From selling new bicycles during the lockdown from their garden to a shiny new showroom in West London: an Italian family has taken an unconventional route to business success.
From a young age, Andrea always loved cycling. He would use his own Legnano bicycle to get around grey and foggy Milan as well as his uncle’s bicycle, which was too big for him, to move between Sanremo beaches during the summer. For him bicycles always meant freedom at his doorstep.
In 2020, COVID-19 hit the UK and Andrea was confined at home to work on a computer all day long. He often took to his Bianchi bicycle to relieve the tension of hours of Zoom calls, whilstexercising and keeping himself (and the others) safe. He would return happy and refreshed.
Sometimes his daughter Giulia and his granddaughter Allegra would go with him (Allegra on a child seat on her mum’s bicycle) and more than once they cycled to Richmond Park to see the deers, Allegra’s favourite.
On a crispy day back in April, when Andrea came home after his cycling and announced “I want to make everyone as happy as I feel when I ride my bike, let’s import Italian bicycles in the UK”, the whole family smiled and thought that it was an idea which sounded ‘molto bene’.
Andrea remembers him and his family sitting around the kitchen table, considering if this idea could be brought to life. He recalls looking into it and realising that there was a gap in the UK market for reasonably priced high quality bicycles.On one hand there were the famous and expensive brands, on the other hand the big chains where, often, personal touch and bike quality were not the main strength.
He had contacts with the family in Italy who owns Ganna, an iconic and historic Italian bicycle brand with a wonderful heritage that has been around for more than 100 years; Andrea explained his idea to them and they all decided it would be a perfect time to start working together.
Andrea Messa and his family set up MessaCycles, a new venture which started importing and selling Ganna bicycles, driven by their enthusiasm for a healthy life and their love for the environment.
For the first three months, the family did not even have a shop and were – literally – selling bicycles from their own back garden. They spread the word among friends and did some leaflet drops in the area – and people started calling them.
“People would come and have a coffee with us in the garden while looking at the bicycles and discussing their preferences,” said Andrea. “It started going well and we realised we needed to look around for a proper place.”
After asking for advice from the leader of the Ealing Council, Julian Bell, Andrea called British Land and St George Real Estate. Eventually, the family were able to find a small shop unit at Dickens Yard to move into.
Three months later, a bigger unit became available: “It is more of a showroom than a shop,” he explained. “It is a very welcoming space which allows people to take their time to look around and try our bicycles. We always encourage our customers to take a seat and discuss with us what they need.”
“Our approach started off very personal at our home and, although now we have a shop, it has remained the same. People are even coming back on their new bicycles to see us, telling us how happy they are.”
Andrea sees this personal touch as the key approach for future business – and the way that local shops will come out of the pandemic stronger and more valued.
“For a few years now – he says – I have been telling my clients that we are moving towards a time when we will all be thinking and using more services at a local level, choosing small businesses where you can speak to the owner, get a customised service and a personal touch. After all, this is how it used to be some time ago. Obviously, I’m not saying to go back entirely to how we were, but I strongly believe in “a new way of the old way” – I call it ‘back to the future’.
This is particularly important with bicycles. When you think about it, you don’t buy many bicycles in your lifetime. In fact, most of us change cars more often than bicycles.
“Choosing your bicycle is an important moment and you want someone to give you the right advice and the right product.I think the COVID-19 has made people think even more about looking local first.”
“One of the most frequent questions people ask me is about the risk of opening a new business in a pandemic emergency. For some reason, our family is not scared of difficulty and, both in business and life,there is something very simple we learned,which we always stick to: any problem, crisis or difficult situation is an invitation to find new ways to succeed or do something better.
“COVID-19 presented different problems for people other than the immediate health issues. There were two key things that we could help with: Firstly, any journey from A to B became something you had to think about in a different way. Bicycles have a natural “social distancing built in”. What better way for healthy commuting in such an environment as that of a pandemic? You can go almost anywhere on a bicycle, if you are determined enough. Secondly andevermore important, cycling is a greener way of moving from one place to another – it is environmentally friendly.”
“We position ourselves as MessaCycles – Italian Bicycles with Personality, with models to suit everyone’s taste, as all the bikes come with their own distinct details.
“Our bicycles all come with a two-year warranty and we invite our customers to come back two/three months later for a free overall check-up. We also service bicycles, sell a range of cycle accessories and apparel and import new lines of Italian leisure clothing.
“Our main goal is to build a brand which stands for Italian excellence in bicycles. MessaCycles’ mission is to offer products that are distinctive and affordable, whilst retaining the personal touch that people recognise as one of our most valued strengths.”