Take a walk past Andy Panks’ shop – AP Cycles and you’re struck by the very cool red and black bike logo – bold striking colours and a bit edgy.
I like your logo, who did it, I asked him as I walked past one day. It must have cost you a fortune?
“My son, he’s nine.”
With an answer like that, I just had to find out more, so here’s the story of how Andy got back on his bike and set up his new business – with no loans, plenty of hard work, and the support of friends, family, former customers, and of course the businesses of Stafford Street.
Pressed for time?
Here’s how Andy did it in a nutshell.
1. My son designed my logo
2. I refurbished my shop using recycled and reclaimed things
3. People in the street rallied round and my customers came back
4. I did it without having to take any loans
5. It’s been a fantastic first year
When Andy Panks lost his job as a bike engineer it looked like the wheels were about to fall off.
Pushing 40 he’d spent nearly 25 years working at Specialised Cycles on Connaught Road, which is between Earlham Road and Dereham Road, in Norwich on what is the edge of the city’s so-called Golden Triangle.
Yet the shop closed its doors last year – the owner putting a sign in the window in which he blamed the ramped-up competition caused by the big chain bike shops such as Evans and Cycle Republic opening in the city centre.
But though stunned at what had happened, Andy wasn’t about to give up – in fact he had his eye on an empty shop around the corner which used to be Mr Roy’s hairdressers.
And that was when AP Cycles was born.
The new shop opened in July and Andy is smiling again.
It wasn’t easy though, the landlord took a bit of persuading not to turn it into a beauty salon, but finally relented in the wake of Andy’s persistence – and everyone said Andy needed red coffee maker to put in it!
Andy was mulling over his future over a pint at the nearby Alexander Pub when he got the call to say the lease was his, and a couple of months later the shop opened on July 29 at 7.27am – the date and time imprinted on Andy’s mind.
“After 25 years of working with Specialised Cycles, I’d built up a considerable business and it was also the case that I wanted to stay in this area,” he says.
“The whole shop is completely recycled. The counter is my old double bed, the work bench is recycled fence posts.
“I’m old school – if I can make it, I will!”
As well as items he made himself, Andy’s also reclaimed other bits of equipment, and the shop also has some of the old furniture from the days of Mr Roy’s including a hairdressing chair, some stools and a sink.
“Some people call it the bike salon!” he says. “It’s a perfect example of how you can set a business up without spending any money – I’ve set it up without any debts or loans.”
So what about the logo?
“I was trying to work out what I was going to call the shop and I had to get a logo,” he says. “I always used to sign my Christmas cards with my signature ‘AP’ and my little boy Leo was on his X-Box and asked me what I was doing – and he takes the pen and draws circles at either end and says ‘there you go dad. It’s a bike’.”
From that concept came a worked-up logo. With the help of his sister, Jo, Andy downloaded some software to help turn the idea into a logo and then contacted the owners of nearby Anglia Vinyl Art to help design the shop sign.
“Leo has got a very good eye for things, but is probably more technology minded in terms of computers and X-Boxes. But he has got better handwriting than I have!
“I think it’s because he sees things clearly from a kid’s point of view. As an adult, you just try and make it over complicated, but to him it was just obvious. People asked if I was going to smooth the edges out, but I like it as it is, because that’s what the shop is like.”
Andy’s clear that in the age of the internet, he’s not trying to compete with the online retailers or the cycling big boys on price.
He’s a service and repairs specialist with some accessories for sale in store, and very often customer’s come to him after they’ve bought elsewhere.
“From a customer’s point of view if you can save money by buying online you are going to do that,” he says. “The way I have set things up is rather than run away from that fact, what I’ve done is acknowledge it.”
And it seems to be paying off.
“From what I thought was going to be one of the worst times of my life, has been one of the best things that could have happened to me,” he says. “I’ve got customers coming in from all over the place – it’s been fantastic!
“The thing about Stafford Street – having worked around the corner in Connaught Road, Stafford Street has continuous life – it’s like a world away.
“I don’t many streets like this with two pubs, a chip shop – I can’t think of many other streets that’s got such a vibrant mix of independent businesses.
“That’s why it’s worked out for me.”