Hotlines will be making some strong commitments into new territory for 2009. With Lapierre and Lynskey now on board, Mark Sutton talks to the company’s general manager Illy Anastasi about the distributor’s plans for entering the road market…

INTERVIEW: Illy Anastasi – General Manager, Hotlines

How’s business?
Mark Pemberton finally emigrated to Australia last October, but he left us with a great legacy to carry forward. 15 years of Hotlines ‘Strong Products’ will continue in the same vein so we can achieve our long-term goals.

Business is great at the moment and the predicted slowdown has not happened yet. We are growing all the Hotlines portfolio of brands organically and progressively. Quarter two and three sales were great, boosted by fantastic sales of Lapierre. Nuke Proof also made great strides, as the range expanded into hubs, wheelsets, stems, seatposts and bars.

Year-on-year expansion?
Expansion has happened naturally as we have grown our stable of brands to almost 30. We are constantly on the search for ‘heritage’ brands such as Lapierre (founded in 1946).
2009 is very near and we have already established some key independent bike dealers to work closely alongside. Our partnerships that we have developed with IBDs and our representative brands are the cornerstone of our 15-year history. As an example, we have doubled our Hayes Group (Hayes Brakes, Manitou, Sun Ringle, Answer and Wheelsmith) business in a 12-month period through our key accounts.

Any announcements on the way in the near future?
This summer we moved into fantastic new premises as we had outgrown our original HQ. Harbour Lane Studio is an old bakery with three foot-thick whitewashed walls, within a stone’s throw of the harbour and with views of the Forth Bridge.

Ed Ibbetson has grown the original team of three to nine and we also now have our very own Hotlines sales professionals on the road to service our ever-growing account base. Rick Minshull, our Northern Representative, was a faithful servant at Royals for seven years and is also a great DH rider. He would have done very well at this year’s Mega if he didn’t fall off seven times. Martin Kirby, our Southern Representative, recently joined us from Fox. Our Hotlines HQ will continue to service our Scottish account base.

New brands include Lapierre, which was our star addition for 2008 and the success of this great brand has given us the confidence to take on Black Market, Ixs and Lynskey for 2009. We see these key brands as great additions and will fill some of the last few remaining gaps in our portfolio.

It’s brilliant to be given the chance to represent such exciting new brands in the UK and work with such cycling luminaries as Mark Lynskey. There are some really exciting products we’ll be launching this year – watch this space.

How can dealers open an account with Hotlines? Are there any criteria?
Most of our business is still done on a pro-forma basis, it’s something that Mark Pemberton started and we have been more than happy to carry on. To encourage people to pay on a pro-forma basis we offer various incentives, which make life easier for both us and our retailers. For all new accounts (pro-forma or otherwise), we arrange a visit from one of our reps within the first few weeks of business to make sure that everything is how it should be.

For accounts that would like to be opened on a credit basis we obviously have to do some initial credit checks. We have a new credit controller, Nina, meaning that credit applications are processed swiftly and accounts can be up and running in under a week.

Hotlines has traditionally focused on off-road and jump brands. Will this focus remain, or are there plans to branch into new territories?
Lapierre road bikes, Control Tech, PZ Racing road products program and Lynskey are all outside of our comfort zone of the ‘traditional’ Hotlines brands. We’ve got some amazing road products for next year. Just look at a Lynskey Helix frame or a Lapierre X-Lite to see how serious we are about road brands as part of the long term Hotlines plan. There are a few guys in the office getting the cash together to add road bikes to their stables right now.

Tell us about Electra and why Hotlines now carries the range:
Electra is a ‘one and only’ brand as there are no others like it. They are the market leader in Cruiser style bikes. Electra isn’t just about cruisers though; recent additions to the range include the Amsterdam and Townie range.

One of Electra’s strongest assets is the fact that the range draws new people into cycling. We’re constantly surprised by the number of Electra enquiries that come in to us by email from people who have not ridden a bike since they were kids. We try to capitalise on this and advertise the brand outside the normal cycling press, get products into lifestyle magazines, – and a little bit of celebrity endorsement never does any harm.

How does Hotlines help the dealer to make money?
Dealer margins depend on the brand and the dealer commitment. Accessory margins can be up to 60 per cent, although standard margins usually start at around 35 per cent. Our bike margins are in line with the competition, although we usually manage to beat them on carriage and small order charges.

If your readers want further details they can contact the office and we’ll arrange a visit from one of the area’s sales reps.

Is Hotlines good with warranty turnaround?
We’re pretty fortunate right now in the fact that most of our brand’s have very few warranty or servicing returns and it’s enabled us to put in place a solid framework for the warranty and servicing on the returns we do get. We are working towards getting the turnaround time down for all returns to 48 hours; at the moment it’s realistically around five working days.

We realise how important it is to get this side of the business right and we’re pretty happy with the results so far, although there is always room for improvement. We’re lucky enough to have a team with great technical knowledge, both in the office and the workshop. In the office, Ed has around seven years’ experience working with Manitou and between the mechanics in the workshop there is more than 15 years of experience with Hayes products.

How many staff/sales reps do you employ?

We have six full-time office based staff, two area sales managers on the road and a couple of guys in the workshop. It’s taken a while to get the right people in place but we’re very happy with the team at the moment.

We know that part of the key to success in the bike industry is providing good service backed up by great technical knowledge and expertise, so getting good staff and hanging on to them is very important to us.

Is anything causing business concern or difficulty at present?

Currency fluctuations have really been hurting us in some areas, but we are prepared for 2009. Obviously, everyone is also worried about the global financial climate at the moment. I don’t think anyone can realistically predict how the UK economy is going to weather the storm, and how this is going to affect cycling. I’m convinced that there are already more people commuting by bike since fuel prices went up and share prices went down. It’s a time of economic flux, but I think that cycling, of all industries, is well placed to push through the economic uncertainties.

Are you seeking dealers for anything in particular?
At this exact moment in time we’re looking for dealers for Lapierre, Electra and NS Bikes. They’re all really strong brands that are backed up with intensive marketing and advertising campaigns.

For any dealer looking for a bike brand right now (regardless of whether its road, mountain, leisure or dirt/street), Hotlines has a strong offering.

Hotlines hot distribution portfolio
NS Bikes
Nuke Proof
Joes No Flats

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