– Okay so this is the
mountain biking podcast presented by GMBN, and this week I’m out the shed, I’m in
a different type of shed. I’m in the Trailhead Bike Shop with my old mate, Sandy Plenty, to talk about bike shops and their place
in the market these days, what it’s like to own
a bike shop, et cetera. So we’ll start off, Sandy, I’ve known you for years and years,
but how did you become a bike shop owner? – Well first of all, welcome
to the, the Trailhead. How did I, it was more by accident, so without going into too much detail, my dad sold his successful business, well we didn’t actually
sell it, he got out of it to kind of, put his time into me which is super cool, and
then, this was kind of mountain bike was the only thing, Dom, that I really stuck at, you know, and, and anyone who knows me
well, I do have a few fads now, but, but the constants been bike shops and bikes. So my dad was like, “Right,
you know, we’re going to, we’re going to go for it.” And we bought a bike shop. – And that’s when I met you, to be fair, back in the 90s when,
I mean, mountain biking if, I feel the same thing with me where it’s the only
thing I really stuck at, and it’s got me to where I am now, but only by chance as much as anything because I couldn’t do anything else, and everything else fell to the wayside because of mountain biking. But yeah, I met you back in the 90s when I think mountain biking was big, in the UK there was a
really healthy race scene. – It was growing. – Yeah. – It was growing big time wasn’t it? I mean, we were, I was
thinking about it this morning, I’ve known you for 24, 25 years, and it was booming,
there was money in the, in the sport, but mainly in the States. But there was, it was kicking
off and we were there, and we were doing it, and we were 15, and you were 15, I was
17, something like that? – You know lots of people on the scene, partly I guess because of your
racing background as well? – Yeah, I think partly
because my racing background, but just because, when
you’ve been doing it as long you and me have,
it’s quite hard not to – Yeah.
know a few people, but, yeah, I’ve got some, some buddies,
called in some favors, I haven’t got a Neil Donoghue shirt. – I think you have, used to have one. I know it’s disappeared somewhere. – I think we clean our bikes with it now. (laughs) – Do you think that matters? I know a lot of the world revolves around who you know, not what you know, but I think, mountain biking especially is quite a small world, so I guess you are going to know these
people, but when you’re setting up a bike shop, you need to be part of the riding community I suppose. – Yeah you got to, you
got to embed yourself in the community, but you’ve got to do it in a way that’s, that’s not sickly, it’s not false, it’s like, you know, we do the shop rides because we love them and we like riding our bike. If there’s a gap in the shop
rides, for whatever reason, it’s probably because,
we’re just, you know, not had enough of it, but we need a bit of a break or whatever. I always said, we’ll,
we’ll do the shop rides until they stop being fun. But yeah, we embed ourselves and, we do a lot with the youth in the area and just, just try and be reliable and do what we say we’re going to do. – Yeah I think that,
that is definitely big, when you hear bike shops
get bad reputations from sometimes the smallest things, ’cause people blow them
out of proportion, like. – Oh massive it’s… – I bought a bike and the bolt came loose, and that’s the bike shop’s fault. – Yeah. – But you’ve got to deal with those things day to day I suppose? – And then that is, yeah,
you’re totally right Don, and that’s amplified
by the world wide web. (Don laughs) – Social media. (Sandy laughs) One of my questions as
well is, how do you find the right people, obviously
you own this place but there’s lots of people who work here there’s, you’ve got mechanics, and I, I’ve often made a joke in the
past that bike mechanics, bike shop mechanics are
people that know everything. – Yeah. – Like a bit, bit tongue in cheek, like, they probably feel like they
know everything in the world. But I mean, I’ve done it,
I’ve been there worked at a, in a, as a bike shop mechanic for a while, and it’s definitely a
great apprenticeship to being in the industry as a whole, but how do you find the right people? – Well, I don’t know whether it’s luck or, or what, but I have got
two of the best mechanics, well three actually now, and Rich and Dave and Chris, like, Rich and Dave have been here
since pretty much the start, and they are my reputation. So, if anyone, you know, ever did say anything good about us,
it’s probably ’cause their bike was fixed or, you know, it’s a given that we
should be good in the shop at selling bikes, like,
otherwise you shouldn’t be in business, but I think the workshop, they’re the, they’re the reliable ones, they’re the people that
get you back on the road when it’s, you know, bank holiday weekend like it is now. We have Friday afternoon
drop offs where like, a regular is in a right pickle, needs his bike sorting, and, you know, if enough cake and biscuits
come through the door it gets sorted. – That’s the currency isn’t it? It’s, it’s biscuits or
craft beer in a bike shop. – Yeah. (Dom laughs) We do like a craft beer here. – It makes me, yeah, wonder about that it’s like, yeah you don’t get a reputation off selling someone the
best Fox jersey do you, – No.
