The distributor speaks out on the standard of bike retailing, empowering staff and aiming to be the best in the biz

Zyro on 20 years in the trade and the challenges of the mass market

This month sees Zyro hit its 20th year anniversary. From humble beginnings it has become one of the industry’s biggest distribution players. Director Simon Ellison charts the changes with BikeBiz

Can you fill us in on a bit of the history – how did Zyro get started in the first place?
I was working for an import and distribution company and they handled CatEye and Panaracer. There was an opportunity to take it over and we felt we could do it. We believed we could do a better job doing it our way.
We started straightaway by focusing on relationships and service. We never wanted to be the biggest, just the best. We kept our heads down and got on with it, trying to give good service to our retail customers and our suppliers and that’s what we’ve continued to try and do. That’s been at the heart of it all.

I’ve worked with CatEye since I was 21. If I hadn’t had that connection then I don’t think we’d be where we are today. It is about relationships and doing things well. Like any partnership, if you’ve got a good understanding of what is important to each other, you can deliver on it. If you don’t then you’ll be let down.

Panaracer and CatEye have obviously been in the portfolio since that first year and Abus and Camelbak since ‘97 – what do you put the longevity of these relationships down to?
Yes we’ve had them for a long time and we’ve had Minoura for 19 years. It’s about focus on the brand, we’ve never been a brand collector. I don’t think all distributors do this, but for us we ask ourselves ‘can we do it well? Will it add to our business?’ Only then will we do it.

That doesn’t mean that everything always goes right. You have to focus on the long-term profitability. You don’t say you’re going to sell it here, there and everywhere then have a great year and hurt the brand’s future. 

You have to be open and honest with the brand and tell them the good and the bad news. If we don’t know what needs to be put right we won’t put it right, but if we all work to that same goal you tend to all get along and all be proactive and stay focused on the same aim.

A big part of our success with those first brands particularly was Open House. It was a pioneer of the house show in a very different format. It allowed our suppliers and customers to talk to each other about what the market needed. For Panaracer and CatEye they went away from Open House and came back with product for our market that then worked worldwide. It meant we had great products for our customers.

We’re going with Cycle Vision again this year but it will be more similar to Open House. We shifted the format because you get a few hundred at Open House, but Cycle Vision means we can reach over 600 people. Our challenge is to make sure we still give people chance to interact with the brands and listen to them, talk about what works and doesn’t, what are the opportunities, etc. Listening to our customers and connecting brands to our customers has been a big part of our brand’s successes.

You said Zyro didn’t set out to collect brands, so would you have been surprised when you started out to see how you’ve grown?
Our thing was not to be a big player but to be the best we could be and recognised for that in the market. I think we are consistently good at what we do. A lot of people talk about what their plans are, but we do it before we publicise it. Like our 4pm order deadline – that is something we consistently provide and we organise the business around that as we know it is important for our customers. But I think others talk about that kind of offering then don’t necessarily consistently deliver it. We’d rather do it first and get it right before we talk about it. Actions speak louder than words, and maybe sometimes we don’t speak load enough.

There was never any turnover target. Yes we are ambitious and want to move forward, but not that we have to get to x turnover to be deemed successful. I told that to a banker once and they couldn’t believe it. But if we concentrate on our principles then surely success will come. If you focus on turnover are you focusing on the right thing? Are you really looking after your customers and suppliers? That is an advantage of being an independent business – you can take that longer-term view.

Talking of longevity, you’ve a good number of staffers that have been there over ten years. Is staff retention a challenge?
We say everyone is important and we try to empower them to make a difference in the business. We are only as good as the people so we want to develop them and make them feel they are making a difference and enjoying themselves. If you don’t have highly motivated people, then you don’t have a good business.
You see it in supermarkets all the time, with someone on the till who doesn’t want to be there then in another store there’ll be someone who has decided they will say hello, make people glad to be there and they enjoy themselves too. I know which supermarket I’d go back to. It’s all about people.

Going back to that 4pm order deadline – our warehouse guys have to be motivated and flexible for that to happen. Some days all the orders will come in at 3.50pm and of course they’d all like to get home sooner rather than later, but they realise that isn’t always possible. We have a great relationship and we are flexible with them so that they are flexible with us. Usually it’s really busy at the start of the week, but quieter at the end, so they do work harder and longer hours from Monday to Wednesday, but then less later in the week or with a longer weekend. It’s working for the business and for them personally. I think it’s having that morale in the business where everyone is working to the same goal. That’s what we try to do…I think that’s why we’ve had so many people stay so long.

