When former Nissan engineering manager Steve Clare took early retirement and launched his own business, Bike Dealer 4U, his plan was to turn a hobby into full time job, a venture that could keep him busy now he was out of the hustle and bustle of working full time for a global employer.
But last year, when the coronavirus pandemic struck, Steve was seriously tempted to close his business and switch to a less stressful life enjoying his well-earned retirement.
However, as he explains, it was the help he received from Joe Murray and Lisa Hesler at CDC Enterprise Agency, the organisation that manages the DBOP Covid Recovery Support Programme on behalf of Business Durham, that persuaded him his business was worth sticking with.
Steve, who is married to Karen and has a 21-year-old son, Ryan, said: “I was just starting to establish Bike Dealer 4U, which has evolved from an online portal for biking enthusiasts to a site that facilitates the buying and selling of motorbikes for both individuals and trade, when the coronavirus pandemic struck.
“As a sole trader based at home, I wasn’t entitled to any financial support and was really questioning whether it was worth continuing with the business, particularly as I’d invested so much of my own money in it.
“I was on the Business Durham website and noticed the DBOP Covid Recovery Support Programme so I registered an interest to see what it was all about.
“Luckily, I was eligible for support and Joe Murray at CDC was appointed my main contact, with Lisa Hesler also involved.
“I have to say they were brilliant – I cannot praise them enough for the help they gave me. More than anything, it was the moral support I received, the way they really encouraged me to stick with it. It was exactly what I need at the time.”
Through the programme, Joe and Lisa worked with Steve to review his website and how it could be a better asset for him. Part of that process was taking the site from the information portal set up to a marketplace for buying and selling bikes. They then helped Steve develop a marketing strategy for the business and were able to provide a £500 grant to kick-start an advertising campaign on Facebook and Google.
Joe Murray from CDC Enterprise Agency said: “As an early-stage business the impact of the pandemic was severe for Bike Dealers 4U, and Steve was struggling to see a future.
“However, we could see real potential and were delighted when he signed up for the DBOP Covid Recovery Support programme. Steve has been a joy to work with – he has taken full advantage of the advice, coaching and support available to him and has developed a strong marketing plan. I wish him the best of success with his venture.”
Today, Bike Dealer 4U is gaining real traction, attracting up to 17,000 page views per month. Steve has also been meeting with bike dealerships across the region to talk to them about his website, which is a more financially viable alternative to some of the more established national platforms available to buy and sell bikes and other vehicles.
Steve, who lives in Chester-le-Street, added: “Things are definitely going in the right direction and after working with Joe and Lisa, I feel so much better about the future.
“There is certainly a market for my website and am getting some positive feedback from dealers who are keen to work with me.
“I think they like the fact that I am passionate about biking –I’ve worked with cars all my life, when I left Nissan I wanted to try something different, but not too different, so I started going to biking events and really enjoyed it.
“I spoke to so many genuinely interesting people and really got to understand what sort of things they’d like to see from a website like mine.
“The offer I have developed is competitive and caters for everyone from biking enthusiasts keen to upgrade their bike to the big dealerships who might have upwards of 1,500 products to sell.
“My priority now is to really establish my business and, most importantly, enjoy it. It’s been such a tough 16 months or so for everyone, but it does feel like we’re on the right track and people are genuinely feeling positive about the future – me included.”
Stuart Armstrong, Business Engagement Officer for DBOP concludes: “This programme is all about giving businesses the tools, ideas and knowledge they need to build a solid marketing strategy for the future. The programme is specifically tailored towards helping small and micro businesses who have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. It’s very rewarding to see how our intervention has helped businesses develop and to hear of their optimism about the future.”
The DBOP COVID Recovery Support Programme, which is part-funded by the European Development Fund (ERDF), is managed by CDC Enterprise Agency on behalf of Business Durham and provides 12 hours of targeted, one-to-one support for micro and small businesses that are adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Durham Business Opportunities Programme is a six-year programme for SMEs running up until November 2022. It is funded through ERDF and delivered by Business Durham, the business support service for Durham County Council, helping to deliver more and better jobs and a strong competitive economy.