The man bringing Boardman Bikes to the UAE
Jason Bryan, a 40-year-old Irish national, is the man bringing Boardman Bikes to the UAE. For those not familiar with the brand, the British cyclist Chris Boardman was a gold medallist at the 1992 Summer Olympics. In 2000, he also broke Eddy Merckx’s 28-year-old record for the longest distance raced in one hour, riding 49.441 kilometres, just 10 metres farther than the legendary Belgian.
Athletes including the UK’s Brownlee brothers, who won triathlon gold and bronze at the 2012 London Olympics, use his top-of-the-range Elite Platinum bike, which has a frame made from carbon fibre and coated in platinum – “perfect” for this market, says Mr Bryan. It sells for about US$4,000 – just for the frame.
Mr Bryan was a financial controller and a keen cyclist when he arrived in the UAE four years ago. However, his passion became more of a holiday pastime for any time he was away from Dubai. Then, the lack of cycle lanes and cycle spaces, the poor observance of other road users and the relatively high cost of the bikes in the country, meant it wasn’t a viable hobby for him any more.
Today, the landscape has changed markedly. While there are still few cycle lanes, and the lack of observance from road users is arguably worse, the growing number of cycle spaces and attitudes to the activity have improved beyond recognition. The National, for example, ran its own cycle-to-work campaign in January.
Now cyclists have dedicated sessions every Tuesday evening at the Yas Marina Formula One circuit, each Wednesday at Dubai Autodrome and can also ride the mountain bike trails of Showka and Hatta, as well as the cycle tracks of Nad Al Sheba, Al Qudra and Al Wathba.
There are at least 13 different cycle clubs catering to all levels, from novices to know-it-alls.
“I love cycling but the prices asked for average bikes in the shops here in the UAE were way beyond acceptable,” says Mr Bryan. “I knew Boardman was always reasonably priced in the UK and knew they weren’t sold here, so I looked into buying one back home and bringing it out.”
When Mr Bryan found out that Boardman had begun international expansion but that the Middle East wasn’t on its radar, he put a business plan together and contacted the company.
“I won’t say its been easy since then but for a brand that was only known in the UK it’s been incredibly successful so far,” he says.
Mr Bryan signed the exclusive distributorship for Boardman Bikes in January covering the GCC for nine years. His original plan was to create a stand-alone, top of the range, Boardman boutique that shows off the bikes in the best light with the best equipment and the broadest range but that strategy has changed.
He opened a Boardman Bikes showroom in Dubai in February but, in the short term, he sees online sales as a huge opportunity for keeping overheads low and his prices below all competitors.
“I’ve been selling through a horrible website I designed myself, but there is a professional one on the way,” he says.
Local bike retailers have been paid too much, for too little, for too long, he says.
Mr Bryan claims he is able to offer professional standard bikes at amateur prices and amateur bikes at second-hand prices because the deal he agreed with Boardman was to buy the bikes for 10 per cent less per bike than UK prices.
But still the cost of setting up a business in the UAE “is quite shocking, not to mention the rents, which all goes on to the [retail price of the] bikes”, he says.
Mr Bryan spent Dh50,000 on the correct trading licence for his company Frontier Adventures at the beginning of the year, a large sum that instead could have been better used for stock.
“I had to put money into a piece of paper rather than the bikes, which means I do not have a full inventory,” he says. “I have a showroom with limited capacity but I am mostly selling through Dubizzle and I am now in talks with souq.com to sell the Performance range.”
This range of bikes is priced slightly below high-end offerings at between Dh3,000 to Dh9,500.
He has tried marketing his product at sporting events but these efforts did not translate into significant sales.
“I’ve been at triathlons and cycling events but they cost money to show my bikes and the return is far from immediate, if at all,” he says. Mr Bryan has also set up a loyalty scheme that encourages referrals in return for merchandise from the shop.
Creating a loyalty scheme is time-consuming and costly, he says, but it is worth it to build up the profile of the brand.
Mr Bryan forecasts he can eventually sell up to 2,500 bikes a year in the GCC, which would make him the most successful international distributor.
The next stage for the business will be to introduce other “high-end but affordable” sports brands to the region.
“I’m a cyclist not a retailer, but even in this short time I can see the potential of these bikes and other brands,” says Mr Bryan. “Equinox Wheels, a very high-end Czech brand, contacted me because of the work I was doing with Boardman and asked if I was willing to become their distributor. They can go to Dh12,000 per set, but you can’t get them here.”
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Updated: April 4, 2015 04:00 AM