Anyone that has spent any time in the Shropshire area riding bikes, visited The Trailhead, or is part of that scene will surely know of Sandy Plenty.
Pete had a chat with the man that reads Shropshire in his bones like a stick of rock, despite originally being from the Highlands. We talk chain stores and independents, the internet and why The Trailhead has to work.
Who is Sandy Plenty?
A skinny mountain bike geek based in Shropshire, UK. An adventure lover who is grumpy without lots of sleep.
What’s your background in cycling?
I started off riding MTB in the early 90’s, my first race being ’92. I never forget that first race. It was near Lampeter (South West Wales). I had a Peugeot Tim Gould replica bike, my dad drove me there, I can still remember how sick I felt as we parked on the fire road. I came dead last! It was a truly amazing experience, one I will take to my grave.
From then on in I have been hooked. I never forget the National Champs was held at Eastridge in 95’, being my local woods I was keen to race as much as I could. I did, XC, DH & observed trials all on my trusty Orange Clockwork with bar ends. Seat varied in height depending on each category. Since then I have done Mega Avalanche 3 times, Trans Provence twice, and raced downhill from 95 through to 2012, missing the odd year here and there.
I still love racing, whether it be enduro or downhill. But what still tops it all is getting lost with good friends on bikes. I love adventure and that feeling of riding a trail for the very first time. It gives me a snippet of that feeling at that first race! It makes it all feel new again.
What’s your background in the cycling industry?
Being obsessed from day one I persuaded my dad it was a good idea to buy a bike shop, he did and I learnt the hard way. The shop didn’t work out, we lost a lot but I didn’t realise just how much I learnt about the industry as a result. This all happened in 96-98, I then worked for other companies such as Terry Dolan, Halfords & Leisure Lakes.
Leisure Lakes gave me the knowledge in business & buying. After 10 years with these guys, it was time to try things on my own again. This time with the help of a business partner; Dave Mellor has been selling bikes and offering good customer service since the 80’s, so after a brief chat we knew working together made sense in the Shropshire area. I opened the Trailhead in December 2012 & have never looked back.
You’re originally a Highlander, what brought you to Shrewsbury?
Haha, yes I was born in Inverness, then lived 5 miles from the shores of Loch Ness. Due to work and family commitments my mum & dad moved back to Shropshire in the late 80’s, being just 7 I left too. Shropshire has given me so much though, I mean the trails are soooo good, the community is equally awesome & it’s now become my true home, I really do love it.
How did The Trailhead come about?
I was on holiday with my girlfriend in California & I woke one morning to have 2 missed calls. One from Dave Mellor (local well respected bike shop owner), the other from Dan White at Cube bikes. At this point I hadn’t put 2 & 2 together, but Cube was up for grabs in the Shrewsbury area & they had been talking. A few emails and a couple of texts and a plan was hatched…
Did the shop name come in a Eureka moment or did you sweat it for months?
After those calls in America I knew then in my heart that I was going to open a shop, we needed a name, and more importantly a brand identity. One of our holiday stops was Yosemite National Park, everywhere I looked there where signs saying “The Trailhead’, a common word used to mark the start of walking or riding trail, mainly used in the states. I knew then it was the right name, it has since become our identity & something I am very proud of.
How have you gone about competing with the internet, arguably the bike shop’s main competitor?
I don’t see the internet as a rival as such, it can be a royal pain in the bum at times. Our outlook is, yes you can maybe buy a Reverb cheaper at CRC, but they can’t fit it or service it in months down the line. The internet is only a threat if you let it be one, all the time spent moaning about it could be put into fresh ideas for your shop. We have one of those hipster light boxes in our shop window, Dan my right hand man recently put the words – ‘You don’t get love at CRC’ in it.
This has become our mission statement. Customer service is key for us, going the extra mile and trying to keep customers bikes on the trails is our goal. And CRC are all good in our book, they provided a good service to lots of customers who are happy with mail order. Shops are important though, and I am not just saying it because I have one. I have a love for cameras, I always try and split my spends between high street shops and internet. As a shop we don’t always get it right, but we do try our best.
Luckily there are still a good proportion of consumers that appreciate this and are happy to at least spend some of there hard earned nuggets locally. We have lost a few bike sales to the catalogue brands, but hey they all have suspension that needs servicing & brake pads that wear out. I mean you often don’t get your van serviced from the same person that sold it to you. Basically if you ride bikes your welcome at The Trailhead, regardless of where you shop.
How many people make up The Trailhead and what do they do?
