From selling bikes during the lockdown from their garden, to a shiny new showroom in central Ealing, the Messa family has taken an unconventional route to business success.
And it has provided them with the belief that offering a personal touch could lead to ‘shopping local’ becoming an established trend as the country looks forward to a post-COVID world.
Last summer, after some inspiration during the first coronavirus lockdown, Andrea Messa and his family set up MessaCycles, a venture importing and selling new Italian bicycles.
For the first three months, they did not even have a shop and were – literally – selling bikes from the Messa family home’s garage in Ealing. They spread the word among friends and did a leaflet drop in the area – and people started calling them up.
“People would come and have a coffee with us in the garden while looking at the bikes and discussing what they needed,” said Andrea. “It started going so well that we realised we needed to look around for a proper place.”
After approaching the leader of Ealing Council for advice, Julian Bell, Andrea spoke to Ealing Broadway Shopping Centre and St George Real Estate and he was able to find a small shop unit at Dickens Yard to move into.
After three months, a new roomier unit became available and the Messa family snapped it up: “It is more of a showroom than a shop,” Andrea said. “It is a very welcoming space which allows people to take their time to look around and try our bikes – they can also take a seat and discuss with us what they need.
“Our approach started off very personal at our home and, although we have now moved here, our approach has remained the same. We want you to leave with a smile on your face. People are coming back to see us on their bikes out the front of the shop to tell us how happy they are.”
Shopping local: ‘Back to the future’
He sees this personal touch as the way of the future – and the way that local shops will come out of the pandemic stronger and more valued.
Andrea, whose ‘day job’ is a marketing and advertising consultant, with 35 years’ experience, said: “I’ve been telling my clients for a few years now that we are moving towards a time when we will all be thinking more local, and using more services at a local level, away from the big chains to small businesses where you can speak to the owner and get a customised service and a personal touch. It used to be like that some time ago, of course, and I’m not talking about going back entirely to the way we were; but a new way of the old way – I call it ‘back to the future’.
“This is particularly important with bicycles. You don’t buy many bikes in your lifetime. We change cars more often than bikes.
“Choosing your bicycle is an important moment, so you want someone to give you the right advice and the right product.
“I think the coronavirus has made people think even more about looking local first.”
‘Any problem…is an invitation’
But, even so, was it not a bit risky to start a new business in a pandemic?
“As a family, for some reason we are not scared of difficulty,” replied Andrea. “And, in business and life there is something very simple I learned which I always stick to: Any problem, any crisis, any difficult situation, is an invitation to find new ways to succeed or do something better.
“COVID-19 presented problems other than the immediate health issues, for people. There were two key things that we could help to answer: 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 bike, if you are determined enough. Secondly, cycling is a greener way of moving from one place to another – it is environmentally friendly; and that is evermore important.”
An idea born at the Messa kitchen table
But where did the idea come from in the first place?
Andrea said: “Because of the lockdown last year, I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands and, as a family, we sat around the kitchen table and discussed what we could do together – something new and different. Someone mentioned bikes and I looked into it and found there was a gap in the UK market for reasonably priced, but high quality, bicycles. On one hand there were the famous and expensive brands and on the other, the big chains where, often, the personal touch and bike quality were not the main strengths.
“We knew the family in Italy who owns Ganna Bicycles, an iconic and historic Italian brand that has been around for more than 100 years. You can find Ganna Bicycles in every city and village in Italy. They have a wonderful heritage.
“So, we started importing the bicycles and we positioned ourselves as MessaCycles – Italian Bicycles with Personality. In fact, our bicycles are each different from the other, as they all come with their own details which shape their personality.
“The 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 of the bike. We also do bike services and sell accessories and Italian leisure and cycle apparel in the store.
“Our goal is to build a brand which stands for Italian excellence in bicycles. The MessaCycles mission is to offer products that are distinctive and affordable and to retain the personal touch that people recognise as one of our most valued strengths.”