Electric bike specialist in it for the long haul with new HQ, lower pricing and the introduction of Pro Dealer partnerships.
Ask any dealer how bike sales have been going recently, and you’ll get a mix of responses, some good, some bad. But ask how electric bike sales have been performing, and the reactions are almost universal – and not in a good way. 2023 has been an appalling year for battery-powered bike sales in Britain, which has been put down to several factors: a decline in fleet purchases after the end of the Covid pandemic home delivery boom, an increase in home working, and a general lack of money, especially amongst customers who might have considered an electric bike and are now going for cheaper (initially at least) petrol machinery.
However, Chinese brand Vmoto had a double whammy of pain after its original UK distributor hit problems earlier this year and gave up the brand. The manufacturer had to rush to put a direct importation deal in place, taking over the distribution of bikes to dealers, picking up the pieces from the old organisation, and basically starting again.
BDN visited the new premises of Vmoto in Guildford and spoke to the UK CEO Clive Mann about his plan for the brand.
The new Vmoto HQ is well located, a stone’s-throw from Guildford train station, and while it was in a state of ‘still-unpacking’ flux when we visited, it’s a well-appointed setup with offices, workshop and warehousing, training areas, and a decent-sized showroom area, packed with Vmoto and Super Soco bikes, glinting in the early Autumn sunshine. There was a line-up of 20 new Uber Eats branded machines ready to go out, visually underlining the importance of fleet sales and corporate B2B deals to the firm.
Clive Mann and sales and marketing manager Gareth Hughes showed us around, explaining that the new base was better suited for dealer visits than the old location in Newark. The plan is to host meetings, training and other events at Guildford going forward.
As we sat down with a coffee, I asked Mann how important the UK market was to the head office in China? Particularly after the recent downturn in electric sales?
“It’s of huge importance,” Mann said. “When the company initially employed me, I was used as a point of contact with the UK importer, and the plan eventually was that we would purchase the business from them. The original timeframe was two years, but because of the distributor’s issues and setup, it was fast-forwarded.
Basically, we have full support from the manufacturer because they see the UK as a big flagship market. Numbers-wise, compared to other electric markets, we’re still nowhere near what we want.”
The reasoning behind the new investment means a longer-term view. “Vmoto as a company is looking to grow,” said Mann. “It’s looking for that long-term goal. It’s not looking for a quick buck right now, which a lot of distribution setups are. We are trying to implement our plans for a longer-term growth period. And we’re allowed the flexibility to adapt and select which models suit the UK market. Take the new Stash model, for example, which is coming next year. We had the option to get it in at the beginning of this year without ABS and the TFT dash but we thought, for the bike it is, we need the TFT dash and we need ABS, so let’s wait and get that done and do it properly.”
Another upside of going direct has been lower prices, with Vmoto making a series of discounts across its range and giving more dealer margin. “We’ve cut prices, not just to keep up with what everyone else is doing but to align those prices to be competitive with petrol bikes,” said Mann. “And we’ve also increased the dealer margin.”
In terms of dealers, the firm has 52 outlets at the moment but is looking for more. “We want one in every key city, which we don’t have at the moment,” said Mann. “A lot of the northern cities are still slightly reluctant, so we need dealers in Liverpool, Newcastle, the Scottish cities and Wales.”
Vmoto is also planning a ‘Pro’ level of dealer agreement, where partner retailers will get more support, increased margin, demo bike support, improved point-of-sale and marketing backup in return for extra commitment. “The requirement is to be more of a brand ambassador for us,” said Mann. “So you’ll have more bikes in the showroom, and your technicians and sales staff will be up-to-date and fully qualified to provide the customer with the correct service. We’re looking to create something like the big ICE guys already have, but none of the electric brands have yet. We’ve got the product, and we’re building the service side to go with it.”
There is also the promise of more exciting models coming for next year, including a new maxi-scooter designed by Pininfarina, ‘Pro’ versions of existing models with more power and features, and the Stash model, which Mann believes is an excellent fit for the UK market.