You do actually, you do get it built in the workshop. – Definitely and on that,
and you said before, that can go, that can go
against you in a, in a second. And we’re, we’re very, very fair, and we do a lot of goodwill. There’s a lot of times
when we’ll go, you know, we’ll bite our lip, and,
“No problem we’ll sort it.” The customer isn’t
always right I’m afraid, mostly right, but not always. And you know what, we
often make mistakes too. We have a policy here,
just put your hands up and say, look, we’ve, we’ve screwed up, and turn it into a positive. I think as a business
or a service provider, you can only really show how good you are when, you know, it hits the fan. – Yeah. – And you, you’ve got a chance then to not just dig yourself out of the hole, prove that you’re, you’re
genuine and you want to, you actually want to help people ride. – Yeah, it is difficult
balance, I’m, I’ve been guilty of it I’m sure, definitely have, of being, walking in on a Friday afternoon with a race on Saturday saying, “Oh can, can you just?” – Yeah. – And it’s probably
something that the guy’s already really busy but I,
I really need that thing. – Yeah. – And just need someone’s help to do it, and you’ve sort of… (talk over each other) – My life depends on it. – Yeah. – Yeah. – But how big a part of the
business is the workshop as far as? – As far as money and turnover? – Yeah. – I guess it’s, the workshop it’s, it’s like a gateway, it, 30 percent? – Okay. – But, way more than that in its value, like I said it’s reputation, but also… – It gets people into the shop. – Yeah you fix someone’s older,
slightly more tired bike, and keep fixing it, keep
looking after that customer, never making them feel like
they have an inadequate bike or anything like that,
then when they do feel, “Oh I’m going to buy a
new bike, well Trailhead have always looked after me, or whatever shop’s looked after me.” – Absolutely. – Then, I think it’s that,
that trust thing really, and respect, yeah. – Yeah definitely, I think, yeah like you say, it’s building
a community as well and making sure those people feel welcome. And it can be difficult, it
can be quite intimidating places bike shops I think. – Definitely, really that’s something I keep trying to talk
to the staff about is, we’re, we’re all super chilled here. But you come in, like I, I’ve sort of, one of my fads was surfing,
and you go in a surf shop, I don’t dare ask a question about a length of a fin, or a… – Don’t want to feel stupid. – Exactly. – Yeah. And you’ve got like a, what,
what brands do you sell, we said Santa Cruz, Forbidden,
you’ve got Cube, White. – Cube’s a big one for
us, they’ve been with us from day one, they treat
us as if we’re one of the really big players, and we’re really not. Got a lot of time for Cube. We’ve just taken on White. We do Nukeproof and have
done for a long time. Santa Cruz is, is a big one for us and very proud to be selling
their quality bicycles. And Forbidden, we do Orange. And do a little bit of Marin gravel. – So what if, we ride
Canyons and Nukeproof and I’ve definitely had it in the past, criticism for riding
Canyons ’cause they are a direct brand. – Yeah. – And, yeah I don’t mind, obviously people can say what they want on
my social media it’s fine, but I had one guy say,
something about not, not supporting the industry because I was promoting a direct brand. How does that feel as a bike shop where, you don’t sell these
things, but eventually you’ll see them coming in
for something to get fixed? – Well it’s the same old thing, you know, we all drive round in, in nice vans, but very rarely do I take my van back to the VW garage, I
take it to my local guy. So, it, it’s a, it’s a, not
a new business model but we’ve had to adapt. To start with it was
frustrating when we lose one of our loyal customers to a, to a direct sales brand like Canyon. (coughs) Excuse me. And then, and you think well actually the suspension needs servicing,
the bearings need changing. – Yeah. – The customer still needs looking after because their next bike
might be one of ours, so, we just treat them exactly the same. It’s funny what you said though, I’m not going to call
anyone out, but I had a, a rep in working for a
brand, a P and A brand, and called me out for selling a brand here that’s owned by a bigger online… – I think that we may know the, yeah the company you’re talking about. – Yeah so, and I just thought, he said, I said, well
you’re, I, my response to him was you’re narrow minded because, I said, “They’re great bikes and
why wouldn’t we sell them and why wouldn’t it benefit my business?” – Yeah, it’s difficult situation and I, you never know what’s going
to happen in the future, I mean, it works for these
