Luxurious Magazine’s Sabi Phagura got talking to CEO Andy Smallwood who used to race as a boy on a Ribble cycle and now runs the company, one of the longest established bicycle manufacturers in the world.
Following the announcement of the government’s £2 billion cycles and walking package to reduce the number of people using public transport, polls suggest cycling has climbed to the top spot as the most popular outdoor activity during the lockdown.
It’s no surprise then that bike suppliers have seen their products wheeling out of stores. Ribble Cycles is one of them. Having been trading for 123 years, surviving two World Wars, the Spanish Flu and now the pandemic, they have been faced with some tough times.
LM: How is the company coping during this current Coronavirus pandemic?
AS: Going into the pandemic, we had meticulously planned for various scenarios with differing degrees of logistical, operational and commercial disruption – right from a low impact through to shutdown and a complete inability to trade. We implemented strict protective measures into our operation for the wellbeing of both our team and customers.
As a bicycle retailer, we could have kept our stores open, but decided to close them as soon as the lockdown hit. Whilst we had planned for the worst, thanks to our strong internal team culture, digital proposition, product offering and strong brand identity, the reality has been very different. At the start of the pandemic, our bike sales were trading +100% up versus last year, but have accelerated to over 300% as lockdown has progressed.
This has now given us a fresh set of challenges as we react to the rapid growth in demand.
We have also been on a significant recruitment drive to bolster teams within our Operations and Customer Support divisions. It is the positive culture, resilience, initiative and ingenuity of the entire Ribble team throughout the current pandemic to ensure the business is in a strong position for tomorrow that I am most proud of.
LM: The government has been encouraging people to ditch public transport in favour of walking and cycling. Have you seen a rise in the number of cycles being bought?
AS: The short answer is yes! This is an incredible time for cycling and the positive health and wellbeing of the nation. As a long-term cyclist myself, the government’s new focus on cycling is very welcome news.
For the brand, following two years of intense new product development, launches and new retail and consumer initiatives, we have seen unprecedented demand and growth. These are exciting times for the future strategic development of the business and the next dynamic development of one of the oldest cycling brands in the world.
LM: What sets Ribble Cycles apart from the competition?
AS: The Ribble brand is underpinned by our true passion for cycling, our dedication to product innovation and the progressive digitally-focused multi-channel customer experience. Through our UK-based R&D, design and manufacturing facility, we give our customers a world-class product range specific to their cycling needs.
This is combined with a unique level of customisation and personalisation through our Bike Builder and Custom Colour propositions. We have an expert, passionate and driven team striving to always give a better level of customer experience.
We are a British brand, where every bike is designed, hand assembled and built in the UK.
Whether it’s an accessible Hybrid bike for commuting to work, or a cutting edge £10k+ Time Trial bike for competing at the very highest level, all bikes are overseen from start to finish by one of our specialist mechanics.
LM: You were introduced to Ribble bikes from a very young age. What does it feel like to now be the CEO of the company?
AS: It really is a childhood dream come true and a complete privilege! It is incredibly special and a highlight of my career so far.
It was around 25+ years ago that I got my first proper racing bike. It was a Ribble. I had extensively researched and saved up for what was to become a custom-built, custom- painted Ribble frame that I built myself with the best components I could afford.
Leading one of the world’s oldest, yet forward-thinking and exciting bicycle businesses and brands is inspiring. I am part of an amazing team and am immensely proud of what we have achieved over the past two and a half years.
LM: We understand a good few British cycling champions have been riding your cycles. Can you tell us some of the people who enjoy the brand?
AS: Over the years, some of the very best cycling talents have ridden Ribble bikes at some point in their careers, including Chris Boardman MBE, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas. Ribble continues to be at the forefront of cyclist and athlete development with the Ribble Pro Cycling team and our supported triathletes competing at the highest level on the world stage.
The Ribble Pro Cycling Development team is focused on producing the next generation of cycling talent, allowing young riders to develop as athletes and learn from experienced Pro riders. Team and athlete product testing and feedback are also key to our R&D process as we look to push our range to the limits.
LM: Talk us through the production of your bikes and how customers can order them.
AS: Buying a new bike is something very special, whatever your budget. It is as much of a head purchase as it is a matter for the heart. You will research every detail from frame design to gear ratios to wheel choice.
Our Bike Builder facility enables our customers to make the bike perfect for their style of riding. Then there is the personalisation to make it yours, an expression of your personality, whether it’s the shade of the handlebar tape or a full-on Custom Colour finish in any one of the four billion combinations. We offer a unique level of customisation and personalisation. Buying a Ribble is much closer to buying a luxury automobile than it is to buying a bike.
Ribble bikes can only be ordered directly through our website or via one of our brand showrooms. We have brand and product experts on hand both in our showrooms or available online, where from the comfort of your home via a one-way video call, you can visit our virtual showroom and be supported through the whole process.
LM: Ribble has been the first brand to design the lightest e-bikes in the world with builds starting at under 11kg for the Electric Road Bike. How did this idea come about?
AS: The idea came from experience and feedback from riders, and identified a market need. Within any group of road riders with mixed ability and fitness, there will be times when some riders will be struggling to keep up with the fitter more experienced riders in the group, especially on the hills.
We also identified that many cyclists were having their rides dictated by one big climb or were limited by distance. We wanted everyone to experience the feeling and freedom that cycling on a high-end lightweight performance road bike over challenging terrain offers without the limits of their ability or fitness.
We challenged ourselves to re-imagine electric bikes and how they look and perform. We focused on the traditional aspects of a high-end road bike – great aesthetics, sleek design, combined with outstanding handling and performance and developed a stealth e-bike with an internal battery for controlled and progressive power assistance when required.
The result was the Endurance SL e, a high-end road bike weighing as little as 11kg with 250 watts of power assistance available when needed, and up to 80 miles of range. The Endurance SL e is ridden by our e-bike ambassadors, including Sean Yates (British cycling legend), and the Rugby World Cup-winning Sir Clive Woodward.
We have also replicated this market-leading performance and design attributes into our versatile CGR (Cross, Gravel, Road) and Hybrid e-bike platforms.
LM: The brand is predominantly online-based, but you have some stores. Where are they?
AS: We are a very digitally-focused business with multiple physical and digital retail channels, all of which complement and support our customer journey. We currently have three physical brand showrooms, namely Preston, which is linked to our factory, Mailbox in Birmingham and Bluewater in Kent.
LM: What’s next for Ribble?
AS: It’s onwards and upwards for Ribble! Despite the current situation and related challenges, the momentum within the Ribble business remains strong with some very exciting growth initiatives in progress across key areas of our business. We have been investing in our great team of very talented people, with operational and customer service recruitment taking place.
Award-winning products have always been at the heart of our brand, so we continue to invest heavily in new product development. We are also continuing to invest in our customer journey, both from a digital and physical perspective, with our team evolving and strengthening the proposition.
This gives our customers an even better experience and builds on the USPs of the Ribble business. As we come to understand the ‘new normal’, and it is safe to do so, there is also the potential for additional brand showrooms in the second half of 2020 across the UK.
We’re extremely excited about the increased enthusiasm for cycling and look forward to taking the Ribble brand into the future.
Ribble Cycles – Where and How?
For more information about Ribble Cycles, visit www.ribblecycles.co.uk.
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