BikeBiz catches up with Edinburgh-based distributor Hotlines, as MD Ewan Pinder looks ahead to 2023
This piece first appeared in the November edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here
How has 2022 been for Hotlines?
Overall, we have been super happy with the performance of the business. Relative to the market, we are well ahead of expectations. There have been challenges as the bike industry resets amidst the choppy economic climate: some brands have seen significant delays, demand on certain models has continued to outstrip supply, and more regular pricing reviews have been necessary to be competitive, protect dealer margin and stay profitable as a business.
Through the turbulence, we are seeing continued growth on key brands such as Nukeproof, Ragley and Leatt: great reassurance that strong products will continue to see demand during difficult periods.
Events have become increasingly important too: Hotlines has attended Sea Otter, Ard Rock, Fort Bill, Malverns, Megavalanche, Tweed Love, Dukes Weekender and EWS events in Scotland, France and Italy. Dealer hosted events, demos and ride-outs also continue to be vital, giving retailers the support, training, and test products they need for immediate sales results.
Events can be tough, so we try to make sure staff can ride and race around our business requirements. Great for colleague engagement, understanding the products we sell and the consumers we target.
Some friendly rivalries have inevitably blossomed! It’s been a fun year. We would like to thank any dealer who has purchased a product from Hotlines this year, with special gratitude to long-standing partners who continue to support, collaborate and grow with us.
What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities for the rest of the year and for early 2023?
One benefit of supply chain challenges has been a forced departure from model years. We have current products in the warehouse available to ship now: wheelie and jump bikes for Christmas, gravel for winter or commuter options as cost-of-living pushes many to reconsider cycling.
Lighting season is obviously here and Hotlines has urban visibility covered with Bookman, off-road performance with Gloworm and some incredible value in-house offerings from Lifeline with the newly updated Pavo range. There are lots of opportunities for workshop, repair and upgrades too.
Great value Shimano compatible drivetrains from Microshift, comprehensive gravel and MTB tyre options with WTB, tools and accessories from Lifeline and essential upgrades like the multi-award-winning Brand-X Ascend seat post.
Will you be taking on any new brands for 2023?
Over recent years Hotlines has reduced the portfolio and grown our team. This has given more focus and support to our dealers and increased sales. Stromer, Hornit, Bookman and Gloworm are all recent additions and while there are some category gaps, our priority remains the growth of our existing collection.
How have retailers been reacting to recent turbulence and uncertainty in the economy/ industry?
The Bicycle Association data paints a troubled picture in some categories and with swathes of stock inbound, already congested shop floors and a sticky release valve, so concerns are naturally building for some retailers. Those trading predominantly in the high-end, however, remain optimistic with market conditions relatively stable.
Demand remains especially strong for premium enduro, trail and electric bikes from market leaders like Nukeproof. Hotlines was cautious about taking ambitious 2023 pre-orders too early and chose to forecast sensibly. Talking to retailers today, they have a clearer picture of what they need and while we won’t have everything right, we are well positioned to support our retailers and protect our brands through 2023.
What can brands and distributors do to support retailers?
Be responsible. Do not force stock on already stretched credit limits. Your quick-win today will be to the detriment of your customer, relationship and your own business long-term. Continue to invest in events, racing and brand visibility.
We are all co-dependent and promoting participation is key to driving demand and getting consumers enthusiastic about buying new products. Hotlines will also continue to support retailers with demo events. Partnering through key periods to drive sell-through in store.
Brands and distributors also need to implement measures to better support retailers. On clothing, for example, Nukeproof dealers enjoy a margin protection guarantee. Leatt dealers get free POS and a stock refresh programme: if you don’t sell it within the season, Hotlines will exchange for new products from the latest range.
We cannot control pricing or wildly unpredictable economics and there will be challenges as stock issues build, but we will continue to offer measures which protect retailers’ investments and reward commitment to our brands.
What’s next for Hotlines?
Hotlines has gone through a period of significant change. We are seeing great results and will keep pushing forwards with the same dealer-focused strategy, investing in our team and being brave with new opportunities.
Hotlines will launch in the US with a new team focused on building an IBD network for Nukeproof, and we will introduce a suite of new internal systems to improve how we operate as a business. 2023 – let’s go!
A huge thank you to our brands, retailers and staff. There’s no arguing it’s a great industry with a bright future.