bike brands obviously to go direct so, what’s to
say it doesn’t all go direct, and then bike shops have
to evolve into something slightly different where you rely on selling soft goods and servicing
that bike, but who knows. – I mean, I think there will always be brands in bike shops, and
I think they will be the, the brands with a story
and, hey, you know, I think there’s enough room for everyone to do it
the way they want, but I hope a few still stay in the bike shops. (Don laughs) – What about the, the challenges
of running a bike shop? I mean, unfortunately we do hear about bike shops closing,
there’s, you know, the, Johns Bikes in Bath, it’s 100 years old and that shut down in the last year. Definitely are sort of new
challenges facing bike shops, how do you think you overcome those? – I think it’s evolution, you’ve got to, you know, I have, a couple of years ago we had a six month, in my mind, stale patch, like we were, we’re just doing the same thing, we were taking pictures
of bikes against a wall and tagging everyone and,
we still do that now but, I was like, “What can
we do that’s different?” And you’ve just got to, you
just got to roll with it and hope that you evolve, and you have the right staff around you, you know. I’m, I’m a very small
part of Trailhead and, my staff and their energy
drive the business forward. So, I think surround
yourself in good people, good brands and get out and ride your bike with people, is my top tip. – Yeah I definitely think the, you know, I could totally hear the last of this, is definitely Instagram
can make a big difference to your brand, things simple as that where you see, you know, if you really, it’s, you know, I don’t want
to say new school marketing ’cause a lot of people use it but, compared to some bike shops where they are living completely in the, just the, the old school way of doing things, definitely think that does help. – Yeah I think, I think you’re right and good, good photos and,
and people want to see behind the scenes so, you know, a bit like this podcast,
people want just a little bit more info and I
think we’re all nosy and, want to just see how it
works and, so we try and be transparent, and we
often do Insta live, so we walk around the
shop, people ask questions about products and we answer then and… – Yeah that’s cool. – Do shout outs and stuff. It’s a bit of fun, but yeah, I think just, just trying to keep evolving. – It’s funny I was just been
to Whistler and Squamish, and have you ever been to
Corsair Cycles in Squamish? – No I went to Squamish
couple of years ago, I didn’t see a bike
shop, it’s a funny place. – It’s huge. I think actually it’s just
moved to a new premises and it is much bigger but. – Yeah. – Really surprised me
walking in there to see how many mountain bikes, you know. There are road bikes but,
there’s just this huge, you know, the square
footage of it is massive and there’s a massive workshop at the back and loads and loads of
bikes as well as e-bikes. That’s definitely taking off. – How did you feel when
you walked in there, was it? – It was cool, really cool. Yeah, really welcoming,
yeah just a, a cool shop, which, yeah, you don’t see that many like, really big cool mountain bike shops. – I’m still a, I’m still a bike shop geek you know like, I love going in, you know, we’ve got a, Dave Mellor
Cycles round the corner, they’re full of great
bikes, slightly different take on it than here, but. – How does that work, you are literally 50 meters around the corner from the most established bike shop in Shrewsbury? – Yeah most definitely
and, and the one that you and me used to shop
in when we were groms. Dave is my business
partner here so, that’s for both of us better the devil we know than devil we don’t so. – But how do you differentiate? Is it, I know Dave’s
got a great reputation on the road side of things,
got loads of road bikes, but he does sell mountain bikes as well, so how do you differentiate the two? – I guess, he sells
mountain bikes and road, and so do we, he’s biased towards road and I’m biased towards mountain bike. You know, he’s embedded himself in the, in the road community and
the local cycling club, and does very well at that, but again he’s doing it in a genuine way, he’s not doing it like, just ’cause he sees pound signs, like and. So yeah, he’s very much the road path, I’m the mountain bike path and, yeah. We don’t have any cross over, the mechanics talk all
the time, they’re always sharing notes and help each other. – Borrowing parts. – Yeah borrowing parts
and helping each other fix bikes really. – Cool. What about, sort of,
it’s funny, Greg Minnaar is doing a talking tour in the UK. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, he’s doing a date in Shrewsbury.
