As the recession begins to bite most distributors have made sacrifices to keep retail afloat, but few can claim to have dug as deep as one Hastings firm. Mark Sutton talks to the Seventies team...

Retail ain’t ready?

For years, Seventies has witnessed a steady increase in retailers taking an interest in BMX. Yet, up until a few years ago, bicycle motocross was more a niche than what could be considered a standalone sector. Since its last heydey in the ‘80s, this sleeping giant has ticked over with only the die-hard specialists sticking to their guns and preventing the market from slipping into obscurity.

However, according to Seventies MD, Stuart Dawkins: "This past year has seen a higher increase in retailers opening accounts than we’re used to."

So what’s awakening a new era of 20-inch? Is it the Olympic coverage and general acceptance that smaller wheels don’t necessarily only belong on kids’ bikes? It could be, but that wouldn’t explain the sudden interest in the many forms of freestyle BMX.

Could it be down to councils nationwide beginning to allocate their budgets to things kids are actually interested in – such as velodromes, race tracks and skate parks? Whatever it is, 20-inchers are ubiquitous again and dealers nationwide are noticing in numbers.

Dawkins is a strong believer in supporting and building local scenes for those enthused by BMX. And although it’s not the reason Seventies so strongly supports its end-user, sponsoring riders and grassroots events generates a wealth of word-of-mouth marketing.

He says: "Sponsoring riders and core events has always been of the highest importance for us. We have riders representing all our brands, whether it’s just getting flowed product or receiving salaries. This benefits our marketing through magazine, web and video coverage and also through word of mouth marketing. Small contests and jams are great for promoting riders and encouraging new faces to become more involved in cycling."

So why should a dyed-in-the-wool mountain bike dealer care that there’s been a resurgence in bicycle motocross? Typically, BMX riders start young and as with any other hobby, many lose interest as they grow older. However, it’s worth noting the swathes of 20-inchers are sticking with cycling as they age. And just look at all the traditionally 20-inch brands now building fixed gear bikes, frames and components. There’s a trend emerging…

Dawkins acknowledges there is a link, telling BikeBiz: "The fixed gear market definitely seems to be going through an exciting period of growth at the moment and there are riders who are looking for a fixie to get around on as an addition to their BMX bike. Although we have a lot of respect for the fixie market our speciality is BMX and if it wasn’t for our Subrosa brand offering a bike it wouldn’t be a market we would look to expand into."

Understanding that not every dealer will be as clued up on the latest freecoaster hubs or popular colours of anodised sprocket, Seventies has 12 employees on hand to assist customers, nine of whom ride BMX or have a history of riding.

According to Dawkins: "By employing riders we’re instantly getting a wealth of product knowledge and BMX experience. This benefits us in many areas whether it’s sales, marketing, purchasing or product development. Having this level of enthusiasm and experience on board means that by talking to dealers about their needs, we can offer them the confidence and product knowledge to make sensible buying decisions that will benefit their store."

It’s often said that in the depth of a recession retailers should invest in the business to keep it sustainable. But with all the price rises incurred by the exchange rate swings, why should a dealer dabble in what may be unfamiliar territory?

"We’re very aware there’s a ceiling for the price certain products will actually sell for in the market, so in a lot of instances we’ve reduced our margins to keep the retail price at an achievable level," explains Dawkins. "Some other distributors have reduced dealer margins, but we’ve been reluctant do this."

The company is aware that when times are hard dealers are reluctant to spend and as a business, a balance has had to be struck in between keeping customers interested with high-value deals and looking after its own financials. So, what’s on offer to those with an account at present?

"We offer dealers a number of things; high stock levels, competitive pricing, high margins, fast and efficient service, flexible payment terms, good product knowledge and expert advice about market trends," reveals Dawkins. And that’s not mentioning the catalogue support, which last year saw 30,000 copies in circulation nationwide, as well as variety of other freebies included with higher value orders.

So it’s safe to say the Hastings warehouse is a busy one, but to what does Dawkins attribute the company’s growth? "We’ve been really busy this past year, which we put down to a number of things. These include the worldwide success of our house brand Federal Bikes, the increasing popularity of the brands we distribute and the impact of the Brighton Ain’t Readyproject, which culminated in the release one of our best selling DVDs in several years."

DVD sales are just one of the perks of having a diverse range of sponsored riders constantly on the road promoting the brands and digital media undoubtedly plays a large role in Seventies’ marketing, but what other add-on sales items are on offer?

Dawkins goes on to highlight another lucrative opportunity for retailers who commit drawing crowds of 20-inch customers. "We distribute the two key BMX specific shoe brands, which are Lotek and Orchid. These have gone from strength to strength for some time. The margins for shoes and clothing can be better than bikes and parts but we’d recommend dealers buy a selection of shoes and clothing in order to get the full benefit."

Those who have visited the Seventies warehouse will be left in no doubt that this is a company 110 per cent committed to what they do. Any number of staff riders will be shredding the warehouse ramp before work, on lunch breaks and after work. As BikeBiz left the Hastings premises, we witnessed an un-named staff member seal up a box, grab a nearby BMX and throw a barspin before moving onto the next order. Now that’s professional service.

In other news...

Schwalbe publishes its second CSR report with ‘ambitious’ future targets

Schwalbe has published its second CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) report, titled “Dedicated Recyclist”. The bicycle …