BikeBiz staff writer Daniel Blackham hits the road to visit the Sussex-based distributor
This piece first appeared in the May edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here
It is well known that the bike industry is continuing to face challenges, but many companies are tackling the test head on and pushing forward with improvements to benefit clientele.
The Martlet Group, formerly known as Jim Walker, is the parent company of I-ride distribution and is among the businesses carrying on with best-laid plans.
I-ride is probably best known for its in-house bike brand Orro, as well as being distributors for Fulcrum, Campagnolo, DeFeet, SeaSucker and De Rosa.
Housed across five units at the foot of Ditchling Beacon in Sussex for many years, the company has bid farewell to its former home in favour of a new multi-million pound facility.
With the official moving date of Saturday, April 1 now in the books, I took a trip across the South Downs to Lower Dicker in East Sussex to see the glamorous new location.
Five years in the making
Planning to move an entire operation is never an easy task, but trying to make that a reality on either side of a global pandemic adds a multitude of complexities.
The Martlet Group had initially hoped to announce a move from its previous location in 2019.
Fast forward to March 2020, and we all know how the story goes.
Shortages of raw building materials, Covid guidelines and fluctuating costs were just some of the challenges the company faced, but the vision to relocate to an improved facility was maintained throughout.
With Orro founded in 2014, the former headquarters in Ditchling was not built to house a bike brand, explained Adam Glew, e-commerce and marketing manager for I-ride and Orro.
So with that side of the business continuing to accelerate, the decision to relocate was a no-brainer.
“To continue our growth and provide the best service for our customers and facilities for our staff, it was a necessary move,” added Glew.
Upon arrival at the new headquarters, just off the A22 in Lower Dicker, access to the building is secured by facial recognition so staff members don’t have to worry about codes or passes.
The technology continues inside with all doors featuring contactless entrances, allowing visitors and colleagues to seamlessly move through the site.
Although in a post-Covid world, the decision to fit these was not driven by having reduced touch points.
“It’s just a nice touch,” said Glew.
Once through the main entrance, the space opens up into a modern, air-conditioned showroom featuring floor to ceiling windows, with the full Orro range of Venturi road, Gold endurance, and Terra gravel bikes on display.
“We wanted a much larger showroom for our dealers to visit,” explained Glew.
To the rear of the showroom is a display of Fulcrum wheels, alongside a bike fitting setup for local dealers to utilise so customers can get the perfect geometry.
Upstairs, Glew and his colleagues work alongside the owners and senior management team which makes communication much easier when compared to the previous site.
A bespoke design
The warehouse space at the back of the building is vast and kitted out with a bespoke racking solution, designed with daily operations in mind.
“It’s quite impressive,” said Glew.
“The company who fitted it takes the dimensions of the space, factors in the business and an algorithm tells you where the racking should go.”
With the Martlet Group having a hand in designing the facility, every detail has been considered to improve efficiency.
Large rolling doors mean an articulated lorry can reverse fully into the warehouse and unload pallets, protecting any products from inclement weather.
All Orro bikes and products for distribution are now housed under one roof, and there is a large workshop area dedicated to seven full-time mechanics, and one part-time, with components an arms length away.
With Orro one of few bike brands to manufacture frames in carbon, titanium, aluminium and steel, as well as a wealth of customisable options, increased storage capacity is a significant benefit.
There are also plans to install air compressors in each bay so the mechanics can inflate tyres without using a shared unit, another nod to improved efficiency.
With the visit taking place on a rare warm and dry day in mid-April, there are a plethora of staff bikes in the warehouse, with a storage solution to be fitted soon.
Staff also have a specific room to dry any wet and muddy kit, showing that they have been considered throughout the design process.
Home is where the heart is
For many businesses looking to relocate, the contributing factors for choosing a site would normally relate to how it would impact or benefit the operation. Is it commutable for staff? Does it have good infrastructure? Etc.
For The Martlet Group these do matter, but remaining within touching distance of the South Downs is integral to who they are.
“The South Downs is really important to who we are as a company and a brand with Orro,” said Glew.
“A lot of us (staff) ride here and the bikes are developed and tested here too.”
The Orro brand is particularly synonymous with the region and has garnered a number of fans among the Sussex cycling community.
A scroll through the Orro Bikes Instagram page will highlight a number of rider stories from locals who have taken their beloved Venturi or Terra beyond the county borders and across the UK and Europe, something the brand is proud to highlight, explained Glew.
Orro also has a partnership with the Trainsharp Elite Race Team, based out of Lewes in East Sussex, with the team competing on Venturi STC’s this coming season.
When the company was rebranded from Jim Walker to The Martlet Group in January 2019, company chairman Ian Wilson said: “We are proud of our roots. Sussex is in our DNA.”
Although the new location is 14 miles southeast of the previous headquarters, it’s clear that the mantra has followed the team to its new home.