Advocate of UK manufacturing and coffee connoisseurs give us insight on their brand of business

Dealer Profile: Swindon’s Red Planet Bikes

Following an intriguing mystery shopper visit to Red Planet, BikeBiz couldn’t resist finding out more about this star performer, it’s famous coffee and fondness of UK bike brands. Mark Sutton discusses biz with store co-owner Ivor Read…

Tell us a bit about your background in the bike trade:
Well there came a time when we realised we were pretty much in the bike business. Apart from our day jobs, you’d find us running pits for teams at the 24-hour races, guiding, manning stands at the London Bike show, all sorts. Plus, my partner and myself were both professional managers with all the management and financial training behind us and that’s how Red Planet began.

When BikeBiz visited it was clear that staff were enthusiasts – why do you feel it important to have keen cyclists representing the business?
We are a shop that targets the enthusiast. You can only sell product to those guys and girls if you ride, understand and talk their language. We need to have used the product ourselves so we can relate its use to a customer’s riding styles.

BikeBiz also got the impression that you’re a big fan of homegrown bike manufacturers – why is this?
They are more fun. From a business perspective rare and oddball stuff pulls people in just to look.
For riding, and hence selling, they are more interesting. The smaller, rider driven companies, make bikes with character, once you have started a conversation with a customer you can explain how and why that is. They are then more tied in to you and hopefully looking for a more unique product that’s hard to find cheap in a chain store.

What trends if any have you seen emerge over the past years?
Well we have seen the emergence and then dominance of carbon road bikes. Now we are seeing a move back to custom builds, especially Titanium. It’s like people are reacting against the ubiquitous carbon bike, but obviously want the performance still.

Mountain biking is full of trends and niches, but the biggest change is from the old style xc/trailquest rider to the trail park rider. Loads of people rarely seem to mountainbike outside of the manmade stuff now.

Do you foresee the 29-inch wheel becoming a strong seller in the UK?
For the first time we’d say yes. We have sold more real off road 29ers in the last eight months than in the four years preceding them added together, plus half the staff purchases in the last year have been 29-inch.

You can offer custom bike fitting – why is this service important for your clientele?
Proper bike fit is essential to getting a perfect road bike. A set of bike fit diagrams is the single best way customers can make informed decisions about what bikes are right for them and their desired use. With this information they don’t just have to blindly believe our sales representative when we tell them which bikes will work for them.
How involved is the shop with the local cycling scene? Attend or run any events?
All the time, we compete in a lot of local events (alright not from the front of the field) unless we are marshalling them. You will see our van all over the south in event car parks.

How much do the following affect how well the business performs:
Cycle to work business: This is a useful base line income and it does get some people into becoming regular cyclists.
The Workshop: It’s where we build our reputation, by the quality and depth of knowledge, but not where we make our money.
Finance support: This is more important to the chains and discount guys, I feel. A lot of our customers already know how much to expect to spend and where the money is coming from.

Are there any things that are causing the business concern at present?
This year the changes to the Cycle To Work buy back have made things complicated. Of course, a long wet summer would be much worse. Perhaps the lack of 29-inch tyres at our supplier’s warehouses needs flagging up too.

What sets Red Planet apart from the local competition?
Our coffee, oh… and that and we spend time with customers.

What are your aspirations for Red Planet?
To have fun, ride nice bikes and not starve!

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