– He’s coming to Shrewsbury. Yeah, so I’ve been on a couple of these, to watch, also saw Hans Rey last year, Steve Peat, I think was like last year. – I saw the Peaty one in Newtown. – Yeah so, it’s definitely,
it’s quite a new thing to the UK, we’ve had, we’ve had it with people like climbers,
where they visit towns when they can talk about
what they’ve done that year, cool stories, et cetera. So it’s really starting to
happen with mountain bikers. The one thing I noticed
is the Shrewsbury leg of his 20 date tour is actually sold out. – Tell me about it. – The only one that sold
out, and it’s probably one of the smaller towns. Is that just, I mean it’s got to be because of the mountain bike scene? – Yeah I think definitely to do with the mountain bike scene round here, and even though there’s loads of riders round here that, that
just ride trail bikes or trail centers or, but they’re still, they love it round here and they know who Greg Minnaar is, and they want to go and listen to him talk. I want to go too but
I don’t have a ticket. And I can’t get one! – No way! Well you’ll have to come down to Bath, he’s doing one in Bath
and I’m sure there’ll be a few drinks afterwards. – I’ll gatecrash the one in. – Yeah, but does make
me think about the whole scene, definitely, obviously
there are thriving shops in Shrewsbury. Have you ever, ever seen shops close down? – Only really mine and my Dad’s early on. I mean, probably has been
some others come and go, just don’t really think about
the negative side of it. But yeah, I think shops come and go globally for sure, and,
and it’s sad to see and as you know, there was Soho Bikes closed down in London,
that was really, that, I was shocked. But then, when I actually spoke to Nick, you know, he decided to close down, it wasn’t like they went bust or anything. I don’t think people know that. He was like, “Well I
just can’t be doing this anymore in the middle of London.” And then maybe if he
was in the Surrey hills, the other two bike shops
there are doing well. So, yeah, I think, back to
the other thing you said, which is you got to be near riding. – What, I mean, you’ve definitely got a range of bikes here, but what do you sell the most of, is it, sort of, you know, 140mm trail bike, is it, downhill bikes, is it cross country bikes, is it e-bikes? – I think it’s a mixture of all, but if you had to say, it’d probably be like the Bronson, you know, one, 140, 150 up to 160. And everyone, everyone in
their head wants to go hard don’t they, so they need more travel. But I think they actually
get used round here, you know, the tracks, you know, you’ve ridden these streets for years, there’s a lot of rock
there and it is gnarly and you do need a bit more travel, so I’d say the higher
end travel trail bike enduro bike really Don. – What about trends? I mean for me the biggest
one that I’ve really enjoyed is 29-er sort of enduro
bikes, become so much more capable of pedaling
and bombing downhill. But, what are the biggest
trends you’ve seen in bikes in the last year or so? – Well following on from
what you just said then, I think the racers round
here seem to use 29. Well, I say that but a lot of them do, and then kind of like
the, the guys and girls who like to go uplifting and just do a bit of trail riding. Centrico 650b. I think, I think we sell pretty much the same amount in total of both. E-bikes are on the rise though now. – Yeah, any bike shop you speak to will probably be saying the same thing, and UK is definitely a
few years behind Europe in this matter, as is
Canada from what I’ve seen where acceptance is coming
but people are reluctant until they try one at
least, so a lot of people still don’t necessarily
want to see e-bikes, but definitely starting to
see more of them around, you go to the trail centers
that aren’t so far away like Dagleur or Coed y Brenin, they’re, e-bikes that are definitely appearing and, what are the challenges
of selling an e-bike? – Well, at first e-bikes
were a little bit like tubeless, we were scared of
it, we didn’t understand it, it didn’t always work
out, but that was sort of three or four years ago. Now, the main challenges are I’d say, when you build one up, the PDI, that’s the term we use for building a bike up,
pre-delivery inspection, it takes a bit longer,
you know, you got to drop the engine casing off, ’cause a lot of the bikes from Europe come with the brakes the other way round, things like that. So you have to, where it
would normally take an hour to prepare a bike like this, it would take maybe two
