Posted on Friday, July 19, 2013
Such has been the rapid growth of mountain biking over the past few years that bike servicing and repair has earned itself a category all of its own. It's a gap in the market that's been growing monthly. Dirk Oerlemans saw this gap and has begun to fill it by establishing Torq Zone.
Torq Zone is not your regular local bike shop (LBS) is it? What makes it different?
Torq Zone is South Africa’s very first Concept Bicycle Workshop. Your traditional LBS focuses primarily on selling bikes, accessories and apparel. At Torq Zone our primary focus is on the repairs and maintenance of bikes as opposed to selling them. We service any bike but are geared towards and specialise in medium-to-high-value mountain bikes. When you walk into our shop, you step directly into our state-of-the-art workshop. You will very quickly realise this is something completely different.
How was the Torq Zone idea born?
Basically out of frustration. I simply got completely fed-up with substandard repairs and maintenance. The idea of a workshop orientated bike shop slowly dawned on me whilst spending endless hours on my mountain bike. I shared my ideas with some of my riding buddies and (with the help of some very good red wine), Torq Zone was conceptualised. I think some of the traditional bike shops did not adapt to the shift in the cycling industry experienced over the last couple of years. First of all, the traditional retail model is experiencing margin erosion mainly as a result of the online environment and a high cost base. Secondly, with the major shift towards mountain bikes away from road, the demand for repairs and maintenance started outgrowing the supply significantly. This resulted in overcrowded workshops and sub-standard workmanship. Somebody needed to fill this void and the traditional bike shops were slow to react.
What exactly is important at Torq Zone?
Torq Zone is run by a number of passionate mountain bikers and outdoor enthusiasts. We believe in the “perfect ride”, transparency, convenience, quality workmanship and above all, having fun in the process. To me personally improving the working conditions for bike technicians is also high on my agenda.
You mention quality often. How do you maintain quality standards with consistency?
Our model is based on what you would experience when you take your expensive SUV in for a service. We adapted it for our industry resulting in something which is quite different to what is offered by the traditional LBS. First of all we perform our standard “Free 30 Point Heath Check” on all bikes checked in for service. This allows us to detect all possible defects on the bike not known to the owner. Typically, it is these latent defects causing your perfect weekend ride to being “derailed” so to speak. Once we’ve completed the health check we make recommendations as to the work required via our electronic job card system that is e-mailed to the owner. Upon completion of the service all bikes are independently quality tested by physically riding the bike. Spinning the crank on the bike stand is not a quality check!
How do you make people aware of Torq Zone?
In this industry, word of mouth is king. Nothing speaks more than a happy client giving you the thumbs up among his mountain biking buddies. The opposite is obviously also true and we are very mindful of that. All complaints are handled by me personally. The power of social media is also utilised extensively to reach our target market. What has worked very well for us thus far is to take the workshop to the market by offering free gear setting and brake adjustments at major races and mountain bike parks. Stage races also offer massive opportunity for brand building. We received overwhelming positive feedback from our 65 Old Mutual clients whom we supported mechanically at the recently completed JoBerg2C.
How have the existing bike shops in the area reacted to Torq Zone?
We believe our model is vastly different to any other bike shop and as such we do not compete head-on with anybody in the area. In fact, as most bike shops are retail orientated and we have very little to offer in that regard, we refer our clients to our neighbours if they want to purchase apparel and accessories. Another interesting development is some of the forward thinking retail shops are now in discussions with Torq Zone to outsource their workshops to us and to assist them with new bike assembly.
Based where you are, surely it’s a bit tricky to attract clients from Joburg. Are most of your clients from Pretoria?
Yes, for now most of our clients are from Pretoria but we are seeing people from as far as Limpopo, Mpumalanga and even from Zambia, making sure to get their bikes serviced when they come to Gauteng. In order to make our shop more accessible to a wider geographical area we offer convenient shopping hours allowing clients to drop off and collect outside working hours. The shop is also very conveniently located in Doringkloof Mall, Centurion, only two minutes off the N1 highway (Botha Lane). Future plans include a collection and delivery service. In the meantime, all I can say to prospective Joburg clients is: We can speak English and we do know how to service a mountain bike on this side of the boerewors curtain!
Have you got any national franchising plans?
Globally, South Africa is quickly becoming a mountain biking Mecca, whilst locally, mountain biking is commonly known as “the new golf”. All indications are that this trend is set to continue and as a result the demand for professional repairs and maintenance will continue to grow. We cannot satisfy this demand from one location only. We do have national expansion plans for the future. However, this will only be rolled out once we have perfected the concept and established our first centre of excellence.
What element of Torq Zone gives you the most satisfaction?
I use to be a corporate junkie for many years, involved in international marketing. I know it is a cliché but I have now combined all my hobbies into a single job. I’ve been, so to speak, “jobless” ever since! Having said that, satisfaction also comes in small gestures. Positive feedback such as: “my bike has not been this smooth even on the day I bought it”, is hugely satisfying.
And what is your biggest frustration?
A lack of a proper qualification or minimum standard for bike technicians in South Africa. But we have plans for this as well.
View the TREAD article.