AFTER starting his first 99 Bikes shop at Milton in 2007 with just three employees, Matt Turner has increased his business to seven outlets in Queensland and 53 employees, turning over $10 million in the process during FY11.

Matt Turner (pictured) may have rolled his bicycle sales business with financial backing from his father and Flight Centre founder Graham ‘Skroo’ Turner – but where he goes now is up to him.

“Before I started the business I was working as a physiotherapist and looking for a challenge. I knew my parents would be happy to fund a business venture so I started looking at businesses to do with sport or physio,” he says.

“I was into cycling at the time, so I decided to open a bike shop. I put three months of planning in, but didn’t really know what I was doing, so I found a small shop in Milton that was 180 square metres and hired two people that knew the bike industry and learned from them.

“We had some luck at the start that helped us do well, a couple of the products we bought in sold really well and we stumbled across some branded and imported bikes that were really well priced and that helped us get off to a good start.”

The 29-year-old came up with the name 99 Bikes because it ‘ticked all the boxes’.

“Before I started the business I began reading marketing books and researching online websites and felt that the name 99 Bikes fit all the categories – it was unique, recognisable, we could easily purchase the website and it was short and sharp, plus nine is my favourite number.”

Currently planning for interstate expansion targeting locations in Sydney and Melbourne, Turner has plans for 50 stores and an annual turnover of $120 million within the next 10 years.

“In February of this year, we employed managers in Sydney and Melbourne, found sites and completed the store fit-outs. The two managers have been learning the ropes in Queensland for the past three months and we’re aiming to have these stores open in September,” he says.

“We’re excited about the five to 10 year expansion – we’re always growing, trying to improve and as far as our investors are concerned, they don’t want to have a business with only 10 shops because it’s not a scale that interests them.

“So we’re trying to get to a place where we can be a national brand – we’ve got a bit of work to do. Currently we’re part of Flight Centre Ltd and there aren’t any plans to float.”

Turner is also working on increasing the company’s online capabilities.

“We were online two years ago with a website that was off-the-shelf and straight into our point-of-sale system. It was nice and easy, but we had no control over how it looked or worked so it soon became more effort than it was worth,” he says.

“Over the last year we’ve developed a new website that’s in use and we’re planning for it to be transactional within weeks.”

After importing competitively priced bikes for the shops two years ago, Turner is now employing the same strategy.

“We’ve just unloaded our first container of six popular types of bikes that are cheaper than anything else in the store. It’s a different product offering – a well known brand we’re selling on price compared to some of our other brands that may sell on quality or reputation,” he says.

“We think the bikes will go really well online and in store and now with the scale of having 11 stores by October, we can get great prices and do four containers. Some of our shops also have a lot of storage room and we plan on taking advantage of that.”

The company’s staff are employed with an incentive program that Turner admits doesn’t suit everyone.

“We’re an incentive-based company so every sales person is on the same base wage incentive structure and placed on a chart that monitors their performance. It’s a monthly based system that’s reportable to the minute and the aim is that staff try and move up the ladder and their wage relates directly to that,” he says.

“Some people love working with this system because it’s transparent and they can see what their earning potential is, but others get competitive and start working against their colleagues.

“It’s a unique system that I think is part of what makes us successful – we don’t want to be the place everybody wants to work, we want to be the place where the people that work here enjoy their job.”

Although he acknowledges a raft of challenges, Turner says the biggest is growth.

“Our biggest challenge is in our growth and having the right people ready to step up and be successful leaders within the business because we’re expanding into lots of different locations and people have to be able to work efficiently and independently,” he says.

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