Last year’s purchase of BikeBug by fellow online bicycle retailer Pushys has taken another twist, with former BikeBug owner Frank Fortuna this month appointed as the new CEO of both organisations.
“I’ve stepped in to facilitate the retirement of the founders of Pushys.”
The appointment was effective from the first day of the month and was announced on 2nd February by the board of directors of Adventure Online, the parent company of Pushys and BikeBug.
Frank went into retirement after last year’s sale – while keeping a financial stake in the company – but told The Latz Report he was persuaded to return to the leadership role to guide Pushys and BikeBug through a number of challenges.
“I’ve stepped in to facilitate the retirement of the founders of Pushys,” he explained.
“I’ve come out of retirement myself to be able to do that, to steer the company through these tough times for retail. They are going to continue for a little while but we’re very optimistic about the future of both BikeBug and Pushys.”
The announcement of his appointment was accompanied by a statement from Frank that the business was taking a different direction, including the introduction of new products.
“I’m very excited about the new direction of the business and to be able to bring a broad range of new cycling products, as well as old favourites to the Australian cycling industry,” he said in his opening address to the company and its stakeholders.
“These changes have been implemented through a planned and deliberate transition involving the board and management over several months.
“The last few months has presented a challenge for our business in a post-Covid world. However, by focusing on our product offering to our customers and making sure we have what they need and when they need it, we will ensure that Pushys and BikeBug continue to be Australia’s largest and best online cycling stores.”
His appointment comes a year after Canberra-based Pushys bought BikeBug and another business owned by Frank, wholesale company FRF Sports, for an undisclosed sum.
At the time, Pushys co-owner Shane Wolki declared the move sought to accelerate his company’s move into the premium bike market.
While Pushys remained focused on the family bike market and discount ranges, BikeBug would continue to BikeBug will continue to target elite road cyclists and move “aggressively” into mid- to high-end mountain bikes.
Pushys revealed it had taken on a private equity investor, CPE Capital, in mid-2021, to help fund the BikeBug and FRF Sports purchase, as well as an expansion into NZ and the introduction of a new outdoor and adventure brand.
Adventure Brand Shelved
It launched the outdoor and adventure brand, Outdoor24, in mid 2022 with little fanfare.
Frank said the Outdoor24 has since been put on hold, with no timelines set for its resumption.
“It just wasn’t the right time to launch a new brand,” he explained, citing unsuitable market conditions for the decision to shelve the adventure business.
With CPE a majority shareholder in Pushys and BikeBug, the organisation has doubled down on its bike operations to steer a path through the current tough market conditions, including wild fluctuations in supply.
In addition, consolidation of the company’s activities included closing each of the five BikeBug stores throughout Australia, for a focus on the much larger Pushys store in Fyshwick in the ACT.
BikeBug had promoted itself as the “ultimate clicks and bricks bike shop”, with five stores in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.
At the time of the sale, Pushys executive indicated there would little change in the teams and operations of BikeBug and FRF Sports, apart from bringing them under a shared CEO and a single head office with Pushys.
However, Pushys later said the closure of the BikeBug stores was a necessary response to current market conditions, including supply constraints.
Frank said there were no short-term plans to resurrect any stores.
Massive Business Experience
A statement from the Adventure Online board says Frank brings a “breadth of experience in owning and leading several national businesses, including the founding and leadership of BikeBug”.
Frank and his brother Rocky initially operated a transport company, FRF Couriers, launched in 1989 as a two-car operation and now comprising a fleet of around 250 trucks and vans.
Their passion and participation in cycling prompted FRF Couriers to sponsor the NSW Institute of Sport cycling team from 2003 and, in 2005, the brothers started FRF Sports.
As part of that new venture, the Fortunas acquired a cycle store, Bike Barn, which they later renamed BikeBug.
“It’s so refreshing to know he will lead the company going forward.”
When Australian bike stores faced the challenge of burgeoning UK online retailers, the brothers were impressed by those online businesses and decided the best way to combat that threat was to expand BikeBug into online sales in 2013.
The board’s comments about its new CEO were echoed by one of founders of Pushys, Shane Wolki, who said: “Frank has amazing experience in the industry. He knows how to run an online business, he knows how to run retail. He’s done all that and he’s very good at what he does.
“He could run this business in his sleep. It’s so refreshing to know he will lead the company going forward, rather than someone who might be a really good CEO but has no bike industry experience.”
Encouraging Upturn in Sales
Amid the transition in leadership, Shane reported an encouraging stabilising of the market and upturn in sales at the Pushys Fyshwick store.
“The whole industry is starting to normalise a bit,” he said.
“It was really refreshing last weekend to see a recovery in sales for lower-end bikes. We’d sold so many of those sub-$1,200 bike through Covid, but that had really dried up in the last six months.
“Last weekend, we sold heaps of those low-end bikes. People are back at school and maybe parents are starting to buy their kids bikes to get to school.
“I think families are getting back into a typical routine and they’ve weathered some interest rate rises.
“A recovery in sales in that lower end is really encouraging because that’s what the industry has plenty of in warehouses around the country. That’s what companies like Trek, Giant and Merida have plenty of. If that starts going well, there’s not going to be a stock shortage.
“The normal vibe is back in the shop and we’re starting to see the usual range of customers coming into the store.”