The big interview: Raleigh’s Pippa Wibberley

As a reader of BikeBiz, there’s a good chance your initial introduction into the world of cycling was with a Raleigh bike. Established as one of the UK’s largest cycling brands, Raleigh is also a key distributor, offering a tightly curated and considered range of products. Kieran Howells sat down with managing director Pippa Wibberley to better understand her vision for the brand, and what Raleigh represents in 2018.

Can you tell us a little about your history in the cycle trade?

My job as sales and marketing director at Raleigh UK was my first in the cycle trade. I have been a keen cyclist all my life and it has always been part of my every day. My kids raced cyclocross, my nephew now rides for GB, and I have had more holidays to watch the Tour than I can remember, but it had never been part of my working life until Raleigh.

Tell us about your career outside of the trade.

I started my career in the automotive industry, and spent ten years in the motorcycle trade with a major lubricant brand. In 2015, I left my job as commercial director for Glow-worm Heating to make the switch to Raleigh. You’d be surprised just how many similarities there are in the boiler and bike trades!

Your appointment as managing director was officially announced in November last year. What were your initial priorities at that time?

Last year was a really important year for Raleigh. The team took brave steps to get the brand in to the shape we needed to be in. 2017 was all about simplifying our business, focusing on what we are good at, and implementing our plans with energy. Our digital capabilities simply didn’t exist – we’ve addressed that and gone from being behind the times to leading the way, which is a great achievement. We also implemented clear brand strategies. This has seen us discontinue a number of brands and products, and allowed us to ensure we have the right portfolio – sold through the right channels – without conflict or duplication. We’ve really stepped up our game as a distributor too. Our customers now know Raleigh UK as a ‘one-stop shop’ for everything they need. We are driven to deliver the best brands, with the best availability and the best service levels. All signs show that this is exactly what dealers want and need, which is why our partnerships are growing daily. We came out of 2017 looking and feeling fantastic, having created the momentum we need to reach our full potential in 2018.

How do you ensure Raleigh is continually on the cutting edge of the industry?

Raleigh UK is leading an Accell group-wide web platform which will take our digital capability to the next level, we are part of a pan-European team implementing state-of-the-art CRM systems, and Accell Group have invested in important consumer insight research in the UK, which we are now using to drive our business decisions. On top of this, we are working at a central level to ensure that, as a group, we secure the best P&A brands for our retailer partners. This ensures they can have the products their customers want, on their shelves or available to order for delivery the very next day. Being part of Europe’s biggest bicycle company has never been more important to us and will give us real competitive edge.

Managing director is a title we hear a lot, but what does your job specifically entail, on a day-to-day basis?

The best thing about it is that no two days are the same – it is a super varied role. Being part of Accell Group means we have access to some amazing brands, and the entire organization is to focusing on innovations, on e-bikes, on digitisation and on consumer centricity. My role in the UK is to work with my team to understand what the UK consumer needs and wants, and then use the resources available to us to get the right brands, the right products and the right services in place so we can provide the best experience together with our retailer partners.

There’s not really such thing as an average day in this job. I travel a lot to meet with customers. I am lucky enough to visit the US, the Netherlands, France and Germany to work on strategic projects with my Accell Group colleagues. When I get in to the office it is a big focus on catching up with the team and making sure I am supporting them in the great work they are doing.

What bike(s) do you personally ride, and where do you like to cycle?

As cycling is a big part of family life, our garage is pretty full! I have two daughters who are the same height as me, so the fleet is interchangeable. If I am out on a Sunday morning with my husband then it’s the Raleigh Mustang, which is a perfect ‘go everywhere’ bike for the Peak District where I live. If I am nipping out to the shop then I love using the Raleigh Sherwood, which gets loads of attention in the village! I have recently bought a Raleigh Strada E too, which is the go-to when I get the chance to cycle to work.

What developments at Raleigh are exciting you at the moment?

The market we are in is undergoing huge transition, and Raleigh is facing it head on. It’s all about the consumer journey – getting consumers in store and creating an effortless experience when they get there, giving the consumer something the internet cannot offer. Raleigh UK retailer partners will see us invest in:

· Online platforms giving consumers the content they need to really help with their decision-making. Bike configurators, live webchat answering questions there and then, new IT solutions so consumers coming to our websites can see and buy the stock our dealers have in-store, video content that really answers the questions consumers have and helps them to choose the right bike for them.

· In-store experience drivers. Consumers are telling us loud and clear that they want to see, touch, feel and try the bike before they buy, and this is only possible if we are working with our retailer partners. Online booking of demonstrations, dedicated demo centres and digital POS to integrate the journey are all on the way.

· Great service is also going to be vital. This is the other area where the bike retailer really does offer something that the internet cannot and will become more and more important as the e-bike market continues to grow. Designing bikes carefully with the best user experience in mind, having spare parts in stock so dealers can get their customers back on the road, and having an easy, trust-based warranty process to make retailers’ lives easy are where we are focusing.

Do you feel somewhat bound by Raleigh’s heritage, or do believe it can adapt and change as the team sees fit?

