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Together We Ride: bringing ‘Click & Collect’ to IBDs

One of the biggest challenges facing IBDs today is the seemingly unstoppable rise of internet retailing. However, Together We Ride has been established to provide an internet shopping channel for independent stores in the cycle trade to operate in.

Together We Ride was established in the later part of 2015 to provide a “click and collect service for London’s independent bike shops; providing the independents with the online presence modern consumers have come to expect.” The mission statement put out by the founders at the time of the launch was, “Our mission is to level the playing field in the bike industry and help independent bike shops challenge the industry giants.”

Together We Ride was co-founded by Mike Thurgood and Mark McGee after Thurgood became disillusioned with the way large businesses viewed independent shops. “I sat in a meeting in my previous job where the subject for discussion was the problem of independent bike shops and how to stop people going to them,” says Thurgood. “That was the day I decided to leave. I realised then that independent bike shops nibbling away at the major players wasn’t the problem, it was the majors trying to squash the indies. That was the moment I realised something had to change and Together We Ride was born.”

The idea behind Together We Ride is to provide a strong online offering for the independent cycle trade through technical convenience, and by offering the same stock range, and buying and branding power that the major online retail specialists and multiple-store retailers have.

Both Thurgood and McGee are aware that there is a strong demand at the moment for cycling accessories and clothing online, and that click and collect is an area of e-commerce that is growing rapidly and they are aiming to combine the two aspects. Talking about the business, Thurgood says, “We are basically one big shop online that works much like every other e-commerce site. People go online and find the product they want, they then select the bike shop they want to collect it from. We then get in touch with the store and ask them if they can fulfil the order, either from stock or from the distributor. We then pass the money over having taken our commission and direct the customer to the shop to collect their order.

“We work on a commission only basis with the store. There is no fee to sign up at the start. Everyone who signs up to Together We Ride gets their own dedicated shop page and gets featured on our shop finder page. The only time we charge is when we prove ourselves and actually make a sale for them. It makes the whole thing risk free for retailers.”

Thurgood continues, “When a customer places an order, ideally the shop that has been selected by the customer should have the stock and, therefore, is given first refusal on the order. To make this happen as much as possible, we make a point of only listing things we know all of the shops can get. If the shop can get the item itself, brilliant, but we can arrange to get parts from multiple shops with whom we work or via the distributors we have relationships with, too. We guarantee if a customer orders via the site, their order will be at the shop for them to collect. If we get the part from a distributor, we share the margin with the store we supply the part to. The only time a shop won’t make money is if we have to arrange to get the part from another store and move it around. But at the end of the day, the shop gets a happy customer who should shop with them again in the future.”

When asked why he feels stores should sign up with Together We Ride, given that all sales made through the system will be at a reduced margin, Thurgood points out, “Small retailers provide 55% of the revenue in the industry, but that is offline only. Online there is nowhere for them to find their voice and access customers. On the flip side, you’ve got customers who want to support their local bike shop but don’t have much time and so find it easier to simply go online and order from one of the big online retailers. There’s a reason people go to their local independent and that’s the good service they provide; a personal service. It’s the opportunity for consumers to go and see people who really know what they are talking about and who really believe in it. So we want to use online to promote those businesses.

“Once those stores get people through the door they are very good at retaining them, but it is getting people through the door that can be the issue. It can be difficult for them to get a share of what’s available online and that is what we want to change.”

The change that Together We Ride wants to bring is starting in London but there are plans to spread the network much wider over time. In fact, the initial plan was to launch nationally, but the ideas were scaled back in order to make the best use of the start-up money available.

“The official limit for us, at the moment, is inside the M25, with the main focus being in central London within the North and South Circular roads really, but that may expand very shortly”,” says McGee.

That geographical limit explains why the first two stores to sign up were Everyone Bikes and Velosport. Thurgood says of them, “They have been our guiding lights and were quickly followed by London Bike Kitchen. We don’t want to work with anyone and everyone. We meet all the people we are working with before they sign up. We need to know that they have a strong product range, that they’re not just a stack it high, sell it cheap outlet. We want to work with premium shops and cycling specialists. They are the guys that have the right product range and are immersed in cycling. The sort of people who are opening bike shop cafes as they really understand the community idea. They’re a new breed of cycle business owner who are a lot more forward thinking.

“We currently have 33 locations around London-listed with more being added, that customers can collect their order from.”

When asked why IBDs should work with Together We Ride, rather than putting their own e-commerce in place, Thurgood explains, “Shops that do have online shops often find it’s a struggle to find the time to market the site and really look after it. We are trying to make life easier for them with Together We Ride.

“Some of the more ‘old school’ shops don’t get what we are trying to do and have said they don’t want to be on the internet. Whereas newer businesses are looking at every avenue of potential sales and growth and we want to support them in what they do. When a shop agrees to work with us we take care of a lot of the work. We’ll take pictures of the store when we first meet them, then build a simple holding page on our website for them. We send that to the shop for feedback with a request for any additional information they can supply. They get a feel of what the page will look like before it’s finished. They let us know what kind of products they stock. They let us know what sort of range they want to stock and we can accommodate that. We make sure we have a product range that will compete with the big boys because we know it is a strong product range that will draw people in.

“We normally take care of the listings on the site but if dealers want to get involved we’re happy for them to do that if they have special parts, for instance. We have some vintage bike specialists signed up and they will be listing their second-hand stock and vintage parts themselves.”

While Together We Ride aims to have a wide range of products available on its site there are products that it will not feature and chief among these are kids’ bikes. The reasoning is simply that the low margin available on those machines does not make them worth listing once the commission has been taken off the sale price.

Similarly, low-value items such as inner tubes are not listed but development work is currently underway to allow the site to flag up a message directing users to local stores if they search the site for such lines. However, sales of parts like inner tubes is an area that shops signed up to Together We Ride can capitalise on when customers collect online orders as McGee says, “What is happening is that we are starting to see people buying additional product when they go in store to collect their click and collect the order.”

However, given that Together We Ride is not the only option for click and collect internet shopping being made available to IBDs, how does the business set itself apart from its competitors?

“People like Madison and Fisher are doing a lot to try and help out IBDs with integrated internet shopping option, but only if the IBDs will support them with their own brands. What we want to do is a little bit different, our business model doesn’t stop the independent from working with anyone. Indeed, we are working with Fisher. It has been very supportive of us. It has been the most supportive distributor we are working with. Ideally, though we want to be working with all of the major distributors, to remove the hassles of doing that from the shops that sign up with us,” says Thurgood.

He continues, “We need to work with distributors rather than working against them by using the buying power of multiple shops to try and drive prices down. We’re about all working together for the benefit of the industry. If we go in there and start trying to force prices down then they might not provide us with such good service as we currently get. The bike industry is not corporate, it’s really friendly and we want to retain that ethos.

“At the moment, the only concern we have is occasional issues with exclusivity of brands to shops, which means there are some brands we are not working with because it could potentially cause problems. In the future, we may offer those brands online but they will only be available to collect from certain stores. At the moment, there are a lot of great products that we can work with and we supply those instead. We’re going to work with and support the brands we have right now as they have chosen to support us in return.”

McGee concludes, “The message we want to get across is that Together We Ride is risk-free. We don’t charge you anything when a dealer signs up. Dealers only have to pay us when we’ve got them a sale. Secondly, we are not positioning ourselves as bike experts, we are online experts. We are experts at what we do: web management and logistics and building online traffic. We facilitate the connection of cycling people with the experts they need to be talking to in independent bike shops.”

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