We are proud to have been approached recently to contribute to an 'ask the Professionals' article published this week in Cycling Industry News.
The feature looks into the impact that scarce stock availability of parts has had on the cycling industry during the worst of the Covid19 pandemic, and how businesses have responded.
Here at the Bike Inn we felt the effects of this pressure on the supply chain, both for ourselves as a business, as well as for the network of Bike Inn trained mechanics across the country who reached out for help and advice when parts were at their most scarce.
This has been yet another critical situation that the cycling industry has had to contend with, although our industry is not alone in having to face new challenges over the last 15 months, and we are proud of the way we have been able to respond. We have weathered the worst of the storm, assisted others as far as we can along the way, and are now looking forward to the positive changes this situation has brought about.
Following the first pandemic lockdown and it’s major impact on our ability to conduct business activities - the Bike Inn training school had to close it’s doors for 5 months during 2020, with dozens of course being postponed indefinitely - the issues we then faced procuring parts and spares for our inhouse workshop hit us like a double whammy!
It had been a fantastic side effect of this crisis that cycling in general was experiencing such a boom, as the population took to their bikes for essential exercise and restricted recreation - it was this situation that literally saved our (and numerous other cycle mechanic businesses) livelihood. But then to experience such difficulty in getting hold of the parts we needed to keep our clients' bikes on the road and in tip-top condition really felt like a kick in the guts.
We found we had to make some calculated decisions – we needed to ensure as far as possible that we had the parts we were most likely to need on hand, but without panic buying or stock piling which might leave us with a costly over-stock situation. We were also aware that reduced supply for the increased demand could lead to inflated prices in some market places.
We reviewed our usage patterns over the previous 12 months, and looked to source the most common components – although this in itself was difficult as most items tend to be brand specific for the bikes we see coming through our doors. As parts were used we automatically sourced replacement stock to keep our shelves filled, and looked to widen our supply base to seek out the most elusive items. We have long established relationships with many of the major brands in the industry, but were aware that we couldn’t rely on these or expect any special treatment – everyone was in the same boat!
We ensured that we were constantly communicating with our customers – warning them of anticipated delays, and discussing alternative options for carrying out the work required. We found that our clients were very understanding, and appreciative of the steps we were taking to expediate their repairs and maintenance without compromising quality or resorting to over-priced alternatives. The whole situation was a global issue, we were all affected in one way or another, and it was important to us that nobody should be penalised for something that was beyond anyone’s control.
One major weapon in our armoury was our ability to be able to professionally repair rather than replace some of the scarce items – and even manufacture parts inhouse if necessary. This is why we often label ourselves as ‘bicycle engineers’ rather than just mechanics. We are fortunate to have a lathe and a milling machine, as well as the skill and experience to use them, at our disposal – and we have certainly been glad of this additional resource.
In some cases our clients were able to – or wished to – source their own parts and spares. This helped us inordinately – sometimes we could be spending hours online hunting down the items we needed, and when you multiply this for all the bikes passing through our workshop, just this activity alone threatened to become a full time job! We were very grateful for the customers who were able to help us to help them – another example of how we experienced the ‘we’re in this together’ attitude that was emerging in our industry. Unfortunately we did encounter a small number of ‘wrong’ parts landing on our doorstep from clients – but on the whole everyone seemed to understand that either they would have to wait for the right parts, pay the inflated prices being demanded by a small portion of the supply chain, or take the time to source things themselves.
Inevitably there was a need to step away from the regular brands at times, but in most cases this was not an issue for our customers as they realised this was simply the reality of the current climate.
We witnessed the same spirit of unity within our own segment of the cycle mechanic’s industry. We were able to help our former students with advice as well as spare parts when they were struggling to find what they needed – and we also saw them helping each other out in a similar way. One of the things we love about our training courses is that each class inevitably form strong bonds of friendship over their time with us, and we see this continue time and time again long after they have graduated. We take pride in the trade we teach, and we like to think that our passion filters down and stokes the enthusiasm and desire for success that has brought our students to our doors.
Apparently there’s something about mastering the intricacies of wheel building, or the delicacies of hydraulics, that unites us all!
Jon preparing for lesson recording - Maddy is directing!
Providing an alternative route for learning and qualification became critical - so we began generating our own recorded lessons as well as offering virtual classrooms and masterclasses.
As well as our inhouse workshop we had to have a radical rethink when it came to our bicycle mechanics training school – with our doors having been closed to onsite students for so long during the first lockdown, providing an alternative route for learning and qualification became critical.
We began generating our own recorded lessons as well as offering virtual classrooms and masterclasses, alongside theoretical material, to ensure our students could still receive the crucial interaction with their tutors that makes learning so much more effective. This has meant that many future mechanics have been able to start their training whilst still in lockdown, putting them half way towards their goal ready for when the travel restrictions were lifted.
Looking forward, having witnessed a peak in new bike sales, we anticipate that this is going to filter through to the servicing and repair market as people wish to maintain or modify their new bicycles. On the whole there will be a far larger fleet of bikes across the country, and these will all need the attentions of mechanics at one time or another. A further knock-on effect will see a growth in demand for professionally trained mechanics, who themselves will need tools, parts and spares to carry out their trade – so we see our industry heading into an all-round positive growth era. We are already experiencing part of this as our professional training courses are beginning to book up again!
Being fortunate to be situated where we are – within the Eden Valley in Cumbria and right on the doorstep of the Lake District national park – we not only have a strong local trade, but also see many people coming to the area to ride in what many think of as ‘cycling nirvana’. Given the varying terrains that riders experience, the lengthy routes and simply the hard graft that these bikes go through around here, it is extremely important to us to be able to continue to perform the high quality, professional standard jobs that come through our workshop.
Yes, it has been a very trying time for all concerned, but so long as we as a nation are able to maintain the current ‘return to normality’ we see a brighter period ahead for everyone – both cyclists and mechanics.
You can read the Cycling Industry News article here