With the support of the cycling community, Glasgow-based social enterprise Bike for Good has secured its future after a tough winter. Alex Ballinger sat down with CEO Greg Kinsman-Chauvet to hear how it helps get more people on bikes
This piece first appeared in the March edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here
“We offer some services that don’t create any income,” said Greg Kinsman-Chauvet, explaining the business model behind Bike for Good, “which is why we’re a charity.
“If you’re a business, there’s no point doing something that doesn’t make any money. You’ll shut. But for us, what matters is helping the people and the impact.
“Our charity mission is to enable people to ride a bike, so this is what we do.”
Bike for Good, a charity and social enterprise based in Glasgow, was founded as Glasgow Bike Shed in 2010 in a small stall in the city’s Barras market, starting out with a few donated bikes and a minimal tool kit – and of course a team of dedicated volunteers.
Fastforward to 2023, Bike for Good is now a thriving community hub with two branches. Bike for Good offers a variety of services through its workshops, including refurbishing and reselling thousands of bikes per year, diverting them from landfills and helping provide access to affordable bikes for the public.
Alongside bike refurb, the charity also offers a huge host of community engagement programmes to encourage more people to cycle, including women’s and non-binary training sessions, kids’ clubs, and maintenance classes, while also providing Cytech training for mechanics.
Despite a decade of success, the charity has been hit hard by the recent cost of living crisis and business turmoil that has impacted the whole bike trade, forcing Bike for Good to turn to the community to help weather the storm.
Kinsman-Chauvet, the charity’s CEO (which stands for ‘cycling enthusiast officer’), recently sat down with BikeBiz to explain the recent crowdfunding campaign.
“It’s been difficult,” he said. “We have three sources of income, we’re impacted everywhere. “People give fewer donations; normal sales, workshops, trading income is reduced. “There was lots of help during the pandemic, but sales in the UK of bikes is back to pre-pandemic level, so we’re kind of back to zero here.”
While bike sales have been declining fast in the post Covid months, the cost of living crisis sparked (in-part) by war in Ukraine has made trading conditions tough for most businesses. The Covid bike boom has now come crashing down, while increasing fuel and energy prices have squeezed spending for consumers. In response to these challenges, Bike for Good launched a crowdfunding campaign in the hopes of raising £15,000 to help bolster the business through its most challenging period. The campaign was met by enormous support from the community, raising more than £23,000 from 228 supporters since the start of November.
“As you know for bike shops, because of Brexit and the cost of living crisis, we’ve been struggling a lot,” said Kinsman-Chauvet. “But what we need is not only donations, but we need people to buy from us, buy from their local bike shop, to buy from social enterprises. “That’s why we are struggling, because people buy online. But if you’re buying local, you don’t need to donate, because it keeps people in jobs.”
Making a difference
While the money is of course a huge help to sustaining the business, Kinsman-Chauvet also highlighted the comments left by donors, detailing how Bike for Good has helped change their lives. “Bikes for good have helped me so much that now I use my bike for most of my journeys. From affordable servicing, second hand parts, and trustworthy advice. You’ve kept me on the road! Hope we can keep you going in return so you can keep getting Glasgow pedalling,” said one commenter. “I sincerely hope my small contribution can make a difference. As this organisation does and has made a difference to so many people,” said another.
Kinsman-Chauvet said: “We realised that actually the crowdfunding is a way for people to say ‘Bike for Good, we’re here for you, you helped change our lives.’ I want to cry when I see these comments.”
“Can we have a crowdfunder every couple of months, just without the money?” he joked.
Bike for Good has three main sources of income – donations, income from sales, and grants – and as a social enterprise any profits must be reinvested back into the organisation to help support its key goal of getting more people on bikes.
Despite all the uncertainty, Kinsman-Chauvet is optimistic about the future of his business and the UK bike trade: “Cycling will still grow. We’re still far away from being a really active country in Scotland and the UK, so there’s plenty of opportunities. I think we need to rethink the way we do things.
“I think the number of customers will grow, definitely, but we need to rethink how to make a profit.
“It’s really important to be ready, to be planning. One of the things we learned as well is to be more proactive. Not that we weren’t proactive before, but using more digital tools to analyse.
“Before we were reviewing our finances every month with a big refocussing every three months. Now you will have to do things week-by-week, because things change so fast.”
On future plans for the business, Kinsman-Chauvet said there is a big new service on the way that can’t yet be revealed. Meanwhile, reducing the seasonality of bike sales is a major priority for Bike for Good, by helping to promote year-round cycling but also by developing more products and services that can be used year-round The recent addition of Cytech training to the Bike for Good offering is an example of that, as training is needed 12 months of the year, and the winter months may even be better for many mechanics to find the time to sign up.
“Cytech has been really good. Cytech has got a reputation, so it’s an image for your organisation. It brings motivation to the staff,” said Kinsman-Chauvet.
An unknown quantity
While Bike for Good has a major focus on bike repairs, refurbishing, and secondhand sales, e-bikes are a significant development in the cycle industry that could offer a huge potential to attract new customers and broaden the appeal of cycling. But does Kinsman-Chauvet see an opportunity for his charity?
“It’s really difficult, because there’s a lot of competition, lots of people are doing e-bikes.
“There is money but not so much money in e-bikes yet. For us, the decision to invest in lots of e-bikes is quite difficult.
“My question is ‘is there any profit to be made in e-bike retail?’ and that’s what a bike shop has to think about. That’s why we focus more on training and repairs.
“So yes, there will be a growth in e-bikes, but is it for us? I don’t know.”
What could present an opportunity for Bike for Good however, is if the secondhand e-bike market in the UK matures as time goes on. Kinsman-Chauvet said he has seen in France companies designing their businesses around the e-bike resale market. He added: “There’s already two or three companies in France refurbishing e-bikes, but huge fleets, thousands of e-bikes. So the market is already happening. It’s going to arrive in the UK, but not yet.”