Flight Centre’s Growing Bike Empire

183584_largeThink of Flight Centre and it’s like your mind will conjure images of the airplanes, palm-lined beaches and maybe even the Captain – but bikes, no way.

With some declaring cycling ‘the new golf’, and MAMILs (Middle-Aged Men in Lycra) taking over bike lanes all over the country, Australia’s obsession with everything on two wheels hasn’t escaped the attention of Flight Centre’s executive team, and we’ve got the joint ventures to prove it.

Flight Centre is in business with 99 Bikes, Australia’s leading bike and cycling accessories retailer. We also have a partnership with Advance Traders, one of the largest bike distributors operating in the market.

Matt Turner, General Manager of 99 Bikes started the business several years ago when he was working as a physio and wanted to take on a bigger challenge.

“There was a gap in the market with retail bike stores and it seemed like the right time to create a reliable brand, with a good product range, operating multiple stores across the country.
“Previously, bike shops have tended to be sole operators working their butt off. With 99 Bikes we decided to adopt the Flight Centre concept of developing a strong brand and operating lots of stores to grow customer confidence and loyalty,” Matt said.

Initially, Matt didn’t have any idea of how to start a business or run a shop.

“Through Dad (Flight Centre General Manager Skroo Turner), I was given the opportunity to undertake Flight Centre’s Team Leader training, and that gave me an excellent grounding. I used all of the principles I learned at the Team Leader training to start the 99 Bikes business,” he said.
Initially, Matt thought that would be as far as the association would go with Flight Centre.
“Twelve months down the track I realised that if we were going to grow we needed access to a lot more capital. Also, when we were negotiating with Merida to win the right to exclusively stock their brand, and it was invaluable to have the backing of a big company, and a successful retail brand behind us,” he said.

99 Bikes is currently operating 15 stores and employs over 100 staff in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. In five years, 99 Bikes plans to grow to 30 stores and over 200 employees.
“In the bike market in Australia at the moment, 99 Bikes are definitely the biggest player. We have the highest turnover, the biggest market share the most buying power. The most important thing is that we build a brand that is credible among cyclists. There is a percentage of the cycling community that respect and trust 99 Bikes, which is great, but there is a long way to go,” Matt said.

Andrew Garnsworthy, General Manager of Advance Traders says the business was picked up by Flight Centre in 2008 as an opportunistic acquisition to support the retail business of 99 Bikes.
“Our core business is to import top quality bikes and accessories from overseas and distribute them to bike shops across Australia. We are now about the third largest in terms of bike wholesalers in the country,” he said.

At the moment, Advance Traders typically sells around 40,000 bikes in Australia in a year. Since the business was established six years ago, it has grown from an annual turnover of $5million to $25million.

“Advance Traders has adopted the successful business model that Flight Centre has developed and applied it in an industry that is very fragmented. Our vision is to replicate what Flight Centre has achieved in the travel industry across the bike business,” Andrew said.

Advance Traders’ growth strategy is based on three major pillars of expansion including continuing to work closely with 99 Bikes as they open more stores. Another key focus will be broadening the brand and product offering to more retail customers, and increasing the percentage of Advance Traders product they stock. There are also plans to expand the Bicycle Centre brand.

“Bicycle Centre is an Advance Traders initiative where independent bike retailers are given an opportunity to operate under a unified brand, with operational support. Advance Traders provides help with the website, technology, shop look and feel and marketing, all of the things small business owners can find challenging. There are currently 12 Bicycle Centres across Australia and the goal is to add 15 shops a year to the brand, which we think is very achievable,” Andrew said.

By 2017, Advance Traders is aiming to have doubled its annual turnover to $50million and bikes sales to over 80,000.

“Our point of difference as a supplier is our multi-brand solution for bike shop operators. Other providers are usually a single-brand offering. We have exclusive distributorships of Merida, Norco, and Lapierre, DK Bikes, Free Agent BMX, Met Helmets and Axiom accessories which are a few of the highest quality international brands available in the market today. We are also genuinely passionate about helping independent bike shops to be successful. Our long-term success relies on these shops growing and thriving, so we provide programs to support their business model to maximise sales and improve their relationships with customers,” Andrew said.

We are happy to have you as part of the Flight Centre family 99Bikes and Advance Traders!

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About Skroo Turner

Graham 'Skroo' Turner was raised near Stanthorpe, and trained as a veterinary surgeon. In 1973, he and two mates bought a couple of double-decker buses in England and began a holiday travel company, Top Deck Travel.

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