Fresh team, fresh prospects: Hotlines on a new chapter in the distributor’s history

Hotlines has undergone something of a restructure in recent months, with new managing director Ewan Pinder bringing a different perspective to the table. BikeBiz caught up with the team to find out more about the distributor’s evolution

How has 2019 been for Hotlines?

We’ve had a great year with mountain and gravel sales being ridiculously strong. While we don’t deny big challenges exist, we still see lots of market potential and huge opportunity for growth across cycling. Hotlines has a great portfolio of established and innovative new brands, being able to supply such a broad range of products has been key to our success.

Ewan Pinder

How has Ewan’s arrival affected Hotlines’ plans for the future? What’s the vision?

We have seen huge success in our key brands over the last 12 months with no end in sight. Investing in the team will build further momentum as we push high-performing brands like Nukeproof, Rondo, NS, Ragley and SE even harder. We also have some of the strongest P&A brands in the business with the likes of WTB, Leatt, Brand-X and 661 all fuelling rapid expansion.

Having such a rich portfolio on MTB, road, gravel and BMX, electric bikes is the next category for us to develop as we broaden our offer significantly to become be one of the UK’s best distributors for the rapidly evolving market. Central to all this is obviously our fantastic retailer base. We are surging forward with their support and by responding to invaluable feedback. By investing in our people, systems and marketing, we continue to strengthen these relationships while our network multiplies around it.

Has Decade now become part of Hotlines?
Hotlines and Decade are both part of the Wiggle-CRC group and performing very similar functions. It made complete sense to consolidate the wealth of experience within the distribution businesses to improve the service for all our customers. Wiggle-CRC is fully supportive of our strategy as we invest in key areas of a business model that complements theirs and promotes the longer-term health of the industry we cohabit.

Any new brands on the horizon to support this growth?
To push forwards, we started by stripping a few things back. We parted company with around 20 brands to streamline what we do and really focus on the areas driving growth. With such a vast portfolio we decided a more focused range would make sure everything was perfectly managed with even better service to our customers. It has already allowed more intensive training on 2020 product ranges, better stock management and marketing actions.

All that being said, we still have a couple of categories missing from our portfolio and are talking to new brands to make our offer as comprehensive as possible as trends continue to emerge and establish. We have already mentioned e-bikes, but we have space in the portfolio for premium road, urban offerings and indoor trainers. (Any interesting brands reading, get in touch…)

You recently ran a dealer event at Dirt Factory in Manchester. What inspired that venue?
Time with our dealers is hugely important and our annual bikes launch event is a prime opportunity to meet face-to-face. The reason it came to Manchester? We aren’t a formal company, we try and base our events around the reason most of us came to the industry in the first place; enjoyment of bikes.

In 2017 and 2018 Hotlines brought dealers to the Tweed Valley to sample the scenery, world-class trails and local whisky. The events were a huge success but not everyone could afford a couple of days out of the shop. We wanted to change it up to see if a more convenient location would suit a greater number of dealers.

Dirt Factory is a stone’s throw from Piccadilly train station. It offered the perfect combination of easy access and a unique place to ride. We had enough space to display the latest and greatest product and give dealers the opportunity to try bikes before anyone else. Bikes, beer and an indoor BBQ – the risk assessment wasn’t for the faint-hearted!

How did the event pan out, and will it remain in Manchester for 2020 and beyond?
We are very lucky our dealers invest time in coming to our events and everyone who came saw a massive benefit in attending. It gave dealers a first look at a huge array of product, a forum to discuss the outgoing season and the opportunity to catch up with all members of the Hotlines team.

There is never any pressure to purchase at these social events but with pre-order levels higher on all brands over previous years, we are super happy the event was a success and dealers liked what they saw. Next year? Who knows. Dirt Factory is a venue that’s hard to beat.

You’ve recently brought a number of new faces on board. What does that mean for Hotlines?
We have read a lot of CVs over the past six months! First up is our new sales director: Matt Yeo was general manager of Decade and moves across with 30 years industry experience. Two additional sales reps will join Yeo’s team to support Graham Moore and Rob Escott on the road. We will announce them and their respective areas very soon.

The sales team on the road will continue to be supported by four colleagues in the South Queensferry (Edinburgh) office. The sales and tech team have a broad skillset with each member having their own specialist product area. Matty Trinquart joins the team to handle key account and international sales management. Trinquart comes from a retail background, having spent time with Cycle Surgery, Evans and Soho Bikes.

Matty Trinquart

Ed Ibbetson becomes head of operations and supplier management. Ibbetson will have three new staff members, two in brand management positions and a third as sales coordinator. The new structure will ensure we hold the right product at the right time and in the correct quantities.

Dave Flynn steps across to a dedicated marketing role, supported by the existing team of Steve Larking and Matt Currie. We are currently recruiting for a fourth member of the team to support on demo and event planning. We still have some positions available. If anyone is looking for their next career opportunity, check our careers page on the Hotlines website.

Why the sudden expansion, rather than recruiting more cautiously over a longer period of time? You must be confident of the direction you’re heading?
Things have gone amazingly well this year and despite the tough economic climate, we have seen rapid growth across our key brands. The stock was the limiting factor and with a higher-spec crystal ball, we could have done significantly more. So yes, it’s a rapid expansion but calculated and with a clear strategy in place to support the sustained growth we expect.

What does all of this mean for Hotlines?
Continued growth, and moving the needle in terms of service and support to our retail and brand partners. Everyone on the Hotlines team is fully onboard with the strategy, influences decisions and owns the results. The difference in the bike industry? We are motivated by selling the best product we can at the right time and to the right people. Everyone in the business rides, shops and consumes the media we all read every day.

While our success will be judged on the bottom line, the ride along the way is something everyone in the team will enjoy.

And what does it mean for your brands and dealers?
A consolidated brand list means more focus, better service and ultimately growth. Brands are as excited as we are about the potential of the business and offering their services in making sure we have everything needed to fully support dealers. The strategy is long-term, and this round of investment has proven our commitment and solidifies their confidence in the distributor model.

For dealers, the benefits are simple. The best products at the correct price points to fully utilise the space and resource you have available in store. We are one of the most flexible distributors in the business and will work with you to find the best route forwards on a particular brand.

We understand why some retailers may be cautious in dealing with us but with retailers big and small, some previously cynical, enjoying dealing with us day-to-day, we really want to encourage everyone to pick up the phone and give us a shot.

The goal is simple: we want to continue growing at the current rate and become a valued partner to all the best UK bike shops, big and small.

We would love old customers and new to be part of this exciting stage in our journey.

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