The future of the mobile mechanic

If someone had told me ten years ago that the cycling industry of the future would include electric motors hidden in the frames, or rentable bikes left on my street corner, I wouldn’t have believed it. Such is the unrelenting progression and innovation in our sector.

When a brand thinks outside of the box and packages up a new device or bike that achieves the unthinkable, the excitement that surrounds it is infectious and palpable. Now more than ever, we live in an age in which the entrepreneurial spirit of innovation is no longer limited to the consumer.

We implement technology to accurately fit bikes, we implement technology to repair them, and we implement technology to sell them, but at the heart of all of these means are the individuals with the knowledge to implement the vision.

Dockless firms have realised the potential of building a mutually-beneficial relationship with local bike shops, tasking them with regular maintenance on their gigantic fleets. The core of the bike fit is the professional helping you to translate the in-depth data into results, and if you’re reading this, I don’t need to tell you how important the cycle mechanic is to the industry.

People working hand-in-hand with technology is our future, and Simon Bone, creator of new start-up BikeUp, believes he’s crafted the perfect tool to bring the audience and the mechanic together. The key, he believes, is in the conversation.

It is fairly safe to say that the way in which consumers behave has changed – probably forever 

BikeUp seems to be doing something a bit different. How did the idea come to you?
I got into road cycling when I was young, and it’s been a big part of my life ever since. I pretty much live for the Grand Tour season. As a young professional, I found myself moving around a lot, and each time that meant starting the process of finding somewhere reliable to get my bike serviced.

Sadly, I didn’t always find that to be an easy process. I observed that there are some really great independent mechanics and shops around, but it’s often very difficult to find them – either that, or they have a large backlog of work, which can mean significant waiting times. In particular, I became increasingly aware of the mobile mechanic model, which I think has so many positive aspects and it really solved a problem for me.

But independent and mobile mechanics are facing some problems. Firstly, digital marketing is becoming increasingly competitive, and it can be really tough for independent mechanics to connect with people that are perhaps outside of their network (and conversely, it is tough for customers to find them). Secondly, while it has undoubtedly become more common, I still feel there is a lot of room for the mobile model to grow and evolve as more customers get to experience the benefits (and the execution itself improves). I was quite interested in what some of the mobile servicing companies were doing in the US, but I didn’t feel as though a franchise model was the right model for us, for a few different reasons. Finally, I think it’s just difficult for independent operators, including shops, to focus on technology and brand development with limited resources.

I created BikeUp as a platform that allows independent operators to access the technology and marketing channels to sustain and grow their business. We provide booking technology, digital marketing expertise, and customer relationship management for independent mechanics. Over the last year or so, I’ve talked to hundreds of cyclists, both customers and otherwise, and I am confident that there is untapped demand in the market; increasing the accessibility and quality of services will almost certainly help to bring that into play.

I know there may be critics, but it is my view that the industry is changing, and we have no choice but to accept that and adapt. My number one priority is creating value for customers, but I also strongly believe that our model helps to create value for cycling industry professionals as well. I’m also a qualified bike mechanic, and I developed my business idea when studying a business masters at the University of Warwick. So, I guess it made sense to build a bike servicing business!

The idea very much revolves around those within the industry embracing it. Have they?
We launched in March 2017 at the Scottish Cycling Running and Outdoor Pursuits Show, and the response was excellent. There is a desire for innovation in this space among the target market. We’ve achieved steady growth month-on-month since then, but our main focus has been on validating our business model to make sure we are building a service that genuinely meets the needs of the customer. That’s involved talking to a lot of customers/cyclists, and adapting our service based on the feedback we are getting.

We’ve got some independent mechanics on board who are hugely supportive of what we are trying to do – and are providing positive feedback in terms of the benefits to them. Coming in to our second year of business (and particularly given the time of year), we feel very confident that we are well-positioned to build on our early successes. We’ve been particularly pleased with our customer retention – a good percentage of our customers have used us more than once (in some cases, several times), which is important for building a sustainable business. We’ve also received a lot of amazing feedback from customers – they love the convenience and reliability of our service.

The cycling industry is in a state of flux at the moment. Why do you believe a service such as yours is necessary in the modern retail environment?
I feel that while there is a huge level of anxiety and/or debate within the cycling community about the implications of the trend towards online retail, the industry has perhaps struggled to find a positive response. This is pretty understandable, so in no way is it a criticism – but I feel that it’s important to view this as a problem to be solved, rather than just accepting the slow decline of such an important industry.

It is fairly safe to say that the way in which consumers behave has changed – probably forever. Customers now have different expectations in terms of service, technology, convenience and so on. But they still need their bike fixed! We connect the people that need cycling services with those that can deliver them – it’s as simple as that.

While digital technology is a big part of our business, we are certainly not, nor do we intend to be, a faceless digital corporation. We are out in our local communities running events and talking to our customers every day. We want to develop BikeUp into a supportive community for cyclists. We’ve got some exciting plans for our business over the coming months and years, but for now, we are completely focused on delivering a convenient, high-quality service to keep busy people on their bikes.

So say a mechanic wants to be involved, how would they go about doing so?
We are always keen to hear from experienced bike mechanics, including shops that have collection/delivery capability, that may be interested in joining the platform. There are no fees to join, but they are required to have their own insurance and a recognised industry qualification, although we will consider relevant experience in lieu of this.

How do you build the relationship between mechanic and customer?
At present, we assign mechanics to jobs based on their availability, but we are starting to think about how we can develop our platform. Over the next few months, we will be introducing some brand new features aimed at increasing the visibility of our mechanics on our website and across our communications. For example, we have plans in the pipeline which will allow customers to view mechanic profiles and ratings, and specifically request them when booking a service.

How else do you see the industry shifting in the future?
It’s hard to say for sure, but I certainly think that we’ll see a continuation of the trend towards direct-to-consumer retail models. There’s definitely an opportunity for us to add value to that process. For shops, I think it’s really a case of the identifying the value they can deliver to consumers beyond retail. As professionals within the cycling industry, I think it’s incumbent upon us to get out there and find out what customers really want and value. I definitely think that is something worth thinking about.

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