We have 7 of us working over 6 days. 2 full time mechanics & 1 part time, 2 full time sales, and 2 part time & me to cause chaos in between. We all help each other & are willing to muck in to get the job done. This is important to the shops success.
What did you have to sacrifice to get to this stage?
To start with not so much, I felt it was important to keep racing and adventuring, spreading the Trailhead word. It also helps keep the shop on the map. I guess I gave up any spare time I ever had. Your always at work as long as you have a smart phone in your pocket. My social media is very good as showing the fun side of things, it never shows the paper work, house work or family sacrifices. I am not complaining though, it’s been one hell of a fun learning curve, that is luckily still in full swing.
Did you have other jobs that you had to give up?
Leaving Leisure Lakes was hard, that family gave me a lot & I was leaving a very secure & stable job for essentially the unknown. I still do consultancy work for various bike industry brands. This merges into marketing, my true passion I guess.
Are you working alongside to make ends meet?
No, I am working these extra gigs to keep my brain ticking. I have always taken way to much on, just ask my patient girlfriend. But we wouldn’t have it any other way. Trailhead is my main focus though, it’s my baby.
How make or break is the company for you?
Well it has to work… Ever since Longmynd Cycles failed as a business when I was a teenager, I wanted to prove to my dad that all his sacrifices where worth it, I want to make him proud.
How did you learn what you needed to know to get your own company off the ground and the shop a part of the local scene?
I learnt the hard way from my dad’s shop, I learnt the right way from 10 years at Leisure Lakes. Then teaming up with Dave Mellor was brilliant, he has taught me a lot about accounts and the knitty gritty behind a business. The main thing for me is making sure your business in the middle of the cycling community, help riders, help the youth scene, run shop rides. But always always put a value on your services.
I have great staff, guys that give a fuck! That ride & are passionate. It’s this family of staff that are the foundations of the business. We run weekly shop rides, this is a huge factor of the business. A chance to ride with your customers & friends away from the shop is great fun.
Favourite moment from all the riding bikes and running shops?
For me as a rider it has to be completing Trans Provence for the 2nd time and getting a message from the course markers who where already at the finish saying ‘You’d better hold it together till the end, because we have guy here pretty excited to see you’ the message came with a picture of my dad. I never forget how that felt and the emotion of finishing and him being there. Get’s me going just thinking about it. Also spending time riding with your children, price less. I am sure all parents and children reading this will know what I mean. I love riding with Reuben & the girls.
Best shop related moment came just a few weeks back. I handed over a new bike to a young mini shredder. Just 9 years old. His face! His parents faces! Easily the most grateful lad I have ever seen, & knowing what the family had sacrificed to keep him into riding topped it all off, pure love and support.
Any unmitigated disasters?
Fraud…. This is something that bit us in the ass a few years back. Credit card scammers hit has hard for 2 carbon road bikes. That was a steep learning curve, one that left me feeling angry, stupid and a complete country bumpkin. Just try it now though mother truckers! We are ready.
Where next for Sandy Plenty and The Trailhead? How do you plan to go about getting extra helpers etc. etc.?
Next is to finish of an extension we have been agonising over for the past 2 years, it should be all done by this October though. It will double our foot print (believe me still staying very small) & allow a little welcomed breathing space for both customers and staff. We also plan to make more films like we did in the first few years, more community events like the ‘Mini Shred’ ride day would be good too. We want to continue with our race team supporting riders across several disciplines.
Anybody to thank at this point in the journey? Long suffering spouses/parents/friends?
I am super happy to be able to list of a few of the important people in my life. People that have always listened.
Reuben Plenty – My son & favourite riding buddy
Emma & the girls – Having a family around me is the best. Love them all.
Dad – For always standing by my next crazy idea & NEVER judging
Chris Noy (and his brothers) – For giving me the leg up I needed in the bike industry
Dave Mellor – Trailhead would not exist with out this man
Dave Richards – Marketing at Sealskinz, he gave me a chance to tell a story close to my heart
Chris, Christian, Dan, Dave, Guppy & Jay for grafting in the shop & putting up with my sh1t.
Dan & Bart: Cube Bikes – If we are talking leg ups, these guys gave me a ladder
Stu Gwynne – Constant stoke & support
Dickon Hepworth – This man and his crew keep me in lovely bikes to sell
Phill & Deb Sankey – Keeping things calm
Chris Porter – The Godfather
Royal Racing – cheers to Dave, Matt & the crew
So many people I would love to thank. Cheers Sandy.