‘We don’t try to tie dealers into large buy-ins’: Distributor focus with Bob Elliot Co

There’s a saying that goes “the more things change, the more they stay the same” and that sentiment could be applied to Bob Elliot Co.

In recent years the business has expanded significantly but its roots from 1985 remain firmly in place.

“We are still family run, with Bob still at the helm into his 70’s,” said Paul Elliot, director at the Chorley-based distributor.

“Around us we are very much a small, compact and hard-working team all pulling in the same direction to progress the company sustainably. In fact, only two members of staff work with us who were recruited without a connection to someone else existing in the business at the time of joining.

“We have worked hard to bring together a much more accomplished portfolio over the years, which offers a solution to the vast majority of stores in the UK.”

But how has business been for Bob Elliot in recent months and what plans are in the pipeline for the future?

Bob Elliot continues to expand its own range of Kranx cycling products and KX wheels

Challenges and opportunities

“Eventful, and unpredictable once more,” said Elliot.

“If we look back to late summer last year, there was a lot of trepidation about the winter trade and what that might look like. It proved to be challenging for shops which in turn left it challenging for us. 

“We visited Taiwan in March for the first time since 2019 and the story seemed to be the same worldwide through all levels of the trade.”

Like many in the cycling industry, Bob Elliot was waiting for a turn in the weather, which eventually came around in May.

“Once it arrived it was coupled with the sad fall of Moore Large and business has been very strong since,” said Elliot.

“We are currently enjoying an encouraging summer’s trade and see ourselves in a strong position heading towards autumn.”

The biggest challenge facing distributors has been overstocks in some sectors, and although not immune from this, Bob Elliot has managed to weather some of the storm thanks to planning and foresight.

“We have been relatively comfortable with this scenario,” explained Elliot. “As decisions were made during Covid on our purchasing which brought us overstocks in many workshop/service areas, as we knew this would be a sector that would remain strong.”

This strategy has seen the company able to capitalise on opportunities when they arise.

“2023 has been littered with opportunities to date,” said Elliot.

“Our Kranx brand goes from strength to strength which is designed to support the IBD with a wide range of fast-selling, high margin items. We continue to grow our KX Wheel range, recently introducing a small range of tubeless wheels. 

“We are also enjoying big growth with many of our existing brands as we continue to tap into the workshop and service sectors.”

To facilitate continued growth, the distributor is being much more strategic when ranging new brands than it used to be, as decisions for new products have to compliment the current range.

“We are an agile and versatile business that can move quickly to react to trend changes,” said Elliot.

“We have added a few brands to help compliment our current ranges including Ass Magic chamois cream, Blub lubes and cleaners and Polisport mudguards and bottles. A lot more investment continues to go into Kranx due to its growing reputation.

“We have also turned away some well known brands to continue our dedication and focus on our current brands.”

Another big change has been the way it brings the portfolio to customers in the shape of a new catalogue.

“The first in three years,” said Elliot.

“Our B2B [website] is the most up to date way of keeping in touch but the catalogue is very well received and a great point of reference for the products and brands we range.”

Dealer reaction 

Like all distributors, Bob Elliot relies on the feedback and commercial success of its retailers and dealers. So how have they been reacting in the current climate?

“Not to put words in the mouths of the owners of stores, many dealers enjoyed the highs of Covid where cash flow was strong and margins were higher than normal,” said Elliot.

“In the last 18 months it seems dealers have had to readjust quickly to accommodate large stocks, and poor sales in the bike sector generally speaking. 

“Dealers have had to be shrewd and work closely with their partners to navigate a change in trading conditions, as have we with our suppliers.

“Many have done this through a lot of hard work, which won’t be recognised by all and it is a credit to everybody to continue working through a turbulent time.”

Although able to supply dealers of all shapes and sizes in the trade, Bob Elliot is still focused on IBDs. 

Despite it being a challenging market for all small businesses, irrespective of sector, the firm remains on hand to offer its support.

“We don’t have all the answers or the greatest powers to help all stores in the way they wish, but we are supportive in whichever way we can to help a customer along,” said Elliot.

“Whether this be a listening, attentive ear or working on bespoke packages to suit their store – we are always willing to work as closely as possible. 

“We don’t try to tie dealers into large buy-ins, or big commitments. We do issue seasonal discounts for brands and also partnership programmes but we don’t ask for the world to commit to these. We like to think we work alongside dealers to suit their requirements.”

The future 

With 38 years in the rear-view mirror, Bob Elliot has plans for continued development of its services and is looking ahead to many more years of supplying its loyal customers.

“We have exciting plans for growth for the future,” said Elliot.

Read more: The rise of e-MTB

“We have an excellent B2B, which is simple but extremely effective. We tend to find new customers returning to re-order with us regularly due to the ease of trading with us and the level of service we are able to offer with our quick deliveries.

“We are expanding our sales team as we believe face-to-face contact is still extremely important. It isn’t possible everywhere, however due to the geography so we have installed an internal account manager to our team to keep in touch with any customers who do not receive regular visits.”

“We have some pending brand developments, which will be very exciting additions to our range.”

Alex Ballinger

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