When you are growing a brand like Raleigh, the consumer is incredibly powerful. We recently talked to more than 1,200 UK consumers who have bought a bike in the last 12 months – the results were really astonishing and supported our belief in the power of this great UK super-brand.

– When asked to name a bike brand, without any prompts, 28 per cent of consumers named Raleigh. This was 12 percentage points higher than the nearest competitor

– 52 per cent of people would consider Raleigh when making their purchase.

– Raleigh customers are more likely to recommend a friend. Our Net Promoter Score is 59 per cent. That’s ten percentage points higher than the industry average, and the highest in the industry.

This stuff is gold dust for independent bike retailers who stock Raleigh. No other brand is more recognised, more considered or more recommended. The challenge is getting these consumers in to the store. All too often, they are buying somewhere else.

A large number of IBDs are closing their doors at the moment. What, in your opinion, is causing such a huge downturn in business?

It is not just IBDs. The entire retail space is challenged. Big names like Toys R Us, Maplin, New Look, and Jamie Oliver are all struggling, and that demonstrates how all sectors are finding it tough. We must adapt to stay relevant to the consumer. This is why our investment is focused on digital marketing and in-store demonstration capability. 80 per cent of the consumers we interviewed completed their transaction in-store; we need to make sure that’s one of our retailer partners. Click and collect is not ‘going direct’, it’s getting consumers in to bike shops! We recently launched a partnership with the Caravan and Motorhome Club. Since launch, I have been receiving calls and emails from our IBD partners telling me they are getting new customers in the door – people who would not normally have visited them. One store sold three e-bikes to CAMC members the day after we launched – that’s what you call driving footfall!

I strongly believe that the independent bike retailer is vital to the success of the UK bicycle industry going forward, and our consumer research backed this up. What the consumer wants is changing, and our role is to work with our retail partners to ensure that we both adapt to deliver the value the consumer is looking for.

A lot of distributors are feeling the pinch too; what position is Raleigh in?

Trading conditions are tough but we are finding that a focus on great brands, great availability and amazing service is delivering for us. We were the first distributor in the UK to offer a next day delivery service for orders placed up to 6pm, and rest assured, we won’t stop here. Our independent retail partners need this to offer great service to their customers and we will continue to improve our service offer to support them in this. We are working hard to develop our offering further, so watch this space!

You have a large and dedicated team working at the company. Why do people want to work for Raleigh?

Very often it is ‘Raleigh’ that makes people want to work for Raleigh – regardless of whether they are cyclists or not. We have a real pride in the brand and a common passion for making it successful. Raleigh UK is absolutely unique in the UK bicycle industry. No other distributor can offer the combination of superbrand status with Raleigh, global brand choice with Haibike, Lapierre and Diamondback, expertise and scale in growth markets such as e-bikes and global P&A brands and a one-stop-shop service which gets the brands you need in to your store, or to your customers home next day! On top of this we have a fantastic team of talented individuals dedicated to driving customers in to IBD stores and working with them to create the best experience for the consumer when they get there. What’s not to love about a job like that?

What does the team do to socialise and unwind?

We are lucky enough to have a Velopark on site here at Raleigh UK HQ, and in the spring and summer months we have weekly events where staff can try out our latest kit. Naturally we tend to be a bit obsessed with cycling, and working with a product you love really is a privilege. With demos being such an important part of the job nowadays, you can imagine that many of the team spend their weekends at trail centres and store events.

Are there any new Raleigh brands that we should be hearing about?

Being part of Accell Group means we can offer fantastic brand choice with our range of bicycles and e-bikes – Raleigh for leisure, commute and fun, family and fitness, Haibike for e-Performance, Lapierre for Performance Road, MTB and EMTB, and Diamondback for recreational MTB. Consumers want and demand a choice of brands; we can offer that choice from a single partner. Our focus is completely on where we can win now. We have removed low-end/entry-level brands to ensure we develop and grow where we are strong – mid- and high-end e-bikes and bicycles.

On P&A, our in-house labels of XLC, Raleigh and RSP continue to grow as they offer the bike retailer a real value- and margin-led proposition that doesn’t put them in direct competition with pure web players. The XLC range has been increased by 1,300 SKUs to offer everything a UK bike retailer needs, and Raleigh accessories are being developed to align with the bicycle range so the consumer can get everything they need from Raleigh. A great example of this is the new kids range, including the Mini-Burner and Mini-Sherwood, which will come with matching helmets.

We also have some fantastic new P&A brand partners. Pedro’s tools and cleaning, Grip Grab, and working with Continental tyres boosts our ‘one-stop shop’ offer as our retailer partners can now satisfy all their need for tyre brands and products from the Raleigh B2B.

E-bikes are taking a much more central place in the industry than ever before. Do you anticipate this trend will continue indefinitely?

I do hear people talk about it ‘topping out’ and I understand this as the dip in the road bike market is still hurting. We have to look the European market though. 18 months ago I was talking about the 500,000 e-bikes sold in Germany, and the number felt astounding. It still is, compared to the very embryonic UK market. But the German market grew by a whopping 19 per cent last year with 720,000 e-bikes sold! I think we have a way to go in the UK yet. The product just makes sense and will only become more relevant.

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