Ae7 Owner Rob Gray
Why am I writing this? Two reasons, firstly I need something to write for the blog and secondly I’m writing this as a way to answer some of the questions I’ve had from people since taking Ae7 online.
I have been asked many times now why I closed the shop at Ae Forest and the simple answer is Ae wasn’t busy enough to run the business model I wanted to use there. Could I have changed the model to suit? Yes I could, however, it would have stopped me going down other avenues I wanted to with the business. It was, at the end of the day, purely a business decision and although everyone associated with Ae worked extremely hard over the years, the place suffered primarily from a lack of funding for trail development. I don’t blame anyone for this although a lot of people can and do jump on top of the Forestry Commission Scotland. Truth is though, what they built with the 7stanes project is an amazing group of trail centres that hundreds of thousands of people use every year and love.
Do I think the Forestry Commission spend too much money on one centre to the detriment of the others? Absolutely! Glentress is the busiest trail centre in the UK, it’s packed with riders and visitors day in day out and biking at weekends can be like riding down a city high street there’s so many people. It’s a phenomenal success, maybe not everyone’s cup of tea however as a trail centre model it’s hard to beat. The money spent there by the Forestry Commission Scotland has been highlighted in many other mediums and yes it was a ridiculous amount of cash. Everyone seems to make a buck when the government is paying out for services and I have witnessed that happening first hand.
For years the trails at Ae suffered bad press in the magazines and MBUK really had no idea the impact one writer had when they penned the story in 2008 slating Ae. This was a couple of pages in a bike mag and yes we live in a free country so everyone is entitled to their opinion, however, some of the words used were very harsh and this had a direct impact on the trail centre and the business. I just wish that sometimes the editors would take a look at what is written first before they print a story that can cause so much potential damage to people’s livelihood, particularly when someone in their sales department then phones you up and asks if you want to take out advertising. You can guess the response to that request! It wasn’t all one magazine, sure the trails needed work, no one is denying that at all, however to give such a one sided opinion in such a bad way was infuriating at a time we were just getting started out there. Between the mag write ups, forums, trail diversions and a history of not being brilliant Ae was always going to be a challenge and it took almost two years and a lot of work to make the place semi successful. The downhill was the saving grace initially and Uplift Scotland and various competitions kept Ae visitors coming through the more difficult times of the year.
No matter what we did as a business, what competitions we supported, what special offers we put on, what stock we had in store, it was obvious very early on that people came to Ae for one reason only and that was the trails. If these weren’t good enough the shop suffered, the café suffered and people stayed away. We started our own trail building volunteer group and the work these guys and girls did (often in atrocious weather!) kick started a serious of improvements at Ae. Even the volunteers only lasted a short time though as FCS regulations came in and put a dampener on the show.
I have a great deal of time for the Forestry Commission and what they have done. Many of the staff I came across were brilliant, one or two were obstructive and seemed to regard recreation as a chore that was not what the Forestry Commission are about. I’m not in the business of airing dirty laundry in public and won’t name individuals however there should have been a lot more happening at Ae if it was to become the success that Forestry Commission Scotland said they wanted it to be. I’m not naïve and improvements need a budget to back them, however there was and always has been a budget and that unfortunately hasn’t always been spread evenly. I don’t blame anyone for this, if one part of my business was flourishing and could grow with more investment, the areas that were slowing it down would be cut.
At the end of the day there were too many factors that we had no control over that directly affected the business at Ae Forest. In November 2010 we launched the new Ae7 online website and it was a big investment for us. We received a lot of help from Scottish Enterprise and a host of individuals with experience and knowledge of e commerce. After a lot of hard work the sales started to come in and business grew to a point where I made the decision that to really make a go of it, the bricks and mortar had to go. This was in February 2012 and that single decision was the best one I’ve made so far in business. It was a very difficult one to decide and I fought it off for a long time. I had staff to consider and I’d put 4 years of my life into Ae, however, at the end of the day I couldn’t continue to support the business through the winter months and online was where I could see a brighter future so something had to give.
Nine months later as a business we are in a much stronger position. Our new warehouse & distribution centre in central Scotland is growing and we’re working much more closely with our main suppliers. Ae7 is going from strength to strength and we’re now able to get our stock to our customers very quickly. We have almost all of our website items in stock (some of the bikes being the exception) so we can get orders processed much quicker than we used to from the shop and the feedback from customers has been nothing short of phenomenal.
As for Ae Forest, it wasn’t all doom and gloom, far from it! It’s still a special place and there was a great buzz about the centre at times. Our sponsored downhill riders were a huge success, gracing many a podium. Local rider Frazer McCubbing won both the Scottish & British Champs and now rides for Lapierre. World Champions Gee Atherton, Steve Peat, Nico Vouilloz and many other great riders rode the trails, drunk the coffee in the café & hung out in the shop chatting to our customers. The Trail Demons were a great bunch of people who I will always have a lot of time for. Tally and the Uplift Scotland crew continue to push the downhill scene and all guys & girls who worked at Ae over the years were a pleasure to work with. Let’s not forget the customers either, the regulars who always came to Ae to buy their gear, you guys made Ae what it is and many of you now shop online with Ae7, for that I thank you lots!
I genuinely hope that Ae Forest can become bigger and better and that the new people taking on the centre there can make it even better in the future. Truth is though, that will only come from the Forestry Commission making a bigger commitment to the trails at Ae and perhaps allowing other activities to flourish in the area. That however is someone else’s blog!
Ae7 Scotland’s Online Bike Store is in its infancy and there is a lot more news to come from here … stay tuned!
Check out www.ae7.com … Scotland’s Online Bike Store!