What is possibly the first specialist ebike shop in Australia has been put on the market.
Glow Worm Bicycles is celebrating it’s 10th anniversary on 15th December 2019.
Owner Maurice Wells is not definitively claiming that his is the first ebike specialist shop in Australia, as others were starting around the same time, but it is certainly one of the first.
Maurice started Glow Worm when he was 25 years old. He had previously graduated with a degree in solar engineering from the University of New South Wales in which graduating thesis topic was electric bikes. After graduating in 2007 he started a business installing solar panels on roofs, but always wanted to get into electric bikes, so he left his solar business and started Glow Worm Bicycles.
“Glow Worm was sparked by a desire to introduce electric bikes to the mix of transport and society in Australia,” Maurice recalled.
“I originally thought that I’d mainly be doing importing and wholesale. Retail bike shops were already established. But I saw that they didn’t have access to a range of electric bicycles and no one was marketing the idea that you should ride an electric bike.
“So we went to China, did the factory visits and had shipments to Australia underway. We picked our premises in Marrickville thinking, ‘This will be a convenient place to store some bikes, set them up and have a showroom, but I’ll be selling bikes through bike shops around the country.’”
Maurice soon discovered that his original business plan was not going to work.
“The shops were not at all interested in selling electric bicycles,” he discovered. “This was in 2009. When we visited the kind of shops that mainstream people would go to, good quality shops with long histories, some were even hostile. Others were polite but didn’t understand the bikes or why I was there.
“So we had to do more retailing ourselves. Bike shops all over Sydney would send customers to us when they had an enquiry about electric bikes. Even though they weren’t interested in stocking the bikes, it didn’t mean they weren’t still getting enquiries.
“They just wanted to get rid of those customers and thought, ‘Perfect! We can send them to that Glow Worm place… that Maurice guy.’
“We did pick up some great dealers along the way. Places like Pushys in Canberra with Peter Keast running it in those days, Jake from Sydney Electric Bikes who started more or less at the same time as us. When Melbourne Electric Bikes opened a few years later they jumped on them. So we did pick up quality dealers over time. It just wasn’t in the way I imagined it would be.”
Glow Worm’s range soon extended to cargo bicycles and other more utilitarian models that were also not seen in other bike shops.
“I hope I don’t offend people in saying this, but we originally assumed that the Australian bike industry had all customers covered. But that wasn’t really true either. If customers wanted bikes for carrying kids, bikes for everyday use – as soon as they ventured outside the sports set, they were not well serviced at all. These customers were not satisfied with how they were treated in shops and the product selection available for anything other than whatever that the popular sports riding of the time was, road cycling or mountain biking.”
Fast forward 10 years and Maurice has some surprising views on what he sees as the biggest changes during the decade he’s been in business.
“The biggest changes I’ve seen are in the public’s awareness of the product. People come into our shop and say, ‘Wow! Hasn’t the technology come a long way.’ I generally smile and say, ‘Yes’, but it’s not really true.
“Ebikes haven’t really changed that much in the past decade, it’s just that they’re here now, in Australia and New Zealand. So the availability of the bikes has really changed.
“But public awareness of ebikes has changed dramatically. Ten years ago, when I caught a train in Sydney with my electric bike, someone in the other seat could be staring at it for the whole train ride, just trying to figure out what it was, until they eventually asked me.
“I’d tell them what it was and they’d ask how it works. They really just didn’t know. It was something from outer space.
“Now when people look at them, they’ll generally know what they are. We’re still a long way from being mainstream. The average person still hasn’t ridden one, but they might know someone who owns one.
“When we do promotions now, it’s no longer ‘Have you heard about this amazing new thing that can change your life?’ It’s more like, ‘Ebikes, which one have you got?’
“We’re still at the bottom of the take-up curve, but definitely at a different place.”
Looking to the future Maurice sees the exact future of ebikes as being dependent upon external factors.
“It’s an easy call to say that the ebike market here will grow quite fast, because that’s what it has been doing and the data backs that up,” he predicted.
“Going forward I see one of two scenarios happening.
“Firstly it keeps growing well, despite no change in the layout of cities and bike paths.
“Or we might get a real change if the take up of electric bikes pushes more bike paths, which pushes more take up which then changes people’s mindsets about how they allocate space for cars vs bikes vs people walking. If we see that, then we could see an amazing change.
“But even if governments continue to do next to nothing, we will still see an increase in ebike use.
“A sensible person would say that we’ll see something in between. Some modest improvements in infrastructure as well as growth from the latent demand for ebikes.”
Given his predictions of at least solid growth into the future, why would he be selling now after dong 10 years of pioneering work in helping to establish a market in Australia?
“It’s hard to accept that it’s happening,” Maurice admitted. “But the reality is that I’m now living with my wife and two young kids under five in Auckland, New Zealand where I’ve started a new ebike shop (Ebike Team). I just can’t keep doing Glow Worm back in Sydney in a way that does it justice.
“We’re proud to have done our bit to get Glow Worm to where it is but now it’s time for someone else to take over and take it to the next level.
“We’re selling everything. The shop, the workshop, the fit-out, the customer base, the website, the supplier agreements. It’s the opportunity for someone to buy what is possibly the longest running electric bike retail specialist in Australia and one with an extremely good reputation amongst its customers and suppliers.
“When we send an email to our 5,000 customer list about 50% will open it, which we’re told is a pretty unheard of rate in retail. Lots of customers are buying their second and third bike from us.
“So it’s the opportunity for someone to enter the ebike industry with a good head start and not start from scratch.”