UPDATED: Raleigh boss says IBDs are "Steptoe and Son"; Halfords "vipers"

Raleigh MD slams customers in Guardian profile

In a piece titled ‘In the Raleigh saddle, facing an uphill struggle’, business writer David Teather says Raleigh MD Mark Gouldthorp "could have the drive and stamina to revive a great British brand."

The Guardian says Gouldthorp claims Raleigh’s market share of the UK bicycle market is 20 percent.

Raleigh’s latest financials show the company with a profit of £1.2m on turnover of £31m. In 2002 the business lost nearly £6m.

Gouldthorp said:

"I have spent my whole career working for classic British industries that couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery – 15 years at ICI, eight years at ICL. The management spent 90 percent of their time rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

"It is soul destroying. So to come to Raleigh at the point where it has got the chance of a new life is a tremendous opportunity."

This "new life" could be made a tad more difficult by Gouldthorp’s outspoken criticisms of his own customers.

According to the Guardian, Gouldthorp calls Argos, Halfords and JJB "a bunch of vipers."

Independents are "a shambles," Gouldthorp is reported as saying.

"It is real Steptoe and Son stuff. Most of them will turn the lights off on a sunny day to save a bit of lecky. If you want to imagine the typical independent bike dealer, he is 50-60, highly cynical, miserable, moaning, scruffy. That’s my customer. It is great."

According to a competitor to Raleigh, this isn’t the typical IBD recognisible to upmarket brands such as Marin, Specialized, GT, Scott, Giant or Kona.

Raleigh is currently trying to interest IBDs in becoming Cyclelife dealers, which aims to "spruce up" faded dealerships with a soft franchise relationship. Some Cyclelife dealerships are also start-ups, with little or zero experience in the cycle market.

The full, and frank, profile can be read here. One IBD has said the interview is Gouldthorp’s "Ratner moment," a reference to the infamous 1991 business gaffe of jeweller Gerald Ratner.

In a telephone call with BikeBiz, Gouldthorp said Tuesday’s interview with the Guardian reporter had been partially "tongue in cheek" but had also been "taken out of context".

Gouldthorp admitted he called his mass market customers "a brood of vipers" and his IBD customers "Steptoe and Son."

But he said the reporter missed off his comment about not all IBDs being in the retail Dark Ages.

"Too many are like Steptoe and Son, but not all of them," Gouldthorp told BikeBiz.

"There’s a kaleidoscope of standards, with no enough IBDs keeping up with the better ones."

Gouldthorp said he was "frustrated" with the "colourful" Guardian piece but said it wasn’t a Ratner moment:

"If the IBD who said that is a quality 21st Century IBD, I beg their forgiveness. But they have to look at themselves, if they’re languishing in 1985 they need to come and talk to me about Cyclelife."

When asked whether the current PR blitz (Raleigh recently appointed a PR company) was anything to do with chairman Alan Finden-Crofts seeking a buyer for the company, Gouldthorp replied with an emphatic ‘no’.

"We’re not for sale. The company is growing and is successful. I am keen to get that message across to the public. PR is a cheap way of doing that.

"We had a really successful Cycle show stand. It was heartwarming to get so much positive feedback from the public and dealers alike. But we’ve got to get IBDs to embrace the brand again."

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