and a half to do an e-bike, so you got to factor that in, and that’s coming off your bottom line essentially. So, all e-bikes we sell have Bosch motors and we have a good relationship with Bosch and if there ever was a problem, we can troubleshoot it in store,
and we can often fix it. – So that is slightly
different where, you know, almost every sort of
problem on a normal bike you could fix in store. I mean I’ve, I’ve had, I’ve
got two e-bikes actually, I’ve got a commuter bike and
I’ve got a specialized Kenevo. Two definitely different
things, but I have actually just started to have issues
with my commuter bike, and I found it really frustrating that I couldn’t fix it. I like to, I’ve got all
the tools in my house, I like to be able to fix things and I needed the bike to do something and it didn’t work and
I’m tearing my hair out. – I know, and you’re
just frustrated then and, it’s that reputation again Don, which is, if we sell it we
need to be able to fix it or, or get someone to
fix it, and that process happened quite quickly because, e-bike comes in, say
there’s a problem with it, three weeks, they’re, they’re not peed off with the component manufacturer, they’re peed off with us. So, yeah it’s reliability, but they are, I mean you know, they are
really good these days as you know. – We’re not so far from
some downhill bike parks like Revolution bike park
40 minutes down the road, you’ve got the Atherton’s Dyfi bike park – Dyfi.
Just opened up, so that would be interesting to
see what happens there with potentially more downhill bikes, but having said that I’ve
just been in Whistler where you do see a lot
of 160mm trail bikes. – Yeah I mean I’ve just come back from, from Les Gets and Morzine and, it
was spot the downhill bike, it was, everyone on trail bikes. And the braking bumps
haven’t got any smaller. – Yeah. – They’re still huge. So yeah, I think that,
that the trail bike, enduro bike, whatever you want to call it, has just become so capable,
it’s ten times better than a downhill bikes you
and me rode in the 90s. – Yeah. I can see you’ve a Nukeproof Dissent just like the one I’ve got, and yeah, it’s the first time I’ve ridden one in a long time and it
felt like the bike was more capable than I was,
but I really, really enjoy riding it, I’ve, I’ve
just ridden it actually for the last few times I’ve ridden. But it’s interesting to
see the difference, yeah, I think most riders, myself included, could jump on a enduro bike and that’d be plenty of bike. – Yeah, yeah. Will we see you at a downhill race? – I dunno, I don’t necessarily
want to race it to be honest, all I’ve ridden so far is bike paths at Whistler and the Athertons’, so, just actually really smooth, really far and hitting big jumps, that’s what I’m loving at the moment. – Big corners, yeah. – Still there are still
downhill races around here? – Yeah, yeah I mean, big shout out to Pearce
Cycles down in Ludlow, Ian and, and Dave and Lindsay and the rest of the team down there are, do a great job in running a bike shop but also I think probably the best bike series that I’ve ever known in this
country, any country. Like Pearce, if you ever
want to, you’re watching this and you want to just do a race, even if you’ve got a trail bike, they’ve got a trail bike category now, go and do a Pearce. It’s unreal. – Yeah I, definitely when
I grew up around here there’s a lot of, well it
was just downhill really, and now there’s a really
healthy enduro race scene, but maybe not so much cross country, or am I missing it? – Well I thought that. I mean I started cross country
and it was, it was big, but someone told me the
other day they went to a cross country race in
Cannock, and every category… – That was the nationals I think. – Was it? – Or round at the nationals. – And it was rammed. Absolutely rammed. One of my buddies, Chris
Oliver, his son Arthur, he, he’s starting racing and, and rather than him getting into downhill, you know, this is a young lad, under ten, he wants to race cross country, and that’s super cool, so
I’m hearing about these different events he’s taking him to, and it seems to be thriving, but, it’s not, it’s not on my Instagram feed and it’s not, I don’t see it
on the websites I look at, and I don’t know what needs to happen but I think it’s very healthy. – Yeah, I definitely need to check it out. You know obviously in Europe, if you’ve ever been to Roc d’Azur festival that is huge, I think there’s… – Is that near Nice? – Er yeah, so, I can’t
