“Initially, I thought the only options you had would be to either run the company or sell out and disappear, when the reality was that we could actually have external investment but still remain in the company, with majority control. I didn’t want to exit just yet and still had things I wanted to do and prove.”
Harvey Jones, Co-Founder
The story in brief
- As one of the UK’s biggest road cycling accessories retailer and a pioneer in ecommerce, Wiggle was already a phenomenal success
- Livingbridge gave the company the backing it needed to reach its potential for major expansion
- The founders, Harvey Jones and Mitch Dall, retained a majority stake following Livingbridge’s investment
- We worked with Harvey to focus on the triathlon market, strengthen Wiggle’s management team and implement an international expansion strategy
- Turnover increased almost eightfold: from £11m in 2006 to £87m in 2010/11
“Wiggle’s success was possible because, hand in hand with the founders, we built a team to make the most of the opportunity. Trailblazing throws up problems to solve without the luxury of someone to copy. What a joy to solve problems working with friends.”
Mark Advani, Livingbridge
By 2006, the company had already come a very long way from its humble beginnings in the back of a bike shop in Portsmouth. Founders Harvey and Mitch had arrived very early to online retail and had embraced the power of natural search and pay-per-click advertising from the start. This entrepreneurial vision, combined with Harvey’s innate understanding that superb service is everything in online retail, soon made Wiggle a huge hit with its customers.
But the founders knew that the business had even greater potential. They chose Livingbridge to invest in a minority stake and help Wiggle to take off.
Originally known for its cycling products, Wiggle became the largest online triathlon retailer in the UK and expanded to over 80 countries worldwide.
Building a stronger team
Harvey had the simple aim of making Wiggle the kind of retailer that he’d want to shop with himself. With this in mind he had built up a team of dedicated employees with a commitment to exceptional customer service – as well as a passion for cycling.
One thing that made Wiggle’s team so tight-knit was the company’s culture: everyone at Wiggle was encouraged to do everyone else’s job on rotation. This was great for team spirit and creating a sense of unity, but an undefined management structure was in danger of holding Wiggle back from achieving its growth ambitions.
So we helped Harvey and Mitch to assign their team to the roles that suited them best. Day one the changes were modest; a special culture needed to remain intact. Paul Bolwell was promoted to Merchandise Director and there were two important new hires - former Screwfix CEO, David Cox as part time chairman and Andreas Panteli as finance director. A structure was starting to form that we could build upon.
As Wiggle grew it needed more people with different skills and over time it built a broad and experienced executive team. Cycling fan Humphrey Cobbold joined as CEO and former Asda chairman and CEO, Andy Bond, as a chairman. There was a blend of internal promotions and fresh hires right across the business.
Setting sights overseas
We agreed that rather than broadening the product range, the company should focus exclusively upon triathlon sports and replicate the offer in other countries. We trialled pay-per-click advertising in over a dozen territories, and in less than three months were achieving close to £1m sales per month in Japan, with signs of success in many other countries.
Once the customers showed us where they were we had to figure out how to serve them properly. We worked with Wiggle to navigate the complexities of local languages, currency conversions, payment gateways, customs clearances and logistical challenges. It wasn’t all plain sailing, but by 2012 Wiggle was shipping to 80 countries from its Portsmouth warehouse. They could often ship from the UK to Perth faster than their Australian competitors could deliver products from Sydney or Melbourne.
The rapid increase in overseas sales transformed the business, growing from 2.5% of total sales in 2008 to 54% in 2011. This global success, which saw an almost eightfold increase in turnover, helped the shareholders achieve a sale worth £180m in 2011.
We remain in close contact with Harvey, who having seen his company exceed the ambitions he’d set for it, turned his focus to achieve another dream: sailing around the world for a year.
Own brand cycle product launched
Humphrey Cobbold joins as CEO
Successful realisation to another private equity firm