BikeBiz chats with Raleigh's UK boss on life post acquisition and how the company has become a one-stop-shop for bike retailers again

Raleigh interview: What’s changed since the Accell takeover?

It has been 15 months since Accell purchased Raleigh. Has there been one significant change that stands out for you above all others?
Accell’s management style is very low touch, so the biggest change has been behind the scenes in terms of financial and operational.

Culturally they are very IBD-orientated. You can see that if you look at their other operations in France, Holland, Germany, Italy, etc, and that culture starts to permeate into Raleigh, whereas Raleigh has always had feet in various camps.

Their style of management and approach to market has started to permeate too. That’s a big, but subtle thing. You don’t wake up in the morning and think ‘Right, we’re going to do it differently today’. If you were to pin it down to one thing I’d say it’s that.

In terms of marketing and the shift in our development period and timescales – they were underway anyway. We’ve recognised that we need to be on the same launch timescales as the other global brands so we compressed our lead times down to allow that to happen. Thankfully we’ve not sacrificed development opportunity or improvement to do it.

What can you tell us about the new Raleigh ranges and how they’ve been received?
The reaction has been fantastic – I know everyone who sits in front of you says that – but we moved on a big step with the ‘13 range. The 2014 line-up is about consolidating that position and filling in the missing gaps in the range. We’re happy enough to say that we’re now at the point where it is evolution, not revolution. In the last two years we’ve massively changed our personnel, moving new people in and got more suppliers.

For our 2014 range, quite a lot of our bikes will come out of Accell’s factory in Turkey. So we are shifting production nearer to Europe – not because Accell says we have to do it, but because economically it makes sense. We’ve got an improved factory capability, better quality control and at as good a price as we were buying before. From a supplier viewpoint, that’s another Accell change. They’ve unlocked brands for us too, like Haibike and XLC. It’s not been gargantuan, but we are starting to see the effects of being part of a larger group.

The introduction of Haibike this year was a little late for the marketplace, but it has given us back that proposition to be a one-stop-shop. That’s what the dealers want. We’ve got Raleigh, Diamondback, Haibike, Dahon and the ever-widening accessory base. At this rate we’ll need a larger warehouse. But that’s what we want – to offer a one-stop-shop for the dealer. We don’t ram that down everyone’s throats but we do want to offer everything they need.

There’s a SRAM angle too? The doors to that brand have been opened through the relationship Accell has?
Accell’s relationship with SRAM is very strong and that’s definitely improved our links with them. We are starting to see a heavier emphasis with SRAM on our bikes and I think that will continue.

How has the Accell acquisition affected Raleigh’s target for recruiting more retailers to Cyclelife?
I still believe there is a place for a Cyclelife operation in the UK IBD base. It makes sense for the German market, it makes sense for the Dutch market, it should make sense for the UK market. It is still in our hearts.
We had dealers move away from Cyclelife – not because they fell out with us, but because they are moving to a boutique status and are having to stock a more expensive range of brands which we’ve not had access to. Now, however, with Haibike in the range we are back to that credible one-stop-shop status.

"It’s alright saying you’ve got lots of advertising, but if stock stays on the shop floor, you are knackered."

The job of the Raleigh brand is to move up the food chain in terms of 700c road commuter and city bikes. Diamondback’s job is to move up in the BMX and MTB market. Having Haibike gives us a quick injection of having a credible product range. We’ve got to build brand awareness in the public eye, but the dealers who have taken on Haibike find it is selling for them. It’s alright saying you’ve got lots of advertising, but if stock stays on the shop floor, you are knackered.

We’ve got 20 Haibike stockists at the moment and we want to double that for ‘14 and ultimately probably go to 60, but those 20 are selling these bikes. That’s encouraging because we’ve had false starts with the likes of Corratec where we had an established dealer base, but the product just sat on the shop floor. I think the Haibike stuff is sufficiently different to what else is out there to have an appeal.

We see Cyclelife as part of our offering. We’re not trying to change the culture of a dealer who doesn’t want it, but it’s great for those coming to the market and feel they want a helping hand. We can do everything to get them up and running in a cost effective way for them and us. It’s part of our kitbag.

There are more dealer services you’re offering that you have already touched on, like Raleigh TV…
From a marketing viewpoint we see digital communications as being an area of focus. This time last year we didn’t have a guy who was solely focused on social networking. We have just recruited someone whose sole job is e-commerce and he’s improving the professional look of our websites, but also to help the dealers.

