So here I am, it’s February 2014 and i’m sitting patiently in the arrivals lounge of Heathrow Airport waiting for my flight link bus after returning from living in India and I couldn’t stop thinking (and worrying) about what I was going to do now I was back in the UK.
I had left for India in September 2013 after almost six years of working in the music industry which had left me feeling completely burnt out and confused about what steps to take next, it seemed logical to disappear for a while and re evaluate my options. Was I going to just take another marketing or sales job? should I start my own business? should I get back into the music industry? should I just embrace the teachings I learnt in India and become a monk?
Lots of questions whirling around, and all the time still not having a clue in which part of the UK I wanted to now reside. Manchester had been banded around due to it’s similarities and differences to London and in the end I decided this would be the best place to begin my new adventure.
I withdrew all my savings and hopped on a train to Manchester with my trusty bicycle where I was greeted by an old friend who had kindly offered to put me up until I could find my feet. Every evening I was planning and researching, looking for a business venture that could make me happy both emotionally and financially. It was tough !
After 2 months in Manchester my fiance came to join me and I think I really owe her the credit for the original foundations of Manchester Bike Company as it was her desire to find a cheap second hand bike to save money on travel that led to my research taking a new direction. We drove for 2 hours and finally came to a huge gate with a sign reading ‘bikes this way’ upon approach I could see the mountain of metal that awaited me and I began to think i’d made a mistake and perhaps these would just be scrap. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
As soon as I waded in and caught a glimpse of the styles and brands available something clicked in my brain. Peugeot and Raleigh racers and town bikes, beautiful old vintage bicycles from the 70’s and 80’s everywhere, left for dead, some in better condition than others and some that were literally useless. I had always loved old bikes (and was actually riding a 30 year old HERO at the time) and most of all I loved the fact that some were part of our British heritage and I was in some small way restoring that. Nearly everything I sell is handbuilt and compared to today’s machine built frames I just don’t see a comparison.
I wasn’t scared of getting dirty at all, I had been a BMX rider for almost eight years in my youth and as such had the mechanical basics in my locker, so the rust, flat tyres and mis matched parts didn’t phase me at all, all I could see was a business idea that needed to be tested. Back then I was driving a beat up old VW Vento (which was awesome) but obviously wasn’t very big or capable of putting many bikes in. My fiance had picked out the one she wanted and that left enough space to dismantle three more and try and get them in the car somehow. I picked a Raleigh Esprit mens racer, a Tensor ladies town bike and a white Raleigh Caprice and set off back up the motorway. Manchester Bike Company was born!
My idea for the bikes was not to fully restore them but to service them and get them back on the road. I was positioning myself at the lower end of the scale, looking to cater to those people wanting a stylish and functional bike for everyday or occasional use or a project to work on over time. I wanted to offer excellent customer service, a choice of bikes and go beyond the typical second hand seller to offer peace of mind, practical advice and assurance to my customers that if anything did go wrong I would be their to help.
It turned out all those years in marketing and sales weren’t wasted and within weeks I had all the social media channels covered and a sparkly new website to display and sell my products. I was taking pictures of new bike owners with their new bikes and posting them online to share and this really helped spread the word about the business.
The early days were very hard, I was working part time and we were living in a one bedroom flat on the 11th floor in the Green Quarter of Manchester with limited space to store bikes outside and not much space inside for doing the actual repairs and maintenance work, not to mention the hassles of moving them up and down the elevator to take pictures and show them to potential buyers.
My bike mechanic skills were being pushed to their limit everyday and in some cases the bikes looked to be beyond repair. Then one day I discovered what I believe to be the best bicycle cafe in Manchester – Pop Up Bikes. The expert guidance and help I receive from these guys was second to none, they have helped this business grow to what it is today and i’m sure I wouldn’t still be here without them.
By August 2014 things were getting interesting, the bikes we’re selling but the business was really still very small with all the potential customers coming to me at my flat to view. I knew I was on to something but needed to strategize the next step and a way to scale up the business, but what?
The same friend that had put me up upon my arrival, kindly offered his postcode and use of his driveway to try and sell more bikes, and on the Tuesday of the third week of August I posted my first advert at his address and my phone was ringing for most of the day after that. I was overwhelmed, I had only three bikes serviced and ready to sell and nine people that wanted them…. a great position to be in. I bought a new car capable of holding more bikes and started to do weekly collections, bringing 5/7 bikes a week up to Manchester.
Due to the fact I now had to drive with bikes from my flat to the new location provided by my friend to meet people I decided one day to just say to someone ‘I can just come round to your house in the van with 5 bikes for you to see/test if you want?’ and they went for it! it was here that the delivery and testing concept was born. This service concept has become the backbone of the business as it has placed the customer first and makes their life very easy.
After riding out the remainder of 2014 doing almost 90% deliveries and pushing sales beyond 30 a month I knew that 2015 was going to be a good one. We moved from our one bed flat to the outskirts of the city to our new home which had its own basement which was to become the workshop and HQ of the company. By March I was receiving deliveries of over 50 bikes a month and the business was really turning into a full time job as I was, and still am, a one man army.
2015 has been a fantastic year in regards to establishing the business, learning from past mistakes, spreading word of mouth and meeting new and lovely people that have helped in all manner of ways. It’s an amazing feeling to be driving (or cycling) around and see a customer on the bike they purchased and I really knew the business had turned a corner one day when I was standing on the curry mile and saw 6 bikes in 5 minutes that had come from me.
In 2017 the business thrives on the delivery and viewing model and our ability to provide the unique bikes we do. I am still a one man army and love what I do and with the help of Pop Up Bikes on occasion we somehow manage to keep going. This year sees us expanding our products into custom built bikes and rebuild jobs, alongside our normal service. We are very excited about offering our fully shot blasted, resprayed, vintage frames alongside a full rebuild with all new and existing serviced parts for under £350.00.
Manchester is a fantastic cycling city and is just at the beginning of what is sure to be a cycling revolution and I am over the moon to be a part of that, but regrettably i would say that it is still very dangerous to be a cyclist in Manchester. The infrastructure is definitely improving but there are huge education and awareness gaps that need to be filled before there can be any harmonious relationship between cyclists and their four wheeled counterparts.
Lastly I guess I see cycling as the ultimate freedom, if you remember when you were very young and your parents would set boundaries for how far from the house you were allowed to go, when you learnt to ride a bike, that all changed. Suddenly a whole new world appeared, adventures became far more interesting and valuable, life lessons were learnt and a relationship was formed. Sadly many leave their 2 wheeled companions for dust around the age of 17 to pursue a driving license but more and more people are seeing bikes as a cheap, quick means of transport and that has to be a good thing for us and Manchester!