Trends & Features

Cycling is opening up new revenue streams for independent sports retailers

Louise Ramsay gets the lowdown from Sean Deane, UK sales and operations manager at Optimum Sports

Biking is big right now. According to the latest research from the Department for Transport, around 15 per cent of adults in the UK cycle at least once per month and about nine per cent cycle at least once a week.
Some people cycle purely for leisure, but for others bikes are becoming alternative methods of transport. Indeed, around 6.5 per cent of us now get on our bikes to get to work.

It’s a trend that’s spawning a dizzying array of cycle products and brands. Cutting a swathe through the market is UK outfit Optimum Sports.

Move into cycling
Established in 1996 in Wigan, initially as a rugby protective brand, Optimum moved into cycling in 2008, helping the brand to grow into a respected sportswear brand worldwide.

Sean Deane, UK sales and operations manager at Optimum Sports, says: “We started out in cycle protection because it made the most sense for us. We were already experts in it and people trusted us.

“It was aimed at extreme cyclists, so we were doing things like knee supports and back protectors. It went well, but while rugby protection retails through general sports retailers, cycle protection doesn’t. Instead, it sells through specialist cycle retailers, but we already had a business built up in general sports retailers, so we decided it made more sense to work with our existing clients.”

The brand switched from protection to cyclewear in 2011 at The London Bike Show. “We already had 500 retailers selling Optimum rugby products, so we could just ask them to try out our cyclewear,” Deane says.

“Apart from a helmet, your general commuter or lifestyle cyclist doesn’t need protection and it’s a much bigger market. Having said that, there are now probably more cycle retailers than there are general sports retailers, but 60 per cent of those only sell bikes, so it’s not as big a market for us as it might at first appear.

“But more and more sports shops are stocking cyclewear. Retailers also have lots of respect and trust for our brand and because we have no minimum order requirements, we can supply just one products if a retailer wants to try it out. It’s the advantage of us distributing directly to retailers.”

Optimum does work with independent bike shops – 25 per cent of its sales are made through them – but it’s not an easy market for Optimum to target.

“Lots of specialist cycle brands are distributed through wholesalers and as we’re not it’s quite hard to get into specialist cycle shops,” Deane says. “We’re not established enough as a cycle brand. But we’re steadily making inroads, even though our main focus is on independent general sports retailers.”

Commuter-leisure cyclist
Optimum’s focus is on the commuter-leisure cyclist who wants good quality, functional products that are good value.

“We offers a good place for cyclists to start out and grow not just into the sport, but also into the market,” Deane says. “To start out, people are less concerned with what other people are wearing – they just need the kit – and our products last. One customer told me the other day that a jacket of ours he bought three years ago for £30 is still going strong.”

Safety first
The biggest trend in cycling is safety. “Cyclists need hi-viz clothing, which is where our Nitebrite clothing and accessories range comes in, Deane explains. “We do the whole spectrum, winter and summer, and it includes everything a cyclist needs.

“We advise retailers that they are able to stock a comprehensive cycling range with just five or six products – it isn’t important to have a huge selection, just the right selection. We’re aiming at commuter and leisure cyclists, so winter gloves, shorts, Nitebrite jerseys, Nitebrite rain jackets and Nitebrite winter jackets all sell well.

“We’re currently working on a new extra hi-viz technology, which will result in a fabric that’s three or four times brighter than anything around. And while other brands are already doing similar things, it’s the way we’ll incorporate the fabric into our designs that will make our products unique and attractive to consumers.”

Market can only get better

How does Deane see the market developing? “It can only get better,” he says. “Cycling has come into its own since 2012, when Bradley Wiggins won Olympic gold. It’s so much more accessible.

The government’s put a lot of investment into cycling infrastructure and there are so many more non-elitist cycling events such as Sky Ride. It’s a huge family bike ride around town, which is taking off in cities all around Britain. Everyone can do it – you don’t need to be super fit or have a £3,000 bike.

“The rise of the electric bike is also making cycling to work more attractive and the cycle to work schemes are making buying a bike much more affordable.

“Because of cycling, the car is starting to seem a bit old fashioned. A bike gets you fit, is low stress and gets you to where you want to go. That’s a pretty hard combination to resist.”

The Optimum cycle range can be seen at The Cycle Show at NEC Birmingham on September 22-25 and The London Bike Show on February 16-19, 2017.

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