On the surface, the British cycling industry appears to be dominated by high street mainstays such as Evans, Cycle Surgery, Halfords and online destinations Wiggle and Chain Reaction. However, peek beneath the surface and you’ll find a community of smaller operators who are the ones bringing new brands to these shores for the first time, and building up a group of dedicated customers.One such retailer is Always Riding, an ecommerce business set up by Pete Harrington in early 2008 with his wife. In an era which has widely been acknowledged as one of the worst to set up a new venture, Harrington attributes the survival of his business through that period to the fact that there were no overheads and headquarters could be found in his parent’s garage. Coming to the conclusion that the cycling clothing market in the UK was not well served, the idea was to establish something a little different – bringing together high quality brands from around the world which hadn’t before distributed in the UK. The first brand it stocked was from New Zealand, and since then Always Riding has gone on to become a trailblazer for brands which might not have made it to our digital shopping shelves before. Harrington attributes the offering that his business has been able to cultivate to the way in which cottage industries sprung up in the aftermath of the global financial crisis – from Australia, to the US, to Asia. “If we didn’t have that, and had to go to established brands, we couldn’t have survived,” he explained. “Those like Wiggle are so good and big, we would have been hosed down.” Despite in excess of 50 per cent of its sales coming from countries outside of the UK, it was perhaps chance more than anything else that led Always Riding to become a global seller. Not thinking anyone would buy from overseas, Harrington’s third order after launch came from France.
Building an infrastructure that can handle this kind of international trade has been a “bloody nightmare”, he revealed. “Even now, things you think are easy are really difficult. They are getting better, but only in the last two years have things become more fluid – not needing hours to work out how to do it.” I asked him to select a few markets which were particularly hard to crack, and he gravitated straight to the US. Describing it as a little bit of a “closed shop” when it comes to enterprises like his, he had to portray an offering that was unique enough. “Americans are tough, you need to be quick. It was hard to get a good sales process in, but it is better now because of things like SEO,” he added. “Logistics-wise they assume you are in the US – which is kind of our fault. If you say you have great service that means next day. We can now offer that with DHL, but you have to be really great.” Japan was also cited as tough one, mainly on the linguistics front. Not wanting to ignore the strong demand for the products Always Riding stocked, from potential Japanese customers, Harrington turned to applications such as Transfluent, which machine translates customers emails. While it may mean a delay of a few hours in correspondence, he believes it is a very good “half-way house”. “Japanese translation in 2008 couldn’t have been done online,” he remembered. “You could have contacted a company with a website, which would then have done it for you, but not though an app interface. That and the cottage industry of cycling has arisen – those two things have allowed everything.” Always Riding now processes all of its sales using Stripe, allowing it to accept payments in thirteen currencies. “Since implementing Stripe, most of our customers now choose to save their card details for future use. This means that it’s easier for them to checkout and we’ve definitely seen a pick up in repeat business.” Read more about cycling businesses in the UK:
- Blazing a trail: The urban cycling security entrepreneurs
- How 50cycles electrified the bicycle retail market to disrupt the UK transport system
- How Rapha came of age in 2014
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