Rebecca Morley visits i-ride in Sussex to find out about its elite dealer programme and what it is doing to help stores build a strong business in a modern world
It’s no secret that times are tough in the current retail climate, and helping IBDs in any way possible is vital. Many shops are struggling to compete with the internet and some have even closed down as a result, with recent BRC figures revealing that the national town centre vacancy rate is at its highest level since January 2015. The rate was 10.3% in July 2019, a slight increase on the previous quarter’s rate of 10.2%.
The figures also showed that footfall declined by 1.9% in July, compared to the same point last year when it declined by 0.9%, which is the worst decline for July since 2012. But with the internet unlikely to disappear any time soon, what are brands and distributors in the cycling industry doing to help businesses buck the trend?
Ditchling’s i-ride describes itself as the ‘specialist’s specialist’, aiming to help retailers build a strong business in the modern world. It hopes to achieve this via its elite dealer programme, which means increased margins, enhanced marketing, unrivalled service, free carriage, better payment terms and click and collect. Since dealers give in-depth advice to build a strong base of loyal customers, i-ride has invested heavily in order to support this.
i-ride strives to be the best can be, says CEO Ian Wilson, and has the highest possible standards in all that it does.
A significant part of i-ride’s commitment to IBDs was a ‘major investment’ in the modernisation of its B2B website. The trading platform aims to give better visibility and information on the wide range of products, and i-ride will continue to invest and update this digital offering as trend evolve.
“We can’t just say we want to have the best service, we have to invest in it,” says Wilson. “Something like this website was a modern way of delivering what we say we want to do.”
The website was designed from the ground up to deliver a ‘seamless’ experience for i-ride’s customers. From accessing account information, finding products, to purchasing and tracking orders, the site brings the bike industry B2B ‘up to modern retail standards’.
“You’ve got to invest and be modern to give that service for the retailer so that they can give a good service to their customers. That’s what we’re here for, I believe that’s what our purpose is,” he continues.
“It’s about future-proofing as well. Knowing there’s a site built that’s capable of doing everything is important, so when things pop-up that the industry needs, the site can be updated. Some of the older sites weren’t able to do this, meaning once it was done that was it and nothing more could be done to it. This is a proper e-commerce platform, similar to what would be used for a large retailer.
i-ride also offers its elite dealers the opportunity to present a profile of its shop on the site, so if a customer goes on the website and is searching for a stockist, they are able to find more information about a store. They can see a picture of the shop or more information about the store itself, for example opening hours, as opposed to just an email address and a phone number.
A slightly smaller retailer may not have the money to spend so much on a website, so as a distributor, i-ride is thinking about how it can give back some value to its customers, how can it help them, and this is one way of doing it.
“They can give a picture of their store via our online presence, as well as reasons why consumers should come and visit them,” Wilson says. “So we’re trying to support them in any way we can think of.”
Become the destination
Brands i-ride distributes include Campagnolo, Crankalicious, DeFeet, Fulcrum, Northwave and Orro, amongst others.
IBDs that are dedicated to delivering a first-class Fulcrum experience can become Fulcrum Concept Stores, by providing a well-stocked range, attractive in-store displays and quality customer support.
By committing to a range of wheels and a selection of spares, dealers can become one of i-ride’s 20+ flagship Fulcrum Stores across the country.
The initial wheel package will be available with a high margin with reorders on these wheels at the same rate. Every Fulcrum store will receive the full complement of Fulcrum POS including window sticker, branded Slatwall POS, workshop aprons and t-shirts.
A range of wheels, equipped with high-end tyres, tubes and rotors will also be available on a free loan to Fulcrum stores, for customers to demo. One member of the sales team and one mechanic will also receive free training from i-ride’s highly trained technicians.
The brand manager will tailor a package depending on the shop, and then i-ride will help them with what is needed to give them a proper and complete range.
