Rebecca Morley catches up with Damian Hackett, Orbea’s country manager for the UK and Ireland
This piece first appeared in the March edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here
It was an immensely challenging 2021 for businesses across the cycling industry, and it was no different for the Bike Brand of the Year winner, Orbea.
“The biggest issue centred around supply chain problems and trying to keep our retailers supplied in such a challenging environment,” explained Damian Hackett, Orbea’s country manager for the UK and Ireland.
“We have possibly adapted better to this new scenario than many brands, as our business model has been developed around the idea of agility in everything. On that topic, what may not have been fully appreciated by the wider industry was that Orbea has been on a dramatic evolution curve for several years prior to any Covid outbreak.”
Since it brought all its production back to Europe in the middle of the last decade, Orbea had already begun the transformation of its facilities and its internal structures, Hackett continued. “Because of this, we were well-positioned to accelerate these factory developments that were already part of that evolution.
“This helped us to cope a little better with the enormous challenges that were the result of the recent upsurge in demand. We had already been examining and improving our business from every perspective long before the Covid crisis, with a view to setting really deep foundations for the future growth of the brand.
“Many of the markets we have been operating in have seen high double-digit growth since the middle of the last decade – not just since 2020, with internal structures changing as fast as possible to support that growth. So it’s a bit like the duck on the pond. On the surface, it seems like it’s quite placid and still, but under the surface, it’s working like crazy.”
At the onset of the Covid outbreak in 2020, Hackett continued, Orbea pivoted within a week or so from figuring out how it was going to manage to close down all its facilities, to trying to ramp up production to handle the demand from the markets that were open and required bikes on the double.
“Very few companies would have had the agility or the flexibility to do this,” he said. “I guess it speaks to the cooperative nature of our business that our employees didn’t bat an eyelid at having to change so much about what they were being asked to do so quickly.
“As manufacturers, we have been able to continue painting, assembling and producing bikes from our factories in the Basque Country in Spain and in Portugal.
“We have had to work closely and directly with our suppliers in order to try to reduce lead times for components, and we are working very closely with our logistics partners to try finding innovative solutions to the global transport problem, including from the EU to the UK.
“In some cases where the supply chain is simply not resolvable, we have tried changing components to ensure deliveries are sped-up. We’ve air-freighted components rather than wait for containers to become available.”
Orbea has tried wherever possible to improve any substituted components, but it’s a “constantly moving battlefield”, Hackett said, and the brand is working hard to ensure its customers get what they need. “To begin to describe the complexity of the daily challenge at the moment is almost impossible. Let’s just say that from where I am standing, every bike we ship is a minor miracle of logistics.
“We are lucky that Orbea is such an adaptable organisation. Over the past five or six years, we have completely redesigned our factory, built some significant new inventory warehousing facilities, and recruited talent from all corners of the world to bolster our staff across every area of the business.”
Orbea’s capacity is now massively improved on what it was even a few years ago, said Hackett – definitely prior to the pandemic – but the brand is still dealing with the same supply chain disruptions the rest of the industry is facing.
As a further innovation and in response to the new market realities, it has redoubled its commitment to its retailers by introducing Rider Connect, where it allows its retailers to sell their backorders directly on Orbea.com.
“This way we are trying to keep the momentum that was gained during the past few years by ensuring our dealers are as empowered as possible to meet the demand where it exists,” said Hackett.
Many of the nominations for Orbea as Bike Brand of the Year mentioned the Rise – which Hackett said is the first in the line of e-bikes that the brand is creating with the intention of blurring the lines between traditional bicycles and e-bicycles.
“I don’t mean to be in any way arrogant by saying this, but we knew the minute we saw the first Rise that it was going to be an enormous hit.
“Bikes that can make you feel like you are the engine – you are in charge, but that you have as much support as you need when required. The industry response by way of awards and plaudits has been immensely satisfying and rewarding, but the greatest feedback is the thousands of users who have found a new ability to be out on the trails for longer, covering greater distances and having more fun.
“That’s what we’re in the business of doing, so while we are immensely grateful to all the magazines and websites who have been heaping praise on Rise, our greatest satisfaction comes from hearing from users who are feeling more empowered than ever.”
On winning Bike Brand of the Year, Hackett said he actually felt quite emotional. “I guess when I arrived to take on managing the UK market, so many people laughed at the idea that one day Orbea could be in the top-five IBD bike brands.
“I think one of our retailers recently reminded me that in 2015 I said that this was one of our stated objectives – and he thought the hamsters in my head had gotten out of the cage, and were running riot!
“In honesty, our team in Spain have been unbelievable in creating such amazing bikes and this has made the task of gaining market traction far easier. Without benchmark products like, Rallon, Gain, Occam, Rise… we would still be sitting a little bit on the outside looking in.
“With great products, and a super commercial team who constantly aim to support our retailers, we’ve been selected as the brand of the year. On behalf of the entire Orbea team, I can say we are humbled and so appreciative of the honour, and through such unbelievable challenging times, we will be aiming to exceed the standards we’ve set in every department into the future.”
Central to Orbea’s ambitions going forwards, Hackett said, is further innovation in its products, and new ways of dealing with its retailers to support them even better into the future.
“Initiatives like Rider Connect and our Demo Booking programme keep our retailers at the centre of our digital engagement policy. Retailers have had a bittersweet couple of years but I believe that they need the reassurance that they are critical to Orbea’s ongoing business in every market, and we’ll do our very best to support local IBDs with industry-leading products and service into the future.”
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