When did WHEELBASE open its doors?
WHEELBASE was opened in 1991 by original owner Gary French. I worked there as a shop assistant when I was still at school - and together with my business partners bought him out in 2005.
Where do you sit in the market?
We’ve always positioned WHEELBASE as one of the UK’s premier cycle stores and have been brave with the expansive range of bikes we stock. But it took us until 2008 to get the right product mix, the right staff and the right merchandising. We’re now a huge bike superstore, run by cyclists for cyclists.
The boom in cycling has seen more people understand the benefits of buying high quality, performance bikes that will transform their experience of cycling.
The cycling gold rush kicked off in the UK following the Beijing Olympics, followed by the incredible success of Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky and British Cycling. Given our location, the Tour de France grand depart in Yorkshire in 2014 was a particular bonus for us. Cycling is now a mainstream sport in the UK and its superstars are household names.
How does your shop location affect business?
We’re based at the edge of the English Lake District, five miles from Lake Windermere and only 15 minutes from the M6. Situated at the foot of the glorious Kentmere Valley, which has a wealth of opportunities for mountain, road and leisure riding, we’re a true destination store. The large, free car park is also a bonus.
What else helps?
We were one of the first businesses on the now bustling and very successful Staveley Mill Yard. A collection of businesses that work together to create a unique community, we work alongside two very popular cafes, an artisan bakery and Hawkshead Brewery, which also has a 150-seater beer hall.
How are you growing your business?
We’d been keen to open a second store for a few years, so in May we bought an existing bike store in Darlington, which we’ve rebranded as WHEELBASE. The cycling scene in the north east of England is huge, so it’s a perfect match for the WHEELBASE brand, plus all our expertise and customer service.
What are the latest cycling trends?
Brands and trends are always changing and there’s a constant need to adapt. The big growth area at the moment is electric bikes, which is bringing a lot of non-cyclists into the store looking for high quality ebikes.
How do you maintain your competitive edge?
We’ve focused on selling high end bikes. Also, everyone working for WHEELBASE is a keen cyclist, so when you come in-store, call in or contact us via live chat you’re speaking to a real world cyclist.
That gives us a huge advantage and one which customers appreciate. As one of the UK’s premier cycle stores and also the largest, it’s a two and a half hour drive to anything that matches us, which gives us a massive competitive edge.
How important is your online activity?
Extremely - and we’ve put a lot of work into it. The mix between the physical and online store has to appear seamless. We’ve had to work hard on our IT systems to provide live and accurate stock levels and a click and collect service from both stores, as well as a live online chat service.
What sort of bikes sell best?
We sell mountain, road, touring, leisure, ebikes and kids bikes. We’re experts at what we do and have over 800 bikes from all disciplines of the sport on the shop floor at any time to view. We sell triathlon bikes from Cervelo, Trek, Specialized and Focus, but we leave swimming and running equipment to the specialist retailers.
How important is the bike repair side of the business?
Very. We have two large workshops in our Lake District and Darlington stores and a team of skilled mechanics. We have also invested a lot of money into a bike fitting service, which is proving popular.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
Keeping up with the big online players in our industry is the biggest challenge. However, the one thing they can’t easily offer is the expert advice we provide.
What are your plans for the future?
The second store in Darlington has allowed us to bring our expert customer service into a new region. In the future we plan to further develop our website and open more stores across the UK - watch this space.