281 assembly workers will clock on for in their last shift at Raleigh’s Triumph Road factory on November 29th. With so many of the workers being with Raleigh for periods of 25 years and more, the redundancy packages many will receive next week are large.
A job shop has been operating in-house at Raleigh since news of the ending of assembly, advising those made redundant on how to spend their money wisely and offering training for those wishing to learn new skills.
Nottingham has a thriving service economy. Where once 42 000 workers toiled at Boots, Raleigh, Players’ and Ericcson, 42 000 workers are now employed by credit-checking Experian, the Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham’s academic institutions and other service-based companies and organisations. Raleigh once employed 5000. In 2003 that’s down to 220, including 80 workers at the Raleigh P&A warehouse in Annesley.
It’s the end of an era – bikes have been an important part of the Lenton scene since the late 19th century – but Raleigh’s transformation from a manufacturing concern to a pure marketing company has been occurring in stages since the 1960s.
Arguably, the ending of frame manufacturing in December 1999 was more of a landmark date than this year’s ending of assembly, and upping sticks from Triumph Road.
The media coverage that occurred on the 1999 announcement of the sale of Raleigh’s frame-building robots and the rest of the welding equipment – Raleigh down the tubes, went the inaccurate spin – should be less frenzied this time around.
For a start, Raleigh chairman Philip Darnton and MD John Spon-Smith, are spending time explaining to radio , TV and print journalists that the Triumph Road site is past its sell-by date and it’s time to move on.
"The structure we had in the 19th and 20th centuries served us well but we now have to have a business model for the 21st century," said Darnton.
The Eastwood HQ – formerly a furniture factory – cost £3.3m and a further £2m is being spent on the refit, including a new IT infrastructure due to be installed in June 2003.
Design, sales, marketing and logistics will still take place in Nottingham, albeit at NG16 and not NG7, but bikes will arrive fully-assembled from the Far East and other centres of low-cost, high-quality production.
The 281 assembly workers made redundant have been conscientious to the end, said Darnton.
There have been no end-of-term pranks.
"Since mid-March, when we announced the ending of assembly at Triumph Road, we have had the most fantastic record of good production. There has been no increase in absenteeism, no problems with quality."
Partly this is due to a ‘100 last days’ bonus scheme but, believes Darnton, it’s also due to good communications on the shop-floor.
"Senior management have been working with union representatives, sharing issues of concern. It has been very collaborative."
And British workers are now much more aware of how the economy is changing, from manufacturing-based to service-based.
"There’s an air of inevitability about the restructure," said Raleigh MD John Spon-Smith.
"The staff understand how the market is changing and they see it not as a Raleigh issue or a cycle trade issue but something that’s happening in all sectors. The ending of assembly in Nottingham is only really news in the trade. Consumers don’t give a high priority to ‘country of origin’. Consumers care about brands, whether products are fit for purpose and value for money, but where they’re made is not an issue."
Darnton agrees. "If consumers had been keen to buy British products, priced at a premium, we would never have had to source overseas, but it’s a price-driven market and you’ve got to get your manufacturing done in the countries where it’s most cost-effective to do so."
Darnton and Spon-Smith are keen to stress that Raleigh is not about to become a barrow-boy supplier, buying in assembled bikes from flavour-of-the-day factories doing deals, or a paint-by-numbers box-shifter sourcing frames and components from Taiwan’s The Bicycle Guide.
"If anybody is expecting to see cheap bikes from Raleigh, they are going to be disappointed. We’re not buying bikes off the peg, we’re designing all our bikes," said Spon-Smith.
"We’re keeping all our design engineers, the quality control engineers, the product designers, the logistics back-up. They all have to travel further now, jumping on aeroplanes rather than popping along the corridor, but they remain an integral part of our operation. This is a huge strength, a key part of our heritage that we’ll be keeping, and strengthening over time."
Another strength is Raleigh’s in-house distribution. The fleet of 18 HGV cabs, 45 trailers and 45 warehouse staff and drivers, will relocate to Eastwood along with the sales, design, marketing and admin staff.
Darnton sees the ten-mile move to Eastwood – just off junction 26 of the M1 -as a chance for a fresh start. Raleigh employees will turn up at their new HQ on January 2nd and there will be a feeling of rejuvenation, like working for a different company altogether, believes Raleigh’s chairman.
"People here have been living in the shadow of ‘what will become of us?’ for too long. Sales volumes have been coming down, there’s been little innovation in the wider marketplace and then there was that dreadful period when Derby Cycle Corporation got itself into terrible difficulties and sold the factory site from under our feet.
"Now people see the move as an opportunity, not a threat. We’re no longer constrained by a production unit that needs to produce 500 000 bikes a year. We no longer have to feed a factory. At the end of the day, we’re not in business to make bikes, we’re in business to make money from making bikes."
Raleigh’s new address – operative from January 2nd onwards – is:
Raleigh UK Ltd
Tel and fax numbers have already been loaded into the online BikeBizBible but won’t come on stream until January 2nd.
The 2003 product ranges will be on display at five regional roadshows in January:
Hampden Park, Glasgow – Tuesday 14th January
Manchester United Football Club – Friday 17th January
Leicester City Football Club – Tuesday 21st January
Kempton Park Racecourse – Friday 24th January
Empire & Commonwealth Museum, Bristol, Wednesday 29th January
PIX OF RALEIGH FACTORY IN THE RECENT PAST: