‘It’s almost a different industry’: Catching up with IBD Bike Pedlars

From the Moore Large closure, to welcoming all cyclists, BikeBiz editor Alex Ballinger recently caught up with Richard Carr from Bike Pedlars in Nottinghamshire 

Here at BikeBiz, we strive month in and month out to be an invaluable asset to everyone working in the bike industry, and to represent voices from across the trade to help businesses improve and excel.

But often, amidst the major product launches and the industry trends, smaller retailers may feel their experience is being neglected.

Recently I spoke in-depth with Richard Carr, from Bike Pedlars in Nottinghamshire, a two-man operation based in the town of Retford, about how the changing face of the bike industry is leaving less and less space for small retailers, and how important it is for bike shops to welcome all types of people through the doors. 

Supporting small businesses 

“Sometimes it feels like we’re a little bit excluded from the market to be honest with you. It’s almost a different industry,” Carr told BikeBiz.  

“With some of the trade press, and some of the trade shows we go to, the distributors as well, and the reps that wander in, it just doesn’t seem relevant to what we do.”

Carr, along with his business partner Jeff Smith, see their customers in a different way to many bike shops, viewing them as ‘bike users,’ rather than cyclists. 

This, Carr believes, may be the main difference between small businesses like Bike Pedlars, and those larger retailers.

“The whole idea is that they’re a bike user, rather than a cyclist,” Carr said. 

“That’s what I think is missing in some respects – the smaller business looks at the bicycle user, while the SMEs and mid-range businesses look after cyclists. 

“I think there’s room for us both, but I don’t believe that we are being supported at the grassroots and on the coalface.” 

Carr said multiple brands have closed his account because he wasn’t buying enough stock, and also recounted conversations with a major bike brand about expanding the store. 

After initial enthusiasm from the brand, with plans for more bikes on display along with the installation of a bike fitting area, the conversation quickly died when it became clear the brand wanted Carr and Smith to purchase £20,000 worth of stock as a buy in – unsurprisingly too high a price for a small operation like Bike Pedlars. 

“There’s no opportunity for us to grow bigger than what we are, because there’s nobody out there that wants to support us on that journey,” Carr added. 

While some business-minded readers may suggest that this is all simply down to economics, Carr also highlighted some of the benefits for brands and distributors that come with supporting small businesses like Bike Pedlars. 

Greater loyalty to fewer brands, local representation (both in store and out on the road thanks to local riders), warranty support, and perhaps most importantly access to a different type of cyclist, ‘or bike user’, are just some of the values provided to brands by micro-businesses. 

Bike Pedlars is tucked away just off the main shopping street in Retford, set in an old coach house. 

Currently the team are busy refurbishing the upstairs area, which was previously rented out as offices, but which is now vacant and so will become additional storage space for Bike Pedlars. 

State of the market 

Bike Pedlars currently stocks GT bikes, Scottish bike brand Tiger, and Corratec e-bikes, and also works with Lancashire-based distributor Bob Elliot, which Carr praised for its support of small retailers. 

Carr has also worked closely with Derby-based Moore Large, which recently went into administration. Bike Pedlars had stocked Moore Large’s own brand Forme, before the closure. 

The collapse of Moore Large has been felt by many dealers, including Bike Pedlars, which has now been added to the list of debtors (albeit a small one), having stocked up on product from Moore Large when the distributor massively reduced prices late last year. 

Carr said he opted to stock up on discounted Moore Large products in the lead up to Christmas, and rented a small container to store the additional products – a number of which still have not sold. 

As a result of the closure, Moore Large’s remaining stock has been auctioned off to the public at discounted prices, with 35,000 bikes, and more than £30 million worth of stock hitting the market, which could impact stockists of Moore Large brands. 

The issue for smaller cycling businesses is their buying power – a small business requires less product, and so distributors may argue it’s not financially viable to help stock them. 

But during our conversation, Carr wondered if there might be space in the industry for smaller businesses to band together, to approach distributors as one organisation, to increase their buying power, and benefitting everyone. 

Carr referenced energy switching company Look After My Bills, which appeared on TV show Dragon’s Den in 2018: “People join, and then [the company] goes out and gets the best price, and they become a force to be reckoned with because they have buying power.

“It doesn’t matter if we buy just one bicycle, because of the fact that it’s through the group, and the group buys 1,000 bicycles, because we’ve got 500 shops.” 

A broad church 

With his philosophy of supporting bike users, rather than cyclists, Carr also had a very important message to share with other retailers, on how to reach the widest possible customer base. 

I asked Carr what tips he had for other bike shops, to help them welcome all bike users.

“When a customer walks in, don’t judge them,” he said. 

“Don’t judge them by what you do on a weekend, don’t judge what they’re after by what you do, or what you have in your garage.

“If you get dressed up in lycra on a Sunday morning with your cycling club, don’t judge those people that are looking for a little shredder that they can go around the local country park on.

“If you ride with your mates on a weekend with your dropper post, tubeless tyres, and baggy shorts on, don’t judge people that are wandering in looking for something for their caravan, or for their grandchildren, or to get to work on.

“There’s a whole market out there that cannot afford bicycles over £500.”

Carr referenced Bike Pedlar customers who are still riding £50 bikes that are 20 years old, but which the customer rides every day and just wants to keep on the road, even when the repairs cost more than the value of the bike. 

Many customers may feel intimidated by larger retailers, Carr said, and that feeling was what inspired him to set up Bike Pedlars with Smith.

Carr is a foster carer, and when he went into bike shops with kids, he found he was being spoken down to. 

“I decided there had to be a better way,” he added. 

Read more: The Seatpost Man: How John Lee has helped save thousands of frames

At the end of most interviews, I generally ask the interviewee what they have planned for the future, but for many businesses at the sharp end, the plans simply involve trying to keep the lights on. 

“It’s all about survival,” said Carr, “just ticking along as best we can.”

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