remember the numbers but there’s, the race, the big race is like 30,000 people or something crazy. – Wow. – And all on 29-er carbon. – Yeah. – You know, you won’t see a
pair of baggy shorts there, and it’s, it’s really cool to see but it’s always surprised
me that it’s, it’s quite different to the UK and,
and the US and Canada from, from, definitely from my perspective like you say, I maybe don’t
look at the right websites. – Yeah. – But I don’t think there
is a cross country version of Pinkbike or Vital or GMBN
that shows off cross country. – No. – Quite so much. I mean it’s definitely for us as GMBN, we, we always try and do
more cross country ’cause we don’t do enough, and I enjoy doing it, but it does feel like, the
scene isn’t quite as obvious. – No I think you’re right and
I think with cross country it’s about doing it. It’s about actually, you
know, in a cross country race it’s a bit like being in a motocross race, you can see matey ahead
of you, and you’re like, “I’m going to catch him.” And you do everything
you can to bury yourself, whereas in downhill and
enduro, you’re racing an invisible component, the clock. And that’s what I love about cross country racing when I used to do it is, being on that start
line with everyone else, so I think that story needs telling and, it might drag a few people in. – Yeah it makes, makes
me wonder actually about just the vanity of enduro
and downhill races, we’re about buying the right shirt and having the right bike,
cross country’s just want to get on and race the thing. – And Tim Viking’s been
keeping checked shirts sales high for… – Do you sell checked shirts? I can’t see any here. – You could probably find one somewhere at least on a member
of staff, including me. – What is the best part of
being in the bike industry as a shop owner? – Best part, hands down,
the people you meet. And that, that’s
sometimes, more often when they come through the door, but also the industry
people you meet at the shows and the friendships you build, you know, it’s very, very small. I think a lot of people watching GMBN, reading magazines, they think it’s huge, it’s tiny. And, you know, you pee
someone off at one point you’ll come back round to
them before you know it, ’cause they’ll change jobs and, you know, it’s very, very small, and it’s, on the most it’s, it’s
really nice for that. – What about the worst parts? Do you ever wake up on
a Monday morning and, and you know, get that
sinking feeling and think, “Oh it’s Monday, got to go to work.” – No, never, never, sometimes, you got stuff going on like, you know, it’s not always plain
sailing in, in business so you might have some
business stuff going on, loads of bills to pay and, you know, worries that come with running a business. That bit’s not so cool but, yeah I always think, I still get a buzz from
opening a bike box, like you know, a new,
a new frame comes in, you know, it’s not, it’s not mine, it’s for a customer but,
can’t wait to cut the box open and have a look at it. I still get that buzz, 20
however many years on, so. – What about personal bikes, do you, I mean that fade, that’s faded for me, sometimes I love it,
and sometimes I’m like, “Yeah, cool, it’s a new bike.” – I think, I do all right with bikes, but I think you perhaps, get
more new bikes than anyone, so maybe, maybe it’s, it’s diluted it but, yeah, got a new bike the
other day to go away with, a new V10 and, I have this weird thing though and, I get so excited about a new
bike, like unreal excited, but then I don’t want to ride it, it’s like a new pair of
trainers, I’ll look at it, ohh, but anyway yeah, I love a new bike and I like spec-ing it, I
think that’s the bit I enjoy. – Yeah I definitely, I don’t really get to do that anymore, but yeah, I can imagine sitting there and thinking and dreaming up exactly what set of cranks and brakes, actually that’s quite nice. – I think when a customer comes in, we need to accommodate
that, and rather than go, “You need this, you need
that, you need this.” Which I do do a bit to people I know well and they’ll be laughing but, I think a lot of riders
don’t enjoy building the bike as much as riding it. – Definitely. Right, thanks Sandy I
think we’ll end it there, it’s been good to
– Cool man. tell me a little bit about bike shops, nice to be here, checking
out the Trailhead as usual. Right that’s it for this week’s podcast, thanks for joining us,
you can find it on YouTube you’re probably watching it here already, over on Spotify, on Apple iTunes, Deezer and on Audioboom. – Thank you.