Behind the scenes at Merlin Cycles in Buckshaw Village
PUBLISHED: 12:00 08 December 2015 | UPDATED: 14:20 09 June 2016
Cycle store sits near the site of former Royal Ordnance Factory
How time has changed. The land that used to be the vast Royal Ordnance Factory in Chorley, where once the bouncing bombs for the Dambusters raid were filled, now holds thousands of new homes and quite a few new and newish businesses. One of the most successful is Merlin Cycles, whose brand names recall the deadly weapons once made here.
‘We wanted to give our latest bikes names that relate to this area and the special engineering skills that were and are important here,’ says Benji Haworth from the company’s marketing team. ‘The top of the range carbon bikes are called Cordite, after the bomb explosive.’
The bikes in their black, white and green livery are designed and specified in Chorley, but made nowadays in the Far East and Belgium, though some assembly and tweaking is done in the workshops in what is now known as Buckshaw Village, and various components are fitted and even made on site.
‘Some riders will buy a frame and more or less choose all the components to go on it,’ says Benji. ‘We hand-make wheels to customer request here, for people who want say a specific wheel-set, or prefer a different rim depth or width, or a different colour just because they fancy it. There’s a finite number of variations, but it’s a big finite number!’
Managing director John Moss founded the company in 1993, running it then from his spare bedroom. Since 2008 it has been in Buckshaw Village, now occupying a complex that includes warehousing for the 500 or so bikes in stock, both their own brand and others and every cycling gizmo and accessory that you can imagine.
‘It’s big because you’ve got to carry the stock now,’ says John. ‘The customer these days expects next-day service, and to get a good price deal you have to manufacture or buy in bulk.’
John was a keen cyclist who, having created a pre-internet mail order business for someone else, decided he might as well build one of his own. ‘When I started out the boom was in mountain biking, then after about ten or 15 years it started moving towards road biking thanks to the success of riders like Bradley Wiggins. Now, only about 30 per cent of our trade is in mountain bikes.’
A lot of their sales are done over the internet and trends like the revival of cycling to work and the growing popularity of triathlons and iron man events bode well for continued prosperity.
Surprisingly it’s not the Christmas period for which Merlin is gearing up currently, but the month or two following it. ‘We do have some higher-quality children’s bikes, but most of what we sell is not for kids.’
An average price for one of their adult bikes is around £1500. ‘And some run considerably higher than that,’ adds Benji, indicating a smart frame that is labelled at £3500.