Wilson believes that it’s all about the brand and its profile, plus the after-service.
i-ride has also invested in having brand managers going out and talking to stores and having a professional meeting about the brand and its values, rather than an ‘older style’ sales representative going round with everything in their car. The distributor has made this change to what Wilson believes is a modern, giving value, retail selling.
The brand managers will also be there to give help and advice. They will go to their events if need be, to help sell, and will go in and merchandise and make it all look exactly how it should.
“The brand manager has really good contact with the supplier as well which we want to promote. They live and breathe the brand,” Wilson continues.
They have a much better relationship with the supplier and with the shop, so it makes the whole chain a lot better and i-ride can be confident that they are going to the shops and helping them with exactly what they need.
The art of cycling
For key specialist dealers, i-ride offers the opportunity to become an Orro Signature Store, giving the ability to display the entire range of this premium British brand, with an enhanced range of benefits.
It will offer staff training on the Orro bikes brand and range, in-store POS branding including staff t-shirts, window graphics, feather flags, brochures, catalogues and bespoke branding where possible and supplementary display bikes on consignment to complete the key model line-up.
It will be listed as an Orro partner store on the Orro and i-ride websites and will have priority access to the Orro demo fleet, special offers, new models, marketing and branding material and Atelier facilities for the best customers.
In June 2018, i-ride invited its elite dealers to the Northwave HQ in Italy where they had access to an exclusive first look at the SS19 shoes and clothing collections, plus a factory tour.
This gave its partners the ability to get a better in-depth knowledge of the brand and to know the staff and values behind it.
“Our main brands are Italian,” Wilson explains. “So we thought: ‘Why don’t we take some of our best dealers out to these trips to meet the suppliers, to do a factory visit.’ Last year they came out to see Northwave shoe factory, this year they came out to see the Campagnolo factory and the Fulcrum wheels factory, and they also had presentations from the Northwave guys that they’ve been to see the year before.
“It’s a different way of working. We believe in the brands, so how can we get these in front of everybody and get them to understand the values.”
Before this, i-ride would go out and meet the factories and it would decide what line it was going to supply, stock it here in the UK and put into the stores. This is a way of getting that story about the brand earlier up the chain, so it can be seen from the horse’s mouth, making it a lot more enjoyable for dealers to hear it from the owners of the companies.
“For us, it’s enjoyable as well because you see their faces light up,” Wilson says. “We have relationships which are like family now, but it’s great when you can see that what’s been talked about is being replicated with your customers as well.”
A secret weapon
i-ride also offers BikeFit training with Paul Swift, who was the ‘pioneer’, introducing in 1996 a system of insole wedging. In 2006 he set up ‘BikeFit’, introducing further refined products to aid bike fitters. There is nobody better equipped to teach hands-on bike fitting than Paul Swift, i-ride says.
No other fitting school offers this type of education before hands-on training, according to i-ride. Extensive training takes place regarding the foot/pedal interface and then moves onto the pelvis/saddle and hand/handlebar connections.
Detailed attention is directed at aspects most fitting schools do not include in their curriculum, especially in the lower extremity biomechanics that drive the bike forward. Side view mechanics are also addressed and throughout the course, each body-bike interface is examined to fit the cyclist’s unique body architecture to maximise performance and comfort.
i-ride offers two levels of BikeFit training with Paul Swift at its offices in Ditchling. It is a great way for shops and their staff to receive training in a valuable tool to add an extra revenue stream for their businesses – especially in an environment where bike shops may need to tap into something extra to keep their business going. Like i-ride says, it could be a ‘secret weapon’.
“BikeFit we see as a really important tool for the IBDs because it brings people into the store,” Wilson says. “It means they can start their advice and their relationships with their consumer customers, talking to them about the fit on the bicycle.”
It’s about giving the specialists advice, it’s not just about selling something pretty. It’s about giving them advice about how someone can get more enjoyment out of their riding.
“Although it’s a small part of our business, it’s the key,” Wilson concludes.