Thomas Hardy founded Twelfth City Cyclery in Northumberland in 2020 to combine his passion and skills. BikeBiz learns more about how his business operates.
This piece first appeared in the September edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here
Can you give us a little background on Twelfth City Cyclery and yourself?
I am a mechanical (design) engineer who graduated through the Motown automotive industry. When Covid hit, personal circumstances encouraged me to come home after living outside the UK for over a decade and I started the Twelfth City snowball rolling.
Starting as a bike mechanic over twenty years ago, I have skills that were seemingly lacking here.
Northumberland is a stunning area with still under-tapped potential as a cycling destination for all disciplines, despite being underserved by way of bike shops. We started by what felt like trading services for tools with our cycling neighbours then now we’ve created and ticked off a host of bigger milestones.
What type of consumers do you target?
Having Twelfth City be my first real foray into business I laboured to develop foundational business aspects like this.
Aware most advice will have business owners “niching down”, I have had difficulty describing our market.
We target a client characteristic, rather than a riding discipline. All handlebar shapes and wheel sizes live here: we want to provide something to people looking to upgrade their cycling, which may be bike-out-the-shed to first-weekend-trip, casual-road-rider to first Coast-to-Coast or those stepping up to category podiums.
We want to encourage those fun-seeking, developing riders through education and confidence building.
What makes your business unique?
Unique is one of those words I avoid using. Everything’s been done before if you’ve been around long enough, there’s little that’s genuinely new anymore. We are, however, not a traditional shop. We are, happily, an alternative bike service operation.
There’s a lot like us now, which we see as a good thing.
Bike shops are vital for service and community but we concede retail exists predominantly online further driving the ethos of a Cyclery. The Cyclery label describes our energy for community support.
We’ve been able to support public bike repair stations, run free mechanic-skill sessions and support riders literally from the sidelines at events.
As we mature I am forcing us to step bravely towards being more authentic, selfishly representative of who we are, and working with more selection i.e. not touching consumer-modified e-bikes or outsourcing the super-specialisms sooner.
This saves our time for those areas where we can make maximum impact.
How has business and the industry been for you in 2023?
We have our capacity filled about 85% currently by returners. They’re our lifeblood. We’re able to support people who are as invested in the growth of cycling even more than we are – they’re our guiding light. Being connected like this is a massive compliment.
We’re very lucky to be in the location we are as our catchment area is brilliant for clients but we’re also eligible for great suppliers. We’re thankful everyday that our suppliers allow our small business to offer their brands.
We all want to be putting million-pound orders in every day, but until we can offer our clients a specific component once or twice a month is very impactful on our end.
I’m holding the opinion that building a bike business of any sort through the COVID challenges must be some sort of baptism by fire with an opportunity to learn at such an accelerated rate, like instilling the leanest operational practices we can, specifically on the bootstrap budget we have. If we can do this, we can do this.
All I ask of us is that every day, we do the best we can, focusing on quality as the main goal. Done right over done quick is the goal.
What are your plans for 2023 and beyond?
Ride more! Closing 2023 we have a heavy training goal so we’re going through shifts to concentrate on our retail capabilities. Service offerings will continue in a similar vein as we look to streamline how we do things – I need us to get more juice from this squeeze!
We’ll definitely push our group sessions more in future, where we visit workplaces where for a full working day we bang out as many services as possible or we meet the gravel gang at the pub or cake shop to show how to best index gears.
How many staff do you have, what are your opening hours?
I spearhead the whole thing as a sole-trader business but I consider myself exceptionally lucky to have the familial support I have, and we have spare shirts that get thrown on by regular helpers when we need them. I’m getting better at asking for help but that was definitely a skill it took longer to learn than I would have liked.
Our fitting and service efforts are run by appointment with free, no-obligation assessments in addition, but we open 10am to 7pm four days a week, closing an hour earlier on Fridays and 10am-4pm on Saturdays. Sundays we try to pick up the pieces.
Do you have any tips you’d like to share with other retailers?
Besides the reminder to step back and celebrate accomplishments?
We’re still learning so much but building a network has been valuable to us. From day one connecting to local business groups, even outside the bike industry, proved brilliant – it’s fascinating how common ‘business problems’ are. Details might change but the learning is the same.
The fail-together, fail-fast, Steve Jobs mentality is powerful. As an independent, it’s too easy to develop a silo mentality so having people pull your head out of the sand every now and again helps.
I want us to communicate better. Even a short, out-of-hours text message helps people feel connected to the process. With that also comes the under-promising habit.
A twenty-minute workshop job isn’t a twenty-minute job when you have to welcome guests, answer the phone, respond to emails, clean the shop, feed yourself, sleep sometimes and submit your accounts…