When Jo Hockley’s son saw Belgian toddlers happily cycling on brightly coloured plastic bikes, he wanted one. But when Jo went online to order it, she found that the bike couldn’t be sourced in the UK. She contacted the Czech manufacturer, negotiated exclusive distribution rights for the UK, and Toddlebike was born.
As a lightweight first bike for children that teaches the key cycling skills, the obvious first outlets were cycle shops and online. But by the start of 2013, she says, “there was a big disconnect between the reviews and feedback that I was getting and the number of sales we were making.” That was when she seized the opportunity to get in front of John Lewis through the PitchUp programme, as she describes in this film.
“We launched straightaway into all the John Lewis stores that had a baby department as well as online,” she says. “The development of my business has been phenomenal. It’s propelled us from being little more than a hobby to being a proper business. The benefits in terms of exposure, help and training, and of feeling part of a bigger, experienced team, have been amazing.”
Apart from the obvious advantage of being stocked in John Lewis, Jo says that the mentoring she received from the store group was invaluable, “in terms of how my offer fitted into their bigger offering, as well as about speaking to the press and promoting the product.”
So what advice would she give to other small companies looking to get their big retail distribution break?
“You have got to really know your customer: what they are listening to, what is informing their buying decisions. It was easy for me with Toddlerbike because I was living in that world, so I knew the mums’ forums, the cycling chat. You have to know everything that goes on around your product so when you come to pitch to an organisation like John Lewis you can show them that not only do you have a great product but you know where it fits in the environment. Go in with that knowledge, with a good product, and you won’t fail.”
Her plan for 2014 is “keep on doing what has worked in 2013. One of the successful things that was our Toddlerbike trial. We worked with the cycling industry and media and made Toddlerbikes free of charge on a test basis for three months. It has been the cornerstone of all our marketing. And I’ll keep my ears and eyes to new opportunities. Who knows what will happen in 2014 but I’ll be on it.”
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