An institution of Melbourne bicycle retail is on the market for only the second time in its almost century-long history.
Fitzroy Cycles has been advertised for sale, with owners Bill Hocking and Anne Martin deciding the time is right to embark on the next chapter of their lives.
With digital technology and the internet becoming central to bicycles and their retail, 71-year-old Bill says it’s time for someone younger and more in step with those trends to take on the business.
“I’m an old-school businessman who just likes talking to people, but the internet is taking over,” he said.
“For the business to thrive, it needs a younger person who is enthusiastic and really up with the times, who really knows how to use the internet and tools like Facebook and Twitter to promote the store.”
Transforming Bike Store Presentation
Bill knows the business benefits of being at the head of industry trends. Many of his peers attribute Bill with leading the transformation of Victorian bike retailers to become modern stores.
“When I bought Fitzroy Cycles, it was a little old-style shop and I thought things needed to be a more clinical; like a Myers store where everything is on shelves, you have a range of sizes and things people can see and touch,” he said.
“People say I changed the approach by stores to a certain degree.”
As Australia’s maturing bicycle industry works to be taken more seriously by policy makers and boost its standing in the mainstream business community,
Bill says the bike industry “needs to be taken seriously by the people who actually work in it”.
He says while some people believe he shouldn’t have meddled with the essence of the typical Aussie bike store, “you can’t afford to be a grubby little bike store anymore”.
“You have to strive to proper, not just survive.”
Taking Stock of His Career
Bill can thank Australia’s stock market crash in the mid 1980s for his entry to the bicycle industry.
He’d started road racing in the 1980s, after many years as a top-level rugby league player left him with “busted knees”.
After retiring from rugby league in the 1970s, he built a career in the automotive industry for more than 12 years.
However, Bill took a financial hit when fringe benefits tax was introduced in the 1986 and the Australian stock market collapsed.
“That left me a bit down in the dumps and a friend at a bike store I rode for, Stuart Cook, suggested I buy a bike shop,” he explained.
“He told me ‘you can obviously talk to people, you’ve been in the car trade for a while, and you’re a fitter and turner so you can obviously work things out.”
Bill was sceptical at first but, six months later, he bought Fitzroy Cycles from the Brun family.
“Stuart owned Gran Prix Cycles and he had a good lifestyle. He was prepared to help me along the way. If fact, when I first started, I think there was a tie line between his shop and mine,” he said.
Bill entered the industry when Victoria’s fledging triathlon scene was really hitting its stride.
“We got into the high-end triathlon market, which really started in the late ’80s,” he said.
The business sponsored a few prominent triathlon clubs, as well as the Victorian Institute of Sport for two years.
After taking on a store that sold Repco and Malvern Star bikes, Fitzroy Cycles became Victoria’s second top store for high-end road bikes.
“During the 1990s, our sponsored athletes brought in about 80% of our business, before the internet really became ripe during the early 2000s,” he said.
“They were very loyal customers, whereas these days people will go down the road for 50 cents.
“A lot of people come into the store just because they wanted to wear our gear.”
The store became a popular social hangout on weekends, with stationary trainer races out the bike and home-made muffins on offer.
“People would just come and eat muffins and have fun. It was a real family,” Bill recalled.
“However, when we grew to have three stores, it became more business orientated and you lose that social side of things.
“I’ve had seven stores along the way because we kept on developing and moving.”
Fitzroy Cycles has since consolidated back to a single store at Chadstone, an area with a high proportion of young families and a need to adjust the business’s focus.
“We have become more of a family shop, where people spend $600 to $1,500 for kids bikes. Then mum would buy a $1,000 bike and dad would buy a $3,000 bike,” Bill said.
“We still sell some high-end bikes but not like we used to.”
Whether it’s a $20,000 BMC or a $600 children’s bike, Bill says good service remains the essence of a successful store.
“I learnt in the car trade that without good service you don’t have a business – and it’s the same with bike stores,” he said.
“If your workshop is working, the store is working – although some people think it’s the other way round.
“To continually chase business is hard work. To retain customers through good service is much easier.”
“The typical customer hasn’t changed and they still expect decent service.
“I had a customer recently tell me ‘I come here because you sell me what I need, not what I want. You don’t rip me off. You always sell what will do the job without going to the dearest product’.”
Bill says he and his partner Anne Martin, an internationally successful triathlete for many years, are yet to decide what the next chapter of their life will entail. “We’ll get the sale of the store out of the way first and then decide what we want to do.”