Founded in 1926, Pashley Cycles is Britain’s longest established cycle manufacturer, designing and hand-producing bespoke, traditional bicycles and tricycles.
Adrian Williams, MD, who trained with Westland Helicopters, owns 73% of the business having purchased it from members of the founding Pashley family
With £5million turnover each year and about 8% net margin, Pashley employs around 50 people in total.
Over the last 5-6 years, export turnover has grown from 15% to 45%, with North America, Germany and Japan being the company’s most important export markets.
There are around 160 products in the range. Women’s bikes account for half company sales with 75-80% in their traditional segment and with carrier cycles contributing a further 20% of turnover.
All Pashley cycles are manufactured out of the company’s factory in Stratford-upon-Avon.
The business is organised into two divisions, one focussed on Business to Business (“B2B”) sales and the other Business to Consumer (“B2C”) with the opening of a new online website and shop in Stratford–upon-Avon.
Pashley works closely with local schools and universities, such as Warwick and Birmingham City University.
Adrian Williams believes there is a group of cyclists who prefer alloy-steel framed bikes of a traditional design to those more modern products made of aluminium or carbon fibre.
“That may be surprising to some,” he says, “But not to me, because our customers love our products.”
The following conversation took place between Beverley Nielsen, Lib Dem Candidate WM Metro Mayor and Paul Cadman from the West Midlands Lib Dem Mayoral Campaign team, visiting Adrian Williams, MD, Pashley Cycles on 27th October 2016.
Q: What is the biggest deal that you have done over the past year?
A: “Winning the Transport for London contract to produce a new bicycle for the London Cycle Hire Scheme, as partner of Serco, which was announced in September will have a huge impact on our business. There are over 12, 000 bikes in the current fleet of Santander Cycles and we hope to start replacing these in the next 18 months. It’s very significant for our business as we have been making 8000 bikes a year up till now and this contract will significantly increase our output in terms of volumes. We are gearing up to produce these bikes and it will mean recruiting more people in the coming months.”
Q: You have been seeing a strong increase in Export sales, why is this?
A: 100 years ago the Midlands led the World in bicycle production but now there are only three bicycle factories left in England (Pashley, Moulton and Brompton) and a few specialist bicycle frame makers, just at a time when consumers in overseas markets are wanting to “buy British” and authentic British made products. We have a strong heritage going back 90 years and make beautiful, bikes of quality here in the Midlands, supporting local people and businesses. Our customers value what we do. We have seen strong demand from North and South America, Europe and the Far East and have been busy setting up Distributors in a number of countries. To date we have 47 countries which we are exporting to and have recently invested in additional production and warehouse space so that we can continue to meet the expected demand.
Q: Are all Consumer bike sales made through your Distributors?
A: “95% of consumer product sales are made via distributors and their respective retail outlets, but Pashley has recently introduced a new accessories range, opened up a retail showroom in Stratford-upon-Avon and created a new B2C website so that we can understand our customer’s needs better and respond to these accordingly. We are a family-owned business and want to give our customers the service that they deserve, which is sometimes lost through some of our existing supply channels. Our new accessories range includes useful items, such as leather bags, to equip customer’s bicycles as well as ladies and men’s clothing collections for those rural and urban cyclists who prefer not to wear Lycra.
"The range includes practical, stylish men and women’s trousers, jackets, shirts, blouses and T shirts, as well as prop stands, tyres, bells and pumps. These are items which many bicycle stockists are reluctant to stock - our tyres, for example, tend to be in special sizes – and so our customers can now access these directly from us. We’re already finding that by providing this range direct to our customers we’re getting more insights into their needs which we’ve not had in the past through our dealers. It’s got us into the digital marketing side too, something quite new to us, as we now have our own Facebook page and have even started tweeting (for goodness sake!).”
Q: Are you finding a shortage of STEM skills in the West Midlands?
A: “In terms of how we as a business draw on STEM and creative skills, we see a great spectrum of skills that are important for us. With products, such as a bicycle or an accessory, there are different aspects to it. Technical aspects include design strength, construction and sustaining use, as well as how efficiently it can be made. Alongside that is the aesthetic and whether the product will be appealing. It might do the job, but if it looks awful then people simply won’t buy it. It’s very difficult to find this combination in one person, so generally we need to have teams who can discuss these aspects together. Concepts can also come from individuals and we encourage our staff, whoever they are and wherever they work in our business, to come forward with their ideas. But the journey of taking an idea through production to market needs quite a few others in place.
“I feel that we do not make enough of the old apprenticeship approach. I did a four year sandwich degree when I was starting out as an aero engineer. I worked in lots of different departments, including machine shop, design, wind tunnel, composites and commercial. This gave me a great perspective into the wider business and how a business works. I am convinced that it is really important for students to get out and into industry as well as working through the more academic aspects of their degrees. We need more students to be engaged and enthused by the design and manufacture of products and choosing this as their career. ”
Q: Is the business support available meeting your needs as a business?
A: “There has not been much involvement with other organisations in our business over the years. However, just recently I was given some support to exhibit overseas via ERDF funding. We have also just acquired some new premises in Stratford and, thanks to some timely information from UKTI, I found out that I could access a grant for 20% of the cost of expansion in our new premises.
“We’re putting investment in for future growth and it is great to see government encouraging manufacturing at last, but we need people with the right skills. There are fewer feeder companies than in the past and a severe shortage of semi-skilled and skilled production operatives, such as frame brazers / welders and fabricators. We are finding these people but it has proven very difficult. Apprenticeships schemes are one thing, but we need schools and universities to be more actively encouraged to work with industry. Funding student placements and providing free / low cost access to publicly owned resources (such as machinery and test equipment) would be a start.”
Q: Given the brand’s desirability the company must be making profits that are the envy of the sector?
A: “Not quite! It isn’t easy making the bottom line, especially in an industry which is highly competitive and a local market that is awash with imported products, so we have to plough back any profits and invest in product design to stay ahead of others in the market.
“Government should urgently look at the situation where you have an indigenous cycle industry that has gone from meeting 100% of the needs of the domestic market to around 2%, then explore if there is a way of repatriating a proportion of the duty charged on the 98% of bikes that are imported by way of matched funding indigenous producers serving the same market sector. The aim being to encourage both new and existing domestic companies to invest in design, development and our own people to ensure that we are able to grow the craft and skills base appropriate to the 21st century.”