‘We are seeing light at the end of the tunnel’ – Catching up with distributor Upgrade Bikes

West Sussex-based distributor is famed for stocking stylish and popular brands. BikeBiz caught up with founder Damian Mason and head of marketing Mark Noble

This piece first appeared in the July edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here

“The opportunities for the industry are, as ever, the bicycle will always be the most efficient way of getting from A to B,” said Damian Mason, founder and director of distributor Upgrade Bikes.

“It also happens to be good for your health and it’s fun. You can ride it anywhere and everywhere, you can race it, get to work or school or just do wheelies. It’s also something everyone can understand and maintain and even fix themselves if they want.

“Not much else in the modern world is like that anymore, so I think we’re all going to be okay.”

Damian Mason and Matt Ryley

Upgrade, founded in 1996 by Damian Mason and Matt Ryley, started life as DMR, the MTB brand that continues to thrive to this year, but has since expanded into a major UK distributor with a bustling portfolio of brands, from across disciplines.

From own brands DMR and Kinesis, to Challenge and Goodyear tyres, and Lezyne accessories, Upgrade has a selection of stylish and popular brands in the portfolio.

But how has business been for Upgrade, and what plans are in the works?

The challenges

“Like for most of the bike industry, [the past 12 months have] been challenging,” said Mason.

“Following the Covid boom where demand was above supply, that flipped and we have been in a marketplace with overstock and falling demand. Not helped by a war in Europe and a cost of living crisis, and a long Winter etc. However, most of our product portfolio is not complete bikes so it has not affected us as acutely as some other distributors or brands. We are seeing light at the end of the tunnel now that summer is here.”

The bike industry has been suffering with overstocking, sparked by delayed shipments from the Covid pandemic landing in the UK at the exact time demand for bikes tail off after the pandemic boom. As a result, cashflow has been squeezed and many products have been heavily discounted, driving down margins.

“It’s going to be a tough year for all with interest rate rises to contend with,” said Mason.

Mark Noble

Mark Noble, head of marketing at Upgrade, said: “I think it’s also important to know that we’re continuing to support bike events, cycle shows, races, dirt jump contests, media titles and magazine advertising, and sponsoring more riders in a time when many brands are cutting back on such things in 2023.

“Our marketing budget remains committed. It’s not only great promotion and brand awareness to do all these marketing activations, but it also helps support cycling as a whole. For example, if cycling events that people enjoy going to can’t carry on due to brands pulling out of exhibition space or sponsorship at the last minute, where does that leave cycling in general.

“I’m actually really excited about our marketing this year, even though some see a challenge. We’ve got some amazing stuff coming down the pipe for 2023.”

The portfolio

Upgrade has recently made a few changes to its portfolio, adding both Goodyear tyres as a wholesaler, and Eclipse superlight innertubes – both high-end performance products.

Alongside those additions, Upgrade continues to develop the DMR brand, now best known for its jump bike components (and of course its iconic range of V pedals), most recently launching into the kid’s market with the DMR balance bike.

Mason said: “Under our own brand DMR Bikes we’ve got a range of child’s bikes we’ve been working on due to reach the market in late July. We wanted to offer a range that would appeal to all the riders out there that have grown up with us and now have children of their own. We spent a lot of time on the designs to make the learning and progression of riding a bike as natural and fun as possible.”

Noble added: “ Alongside those new brands, our existing brands are also launching several key new product ranges this year. Our DMR kids’ bikes not only look awesome, but the design and thought that’s gone into the bikes really set them apart, kids love riding them, and we’re sure dealers will love selling them.

“We’ve got new tyres coming for road, cross and gravel, all new carbon wheelsets from Reynolds, there’s a lot to talk about in the coming weeks and months.

“We’re also launching some all-new LED products with Lezyne later this summer – perfect timing as well, so look out for those. It’s our unique portfolio of brands and products that Damian mentioned that helps greatly, and dealers appreciate that.”

The future

While it has been a challenging year so far for dealers and for the whole trade, Upgrade says its dealer network has been positive, and that workshops are as busy as ever.

“We know complete bike sales have been tough, but on the whole they have been upbeat,” said Mason.

“Workshops are busy, and parts and accessories are still going okay. At COREBike show in January the feedback we got was universally positive.”

On future plans for Upgrade, he added: “Keep going! Our main challenge is to work on improving the presentation and communication of all the products we range.

“There is a lot of technical product that needs to be explained well to the trade and consumer alike. We want to make it as easy as possible to identify and get the things people are looking for. There is a lot of confusing information out there for the consumer so we all need to work on that.

“We continue to develop our own brands – namely, DMR and Kinesis – product lines as usual, no big plans to take on anything major. But we’ll be at the events and shows as normal, seeing what’s new, talking with riders, working with riders. keeping an eye on it all!”

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