East Lothian business revs into gear

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Allan and moyra

Moyra and Allan Ramsay set up Customized Choppers in 2006. Here, they share with us the story behind the business.

Name: Moyra and Allan Ramsay

Age: 51 and 54 respectively

What is your business called? Customized Choppers

Where is it based? Haddington, East Lothian

What does it produce, what services does it offer? We sell motorcycle parts and accessories to customers worldwide from our base in Haddington. As well as supplying a wide range of parts, we also offer custom motorbike building, servicing, MOTs and repairs. Things can be quite hectic, particularly during the main biking season as we always have a variety of bikes on the go. In the quieter winter months, Allan tend to undertake more time-consuming projects like custom builds and restorations. The mail order side involves dispatching orders, re-ordering stock and dealing with customers in person, on the telephone or online. We sell in five languages and four different currencies, and dispatch all over the world – on any one day we have parts going to Europe, USA, Canada and Australia, as well as across the UK.

To whom does it sell? We have a strong local and growing base of motorbike enthusiasts for the workshop side of the business. This is boosted by selling mainly online through our own website although we also take orders by telephone, as well as on Amazon and EBay reaching bikers across the globe.

What is its turnover? £350k to £500k

How many employees? The two of us plus one seasonal employee.

When was it formed? We set up the business 12 years ago.

Why did you take the plunge? Allan ran his own haulage company for 24 years but was becoming increasingly fed up with it and decided he wanted to do something different. He’s always been into motorbikes and the inspiration for Customized Choppers came after a trip to Daytona Bike Week in Florida and during the process of building his own custom bike. We ran both businesses side by side for a few years which made the transition easier when Customized Choppers got to a stage we had to focus on it full-time.

What were you doing before you took the plunge? I spent nearly 20 years working in marketing. My previous job came to an end unexpectedly and since I already felt there was an opportunity to sell the parts and accessories online, I decided to pursue that instead of immediately looking for another job. Allan has always been into anything mechanical, whether it be cars, trucks or motorbikes. So between us, this experience set us up perfectly to run the business.

What was your biggest break? We’ve grown steadily over the years but our biggest expansion came once we added our MOT centre. We now have MOT customers that also use us for servicing and repairs which has contributed significantly to our growth. We started Customized Choppers at the height of interest in custom bike building thanks to TV shows like American Chopper and Biker Build-off. To an extent that marketplace has moved on and these days we undertake more modifications than complete builds. When I joined full-time I realised that going online would have huge potential for us. However the E-commerce marketplace is constantly changing. Nothing stands still and you have to keep up with those developments such as the growth of people shopping using mobile devices. That’s why we wanted support in this area and recently benefitted from Business Gateway’s DigitalBoost programme. This allowed us to refresh our website in order to enhance and improve our online presence. As we can ship to any country in the world, we need to make sure people can find us through search engines and once they visit our website we wanted it to be easy to navigate, modern and informative. Making these changes will lead to additional sales and will help us to further expand.

What was your worst moment? As one of the earlier adopters of selling parts and accessories online we enjoyed strong growth for the first eight years. But now, the online marketplace is increasingly competitive and staying ahead of the game can be a real challenge. However we work hard to do so and always keep in mind that growing profit and not turnover is the main goal.

What do you most enjoy about running the business? Working for yourself is ultimately the most satisfying experience. It was great when the kids were younger since I could work from home if necessary and I enjoy the flexibility and challenge.

What do you least enjoy? The downside is you are on call 24/7 - we aim to respond to all emails within 24 hours, 7 days a week – and we tend to take holidays when Royal Mail does.

What is your biggest bugbear? Faster broadband would be a welcome addition. Although Haddington has had fibre broadband for the last three years, unfortunately it hasn’t made it as far as our exchange yet.

What are your ambitions for the firm? To continue building a solid, multi-strand business both online and on premise.

What are your five top priorities?

To provide a local, helpful and friendly workshop service
Consolidate our online presence in the multiple marketplaces we sell on
Focus on our niche USP of selling affordable parts to customise your motorbike – we don’t aim to be the biggest, just one of the best
Work closely with our software partner Seller Dynamics based in Stirling to maximise the e-commerce opportunity
Continue creating cool looking motorbikes

What single thing would most help? Being in a position to take advantage of opportunities created by technology. For example, we’ve recently implemented a new cloud-based MOT booking system. This texts customers four weeks before their MOT is due and allows them to book online or contact us directly. Using technology like this allows us to provide a fast, modern and convenient booking system for our customers, reminds them that their MOT is due shortly while at the same time encouraging them to return to Customized Choppers for this.

Find out how Business Gateway East Lothian can help your business by visiting their local page or calling 01620 807 402.

Outwith this area? Find your local Business Gateway office or call 0300 013 4753

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