With Raleigh TV we set ourselves a budget for a creative solution we could afford to roll out to as many people as possible and we’ve achieved that. It ticks all the boxes for utility, durability and ease of maintenance in terms of content, which we can manage centrally.

It’s out with 50 stores and we’ll partner with interested dealers to work on improvements. There are exciting things we can do with it. There are opportunities to experiment and keep what works, ditch what doesn’t.

Then the flip side of the digital support is the web. There’s two aspects to that; My Shop Online and Drop Ship Vendor. We’re saying to dealers, everyone should have a website, but not everyone should or wants to get into e-commerce. In my opinion the barriers to getting into e-commerce are getting bigger as the big boys get better and stronger. If you want e-commerce but not the overheads we provide My Shop Online, which is a hot link from a dealer’s website into the full Raleigh shop, but liveried as if it is the shop’s site. They source that customer, they make full margin and have access to the full Raleigh portfolio. We’re saying, ‘don’t mess about selling a few bits on eBay, we’ve got the full suite here’. The e-commerce guy’s job is to improve that service – that helping hand.

For those that are into e-commerce then the other service is Drop Ship Vendor, where we offer the entire portfolio to a partner – they can list the entire suite of products if they want, with no stock risk. Every order they take comes through to here and we then ship the product to the customer on their behalf to their service timescales. We have a solution for different types of customer.

Raleigh’s product offering to bike dealers has broadened too?
That’s right. There are two aspects to the market now; performance and lifestyle. In performance we’ve got to be on the money with trends, specs, looks. That’s an uphill struggle because the competition is fierce. It’s a market we abandoned ten years ago, but we’re pushing back into it and we’re now supporting the race team…we’ve got to be there for brand credibility.

Where Raleigh can win commercially is in the lifestyle sector. Again you have to be on trend with looks, finish and specification, but with something like the Red or Dead bikes we are looking to introduce a fashion element. We’ve had partnerships in the past with the likes of Ben Sherman and there are other opportunities there to keep Raleigh in the public domain.

Look at the Beano Chopper. It’s a bit of fun, we’re not hanging our hat on it commercially, but again it keeps us high in the public eye.

I want Raleigh to own the lifestyle cycling sector. There’s a lot of competition in that space with brands that are as good as we are and we’ve got to work hard to prise that market from their grasp. That’s where our heritage is and with a bit of style and engineering we can conquer. Whether we do that with the ‘14 range…again we made a step forward with the ‘13 range, but I think ‘15 is when I’ll feel we’re bringing true differentiation in there. That’s bloody difficult to achieve in the bike market. If you look at the German market particularly, the refinements in aesthetics that German lifestyle bikes have is something we can bring to the UK market. By that I don’t mean transplanting German specifications into the UK market, but the use of new materials and giving it a distinct personality. We want people to be able to say ‘that’s a Raleigh bike’, not a Giant, or a Ridgeback…that’s the mission of the team.

Generally, how is the state of the market?
Well it’s not raining at the moment, so that’s good. I think market conditions are tough. I think the hangover from 2012 makes it tough. I think we’re seeing an ongoing trend – the boutique dealers are doing reasonably well irrespective of weather and the mainstream dealers are finding it tough. That was the case last year and that has continued this year.

So that’s largely down to the weather?
When it is raining the hobby cyclist will still go out and ride, but the family market won’t, so it’s definitely a big factor. Given that it has been much dryer in recent months I think it has been disappointing that the family market doesn’t seem to have bounced back.

That makes you ask questions of yourself: Is that the state of retail? Mainstream dealers’ repair businesses are booming. Parts have done very well because of the workshop – all dealers, bar none, are saying that the repair business is doing great. That says something. I think there is a long-term decline issue that family bike shops are facing. The multiples aren’t getting any stronger, but they are strong. Like Halfords, they are good at what they do at that price.

Then there’s the internet continuing to nibble away at the edges. That’s the one that is coming up, squeezing that family bike market further. The reality is that Raleigh has a traditional strength in that market. So because it should do and needs to, Raleigh is seeking to improve its capability in the performance market. That is where the market is going.

And the value of bikes is rising…
Absolutely, my task is to move Raleigh’s average sales up the food chain, having a credible offer with decent marketing support and availability.

What about accessories?
There are no major shifts going on at the moment, other than the fact dealers are generally looking to stock less. That’s a truism across bikes and accessories and our systems are being fine-tuned to meet that requirement. Squire locks have done very well, Dare2b has had a building year and XLC is getting a proper launch in July. XLC is a comprehensive range and we should be able to take some share.

There are brands we are acquiring that I can’t talk about yet. Watch this space.

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