From maintenance to repairs and customisation, there isn’t much that Roman Magula and his team at London Green Cycles don’t know about cargo bikes. These are bikes with additional capacity to carry everything from supplies to groceries and even kids. What Roman and the team didn’t know was how the emergence and progress of COVID-19 was going to affect their business.
“Uncertainty was a big challenge,” says Roman. “For the first two weeks after lockdown was announced, we shut the business completely. When we reopened, some of our staff decided they didn’t feel safe enough to come back, which made planning difficult. At first, there were just two of us in the workshop, with people working remotely, but when you’re in a situation where you have staff theoretically available, but afraid, it makes it hard to meet changes in demand.”
In a sense, he says, it showed that his employees really are the backbone of the business. “Many of the decisions we needed to make were based on whether we had the support of our employees – the decisions really were in their hands.”
Now customers are more open-minded… which I think will allow businesses to change things for the better.Roman Magula, Owner, London Green Cycles
Unlike many businesses, demand remained fairly steady, with the lead time required for repairs and customisation providing some breathing space for the business in the early days. “The time between an order and delivery meant that the workshop remained busy managing the backlog we had from pre-pandemic,” says Roman.
“Although customer enquiries went quiet in the beginning of lockdown, with people having more time at home to do their research, the volume of enquiries quickly grew. More and more people realised that a cargo bike could offer them and their family a convenient and more efficient form of transport.”
There was also a change in the nature of enquiries that London Green Cycles received. Whilst businesses delayed decisions awaiting a return to normal, individuals and sole traders began to investigate whether a cargo bike would work for them. At the same time, Roman was confident that the business market would resurface once the environment returned to a more normal footing, which gave him the confidence to plan for a brighter future. “I think both cycling and the demand for cargo bikes will increase,” he says. “People feel less safe using public transport and the roads are busier, so based on convenience alone, cycling is a great option.”
We were forced to look at things differently,Roman Magula, Owner, London Green Cycles
Change for the better
That belief provided the encouragement Roman needed to review and adapt the business’ operations as the UK emerged from lockdown and reopening the business more broadly became possible. “We were forced to look at things differently,” he says. “As soon as we were allowed to bring customers back in, we had to adapt the physical space and offer an appointment only service. That has its pros and cons. It certainly allows us to provide a better, more focused service, but it limits the number of people we can serve.”
Roman believes the experience of customers and businesses through the pandemic will allow business owners the scope to make changes in a way that they would have shied away from previously. “We would have been concerned about how the customer would react if we considered doing something against expectations,” he explains. “Now customers are more open-minded and understanding and accommodating of change – they’re keen to support businesses and are perhaps less focused on things being done in the way they always have – which I think will allow businesses to change things for the better.”