With so much of the retail world dominated by online trading it’s rare for a business to reverse the trend and open a physical store. But that’s exactly what cycle specialists Ubyk have done. As they say on their website they like to do things a little differently, and that extends beyond bringing their shopping experience to the high street. Even both of their shops look different to what you’d expect from a bike retailer. Warm, friendly and modern, they take a new approach to displaying their product which almost elevates each item into a work of art. “You’re selling high end stuff, so the whole experience has got to be like that,” owner James Heath explains. “I’m quite creative, so in the shops there’s all kinds of music playing and artworks on the walls.” Over the years, specialist bikes have risen in price. But many shops have failed to present their stock as the prestige brands that they are. What Heath has done at Ubyk is to present stock in a way that shows off its magnificent engineering. The company offering lines by De Rosa, Eddy Merckx, Parlee, Colnago, Cinelli, Scapin, Argon 18, Orro, Yeti, Santa Cruz, Cube, Charge, Scott, Evil, Orange, Ghost, Nukeproof and Singular, many of these manufacturers place as much emphasis on beauty of design as pure functionality.
The visual impact of their products, many of which are custom built, adds to the ambience of the stores. “You want those bikes to stand out on [their] own and not be cluttered amongst loads of others. I’d rather people saw them properly and had a nice experience shopping.” Positioning customer service at the core of the operation further enhances the distinctive shopping experience in their Brighton and Oxford shops. The belief is that treating the customer as an individual will produce a bike that meets every requirement.
Previously running a design agency in London, Heath produced plenty of website builds for his clients. After a while he found himself drifting into other aspects of their businesses. After learning so much about e-commerce he wanted to develop his own online business that was something special. Then one night he struck upon the idea of building a site where a customer could design their own bike online from a huge choice of high-end components. “I threw myself in at the deep end. I sold my business and set up Ubyk online as a visual bike builder…”
His platform enables visitors to visually customise a unique ride, watch informative videos on the parts, and see the weight and price alter with the specifications of the bike. This online visual bike builder remains biggest part of Heath’s business, with sister sites in Australia, France, Sweden and one more developing for the Spanish market. About three years ago, with some encouragement from his suppliers, he opened a shop in Oxford. His customers are fanatical about cycling. So the company have to offer a similarly enthusiastic level of customer service and plenty of options for creating something unique. Now a branch has opened on Brighton’s Sydney Street to meet growing demand.
Cycling has blossomed in recent years. This is partly down to fuel pricing and the freedom from parking restrictions it offers, but people also recognise the health benefits it offers. There’s little point in being stuck in a box-like gym when you could be out on the road actually getting somewhere. Mountain Bike parks in this country also have their parts to play. “Like ski resorts in other countries, we’ve got loads of mountain bike trail-centres. They’ve become massively popular. You struggle to get into the car parks of many of them at the weekend.”
He concedes that launching the company was initially a big risk, but says the alternative was to carry on doing something that didn’t satisfy him. “I think if other people are doing jobs they’re not buzzed about anymore, they should just go and do what they want to do. It is hard, the first two years were the hardest of my life.” Although he’s a long way from the career he trained for, it’s not so far from where his passions lie. As a kid he was always into cycling. He’d do up bikes in his garage then sell them to boost his pocket money. “It’s an ongoing thing really. I’ve done my design career and then come back again!”