their feedback and making changes to our products. If the opportunities come along then we do that, we can do very small batch volume runs. Being small volume manufacturing means we have the opportunity to do that sort of thing, but actually we still have the infrastructure to supply those large accounts.”

Remove, improve, protect
For Hetherington, the performance of the product when the brand was put together was absolutely key. He explains: “What came second was the branding, the colours and the smells. I’ve loved cleaning things, I’ve loved cars and I’ve loved bicycles for many years. I would always use car products on my bikes. They were always somehow comprised in some way, for whatever it may be, hence why we had the opportunity to put together Crankalicious.

“At the very beginning, I spent probably seven or eight months purely developing the products and the range. There are no two products that do the same thing, it’s a very clear and concise range. Absolutely key was the performance, and the way we achieved that performance is through very high-quality raw chemicals.”

He continues: “Having that attention to detail at each part of the manufacturing stage and each part of the product development stage meant that we’ve got this performance that people really love, and therefore for me, the best way to sell the product is just to get people to use it. Once they’ve used it they’re ours for life.”

It’s also about thinking of new products that weren’t necessarily already out there. One product, Carboniferous, is a gloss-free detailer to remove dust, fingerprints and unwanted products from matt finishes, including uncoated carbon fibre. It is designed to preserve a unique matt finish, unlike products that are designed for a shiny bike.

“What we noticed is over time more and more people use matt frame bikes, a matt finish. People were using products designed for shiny bikes, so over time, your matt bike turns shiny. You don’t really notice it in any one specific day, but over time it will happen,” Hetherington explains.

A matt frame’s appearance is caused by many small imperfections in the surface, which is why it feels rough to the touch. In contrast, a shiny frame’s is very flat. This causes light to reflect far more easily on the surface of the frame. Therefore the way to maintain a matt appearance is by ensuring the surface remains rough, so all the small ‘lumps and bumps’ remain and light does not get reflected. Hetherington says many products on the market leave behind some trace, and over time this will fill in those bumps on a matt frame and it will become shiny.

“That’s one of our best selling products so far, people really get on with it well,” he continues. “The way to look after matt bikes has always been difficult to understand, it’s never been known to look after them in a different way.”

He says there is a wide range of products for pretty much ‘every part’ of the bike, and every part of the bike can be cleaned, made to look better and protected. Crankalicious’ mnemonic is ‘remove, improve, protect’ and Hetherington says the improvement part is what defines the good part of the brand. “It’s one thing just cleaning, but actually if you can make it look better then when you come to protect it and look after it in the future, actually you’re going to have a much cleaner bike, a much better-looking bike.”

He continues: “We’ve got the basic products that will just clean the crud off, so for mountain bikers, for example, just get rid of the mud and the stones, keep it clean and free from dirt. We’ve also got the products for the road bikes to polish every nut and bolt and make it look as perfect as you can.

“There’s a bit of a balance there, depending on how far you want to go. For me personally, I’m the nutter that polishes my bolts on the dining room table, hence why we put the brand together. But actually, if all we want to do is to keep it looking clean and wash it every few weeks, we’ve got those products as well.”

Market reach
Crankalicious was born from a wealth of experience in car care products. In 2007, Dodo Juice, which makes car care products, was being sold online and the range eventually grew from five products to over 300. Director Dom Colbeck enlisted the help of Hetherington and Crankalicious was created, in order to make the same kind of handmade products for cyclists.

Hetherington says: “At the beginning of 2016 was when I came on board and we sort of put the idea for the brand together. We released to the market at the end of 2016, so January 2017 really was when we were out there ready to go, signed up with i-ride.

“i-ride loved what we were doing and wanted to be there at the start of it really. That’s gone really well, we’re in more and more shops throughout the UK. It’s our home market as well, so it’s quite an important one for us. Our model is also one of global distributions, we’ve got something like 13 distributors globally now, that’s going very well as well.

“We then have to develop the brand in those local markets, which is quite challenging. It’s challenging enough just doing it in the UK when it’s your own market, let alone in Denmark, Thailand, India or Poland, and so those are the challenges that we’re facing at the moment. It’s trying to activate it and find value in us being there.

“We’ve got one route to that, this year as we were last we’re Team Wiggins Le Col official bike care partner.” The company provides a full range of cleaning and care products for the team, working closely with the team of mechanics to ensure their bike preparation can be as effective, efficient and valuable as possible.

“That’s gone very well for us,” Hetherington says. Even though they’re an under-23 team, they do have some global appeal particularly through the Wiggins name of course, so it’s a very nice thing to be associated with. Team Wiggins Le Col has kind of validated what we’re doing. We work well with the team and we get a lot of feedback from them. Over time it’s a great opportunity to look at our products and understand that what we’re doing is going well.”

He continues: “Where the mechanics really find value is the protection. The bikes get used so much, they get cleaned so much. When we talk about protection, it’s about putting a layer, a really slippery, really shiny glossy layer on the outside of your bike. You can do that either through a spray or a wax. That makes it look better, but actually, it makes the dirt less likely to stick to it, and when you come to wash it you kind of loosely throw some water on it and it looks beautiful and clean. Over time, the more they do it, the easier it is to clean.”

So what are the company’s plans for this year and next? Hetherington says: “It’s trying to get ourselves out there. The moment anyone’s used our products, that’s it, we’ve got them for life, and it’s really quite exciting. It’s elements like that, it’s trying to maximise what we do with the team, that’s in the UK of course. It’s working with our local partners, it’s with bike shops, it’s how we can best help them sell our products on. That’s for the UK market and trying to activate the brand locally in those markets. In Denmark, we’ve got Team Crankalicious Cycling. It’s an amateur team, but a tremendously successful amateur team. That’s where we’re really trying to bring the brand to life.”

In terms of how quickly the brand has been able to grow in all the other markets around the world, Hetherington says: “Getting distributors on board I thought would be the biggest challenge for our new brand. Actually, I feel like the products do very well and the marketing seems very good for everybody, and so getting the distributors invested in us went very well. That was the easy bit. The challenge has been activating the brand locally and trying to get wherever it may be.

“Team Crankalicious Cycling is a good example of that we’re doing to help that on its way. When we find a partner that is willing to work with us locally, we’re willing to do whatever we can to try and make that work. That’s really quite exciting, it’s not really where I thought my challenges would be.”

Despite the competition that exists in the market, Hetherington says that product-wise it’s actually gone very well. “Fortunately they’ve been very well received so it’s gone well, but very early on when you’re putting everything together it was quite a hectic time. That was interesting. I think we’ve got something like 17 products that we have in both a 500ml and 100ml, or 250ml for some of them, and about ten accessories as well.” Crankalicious also has apparel care, including Aqua Merino and Soapy Kit Wash.

The company also has leaflets on how to clean your bike and the product range, to help shops sell them. Hetherington concludes: “All our expertise is in the product, and the cleaning of the bike, which actually may not be true for the stores, for the retailers. I am more than happy to do anything from a Skype call through to coming in-store, spending the day with customers on a ride out or something like that, talking through the best way to use the products. It would almost be a bit of a shame if bike shops took the products on board and didn’t quite know what they can do. We’re here to help, activating the brand locally, and that’s exactly what I want to do.”

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