20 years of Silverfish: Race Face, diversification …and zombies

Started in a spare bedroom or a garage, depending on which rumour you believe, 1999 saw the birth of Silverfish. 20 years on and the distribution business, founded by Darren and Sarah Mabbott, is now a multi-national operation with over 50 staff across sites in Cornwall, South Wales and Germany. Co-founder Darren Mabbott fills us in on the development of the business…

SILVERFISH HAS LONG BEEN SEEN AS A BIT QUIRKY WITH YOUR ZOMBIE FIXATION AND REPUTATION AS AN MTB-FOCUSED BUSINESS. IS THAT FAIR?

Well, we do play by different rules in the South West and we’ve always been in this to have some fun along the way. And yes, we started the operation with a small handful of cool Canadian MTB brands but we’ve never seen that as a limitation – whilst our heritage is mountain biking, our speciality is managing premium brands from across the cycling spectrum but we are careful about compatibility and choosy who we work with.

WE HAVE SEEN SILVERFISH GROW IN SCALE AND PROFILE QUITE RAPIDLY IN THE PAST FEW YEARS, WHAT HAS BEEN BEHIND THAT GROWTH?

About five years ago, after a successful period of expansion and after we’d moved to our third location to give us more space, Sarah and I took the decision to bring in a number of experienced managers to create a structure best suited to take the business to the next-level. At the same time we realigned the Silverfish brand strategy – deliberately rationalising and focusing on premium, exclusive, long-term relationships. That approach has reaped rewards in terms of being able to offer great service to our core brands as well as the amazing new brands that have recently come on board, including FOX, Michelin, 100%, Ride Concepts and Birzman. We are fortunate that with such great brands on the roster and what we think is a clear offering and position in the market place we attract interest from great brands.

WHAT HAVE BEEN THE MAIN CHALLENGES ALONG THE WAY?

As well as the issues of coping with scaling up a fast growing business, like most of the UK bike industry we’ve had to navigate some tricky tests such as foot and mouth, the financial crisis, wild exchange rate fluctuations, Brexit uncertainty and the seismic changes in consumer buying habits and the impact this is having on the high street and our IBD partners.

However, we feel we have built a resilient business with an enviable portfolio with strong brand and customer relationships. At the same time, we have made the considered decision to pursue some logical diversification; looking after European territories (Germany, Austria and Benelux) with Yeti Cycles; entering suspension servicing with the FOX Service Centre and the motocross sector through 100%.

Of course the past twenty years has also seen a relentless shift towards digital communications and the rise of e-Commerce, which have created many new challenges. Rather than fighting these, we have sought to embrace them, upgrading our B2B website, investing heavily in digital marketing, especially social media, to ensure we own the conversation with the end-consumer on behalf of our brands, delivering quality and consistency of communication and driving footfall towards our retailers.

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CHANGE IN THE INDUSTRY IN THE 20 YEARS SINCE SILVERFISH WAS FOUNDED?

It has got to be the rise of online shopping and the move towards just-in-time purchasing resulting in reduced stock holding by dealers. These completely change the risk profile and working capital requirements of the business as we hold greater levels of inventory for longer with less visibility of stock turn and market demand, alongside the fact that our pre-order schedule with our own suppliers is being brought forward more and more to meet busy manufacturing schedules… makes things ‘interesting’.

AND CAN YOU PICK THE BIGGEST  MILESTONE IN THE LIFETIME OF SILVERFISH?

Without doubt, convincing Race Face to come on board as the first Silverfish brand which opened the door to many others and is still a partner to this day.

WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR 2020 AND BEYOND?

After two decades and thanks to amazing dealer support, great staff and some of the highest profile and performing brands in the bike industry we are proud of what Silverfish has become and the story doesn’t end here.

2019 is going to be hard to top with a fair bit of celebrating our anniversary with our staff, brand partners and customers but our focus currently is ensuring we can deliver industry leading customer service levels and future proof our ability to deliver on this support going forward. We all recognise the sector is changing rapidly and we need to be able to adapt and support the retailer of the future as well as now as we all cope with change.

We have already made so me big strides to strengthen our sales team. At the same time, we have expanded our IS team and seen a considerable increase in the use of Live Chat as a channel for quick, efficient response to customer queries. The n ext step will be to push the use of technology a bit further and improve what we can offer in terms of delivery and efficiency to IBDs.

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