Altura came along quite quickly in the life of Zyro. What were the key reasons behind the launch so early on?
Altura started after our first or second Open House show. Our customers said there was a problem with luggage and getting panniers in particular. There was a very dominant supplier then that couldn’t deliver. We thought we could make something that was good, would bring a profit and that we could deliver to them. So Altura was launched from an Open House conversation.

Then we looked at apparel too. If you go back 18 years there wasn’t a lot of cycle apparel being sold by cycle retailers and there weren’t many affordable waterproof cycle jackets. Most people had a jacket that wasn’t breathable or cycle- specific. We thought there would surely be a big demand for quality waterproofs that were relatively affordable. Also, our customers wanted to top up every day and not commit six months in advance. That’s really how apparel was working back then. We tried to change that and say if it was a key colour then it’d always be in stock 365 days a year.

Then we tried to innovate with the likes of Night Vision. We were looking at the market especially in London and we saw a lot of people with one of our waterproof jackets on but riding around with a builder’s safety jacket over the top. There were lots of people doing it. So we combined that reflectivity into the design of the jacket. No one had done that, but that’s now the standard for an urban cycling jacket. We totally changed how that category worked.

Now Altura has Clint Vosloo heading it up. NightVision has been totally redesigned and he’s built a great team in the last year to take the brand to the next level. NV 360 has gone down incredibly well this year, as has the spring/summer range.

What I’ve seen of next year’s range is really fantastic – he has taken the brand to a higher level.

How has the standard of bike retailing changed since Zyro got started in the trade?
There have always been great stand out retailers and as a distributor it’s our job to support and help all the retailers, to make them feel they are backed – giving them a supply base, a wide range and great products. We can help with training – 20 years ago the team were sales people but now they train, support and help ensure the shops have the best product range.

There’s a lot of bike fitting now and people need a reason to go into IBDs. If we don’t offer value to them then it goes back to the supermarkets example; people will go elsewhere. We have to play our part and keep them well stocked. They need great product knowledge and to add value.

The industry has changed. The road cycle boom has had much more attention than the cycle to work boom, despite the fact it’s been similar numbers. And we’re seeing more women cycling now. There’s been a massive upswing.

I think the industry is catching up with the growth in women cycling, and retail needs to as well. It is doubling the market and shops are looking at things like changing rooms and the retail environment.

Women, on the whole, are more particular about how they shop. We have to be ready. Women need to feel comfortable with IBDs and the way it is delivered. Just look at the motor industry. Showrooms had an awful reputation, but newer brands came in and took off because they weren’t patronising. It’s not just the product but how it is sold.

So what’s been the biggest change in the trade? Online?
Online has been huge but not just in terms of retail. Email, B2B, B2C…the whole way we communicate as a trade has changed and sped up. 20 years ago orders came over fax or phone. I think we used to have a few orders by post!

That change means shops can order on the B2B whenever they like and they aren’t reliant on a salesperson being there to take the call. Now account managers can help with things like merchandising and more. Faster delivery turnaround times are only possible because of the ‘net and new tech.

How do we communicate with consumers? You used to have to put an ad in a mag. Now the number of options is huge and it can be hard to know which to use.

The consumer has changed too. The power of ‘new’ is much more important than ever. New has to be good and better, but 20 years ago new was less important. Now at a show the brands are using social media to communicate with the market and consumers see product straight away and want to know more. It’s an opportunity for brands, retailers and distributors.

What about the future for Zyro and the next 20 years?
We don’t want to change. Our core principles are the same and we’ll continue to ask how we can help retailers and our brands be better.

We don’t want to chase profit margin and turnover. Of course we have monthly board meetings where we cover financials, but the next six hours are on how we can improve. It’s the only way to be.

Not everyone is having a fantastic time out there at the moment. The road boom suits some people, but not everyone. There’s certainly a perception that the market is booming more than it is. Our big challenge is to make sure we don’t lose customers to the mass market channels – and I don’t mean Halfords. I mean Lidl, Asda, etc. We as an industry have to keep making sure retailers are approachable and make people feel comfortable to come in store. We don’t want to drive people to the mass market. And we know the mass market is growing, so you have to ask who are they taking sales away from? We need to work closely so it’s not the supermarkets that win out.

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