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“The assumption was Wiggle Chain Reaction wasn’t going anywhere”: Ex-employee talks “shock” at retail giant’s demise, plus THAT Visma Giro helmet discussed on the road.cc Podcast

In episode 72 of the road.cc Podcast, we go behind the scenes at Wiggle CRC to find out what really went on at the beleaguered retailer over the last few gloomy months, while Jamie and Ryan dissect pro cycling’s latest controversy: ugly time trial helmets

While the two topics discussed on a bumper episode 72 of the road.cc Podcast are both high on the cycling world’s list of talking points this week, they notably sit at opposite ends of the seriousness spectrum (unless you take your time trial helmet debates very seriously, of course).

In part one, George and Ryan are joined by a former Wiggle Chain Reaction Cycles employee, one of the 450-odd staff members laid off as part of the online retailer’s demise and recent rumoured purchase by Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group, who discussed what life was like behind the scenes at the beleaguered brand as Wiggle CRC lurched from crisis to crisis in recent months following the collapse of its parent company.

The ex-employee also chats about the contrast between Wiggle’s grand expansion plans and the struggling state of the bike industry, the “shock” of the company’s collapse (amid hopes that it could continue on), the abrupt, “hard and fast goodbye” dished out to its staff, and the future for Wiggle’s house brands such as Vitus and dhb.

 

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Wiggle down

“Suddenly the bubble burst”: The abrupt, rapid demise of Wiggle Chain Reaction Cycles

After a rough few months (and years) for the bike industry, and one giant retailer in particular, last weekend we were greeted with the not very surprising and rather inevitable news that Wiggle Chain Reaction Cycles – or at least its brand and intellectual property – had been purchased by Frasers Group, the retail empire founded by Mike Ashley and now run by his son-in-law Michael Murray, in a deal believed to be worth less than £10m.

The news, which adds Wiggle CRC to Frasers’ growing list of purchases in recent years of struggling cycling brands such as Evans and ProBikeKit, brings an apparent end to the months of gloom and uncertainty surrounding the company, which followed the collapse of Wiggle CRC’s parent company Signa Sports United into insolvency.

Wiggle Haribo (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED/Flickr by With Associates)

> Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group reportedly buys Wiggle Chain Reaction Cycles for less than £10 million

Unfortunately, the purchase – like many of those engineered by Frasers in the past – also means that Wiggle Chain Reaction’s remaining staff, all 450 of them, have lost their jobs.

And it was in those unfortunate circumstances that we sat down with one of those staff members laid off over the past few weeks, to discuss the circumstances behind the recent sale, and its effect on Wiggle CRC’s staff, as well as the turmoil surrounding the company, and the bike industry in general, in recent months.

“Everyone was convinced, this is it, we are one of the biggest bike retailers about. We’re about to go massive in America, then it was like ‘Oh, this might not be plain sailing, this is not good’. But I don’t think anyone thought this was going to close the company,” the ex-employee, who worked for one of Wiggle CRC’s house brands, tells us of his response to the revelation that SSU’s funding commitment of £150m had been withdrawn from its own parent company last autumn, plunging Wiggle CRC into crisis and administration.

> “You have to dig in for the next three to five years”: What lies ahead for a struggling bike industry in 2024?

However, the employee – who wished to remain anonymous – also believes that it was a combination of that abrupt funding withdrawal and the broader, more long-term external factors affecting the entire bike industry that ultimately facilitated the company’s collapse.

He argues that continued internal ambition within Wiggle, such as the desire to ‘break’ America, contrasted with those external industry pressures and the effects of the pandemic bubble bursting, long before the “shock” of SSU’s combustion – but that there was an insistent belief that the brand could weather those industry storms thanks to its “agility”.

“Suddenly the bubble burst, and you’ve got a train you’ve geared up to full speed, and you’re driving it flat out, then suddenly someone tells you you’ve run out of track,” he says.

“It was chaos, and you saw everyone hitting that. And I think the £150m combined with that – even with the £150m, there’s no guarantee we would have survived. Maybe it got too big.”

Chain Reaction Cycles Belfast service area

“Don’t worry, Mike Ashley is not buying us. We’re too good, too successful”

In a wide-ranging chat, he also discusses the abruptness and “detached” nature of the company’s descent leading to Frasers’ purchase – which saw staff laid off without warning and US-based employees turning up to work to find the office locked – despite the assumption among many staff that the company could survive as a going concern amid the multiple waves of job cuts carried out by the administrators.

“You’ve got a camaraderie-based company, and then things change,” he says of the “brutally handled” and “random” job cuts.

“And goodbye is hard and fast. One day, before the end, friends got an email, telling them there was a meeting. They got up, halfway through work, went to the meeting and it was like ‘I’m sorry, this is the end of the road, goodbye’.

“And since we were in administration, all the contracts for minimum notice were gone. So they went from ‘I have to get this report in by one o’clock’ to ‘sorry’. And fifteen minutes later they’re sitting in a car in the carpark going ‘what has just happened?’”

> Wiggle making “considerable trading profit” with administrators “optimistic” over sale of business

The ex-staff member even tells us that they were constantly being assured that the initial redundancies were a “good thing” for the company and its remaining staff, and would help facilitate a quick sale.

“Everybody believed this was going to work,” he says. “We were too successful, we make too much money, we were too good at this. It’s not like there was another competitor in the same market in the UK. You might be one of the unlucky ones who got cut, but the assumption was: Wiggle Chain Reaction wasn’t going anywhere.”

He also claimed that staff were told that the company was likely to be sold to a private equity firm, and that management even told staff “Don’t worry, Mike Ashley is not buying us”.

“Even when we closed, there was no talk about Frasers Group, about Mike Ashley,” he says. “We found out through media outlets, which is wild.”

Vitus Venon EVO-RS Force AXS All-Road

> It's our Bike of the Year but should you buy the Vitus Venon EVO-RS Force AXS All-Road bike at 30% discount?

Frasers’ purchase, the ex-employee says, also means that Wiggle CRC’s in-house brands, such as the manufacturer of our bike of the year, Vitus, are now “gone”.

“Right until the very end, there was the assumption someone was going to buy us. Because you can run a brand with ten people. And the idea that someone would surely love Vitus, NukeProof, dhb, one of these, surely someone would want to keep a few humans and those brands. But the fact everyone was let go means that those brands are gone.”

2024 Jonas Vingegaard Tirreno-Adriatico TT helmet (@vismaleaseabike on X)

> Is Jonas Vingegaard’s latest time trial helmet one step too far?

Meanwhile, in an altogether more frivolous part two, Ryan and Jamie sit down to discuss the topic that’s dominated the agenda at Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico this week: Visma-Lease a Bike’s bonkers new Giro Aerohead time trial helmets (oh, and Bahrain-Victorious’ fire service-style helmets, too).

We ask the important questions: Has helmet design finally jumped the shark? Do these increasingly extravagant air-cheating shapes actually make a difference to a rider’s time trial results? Will the UCI ban Giro’s bold new look, after promising to review its design rules? And, finally, was it designed by a five-year-old?

The road.cc Podcast is available on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Amazon Music, and if you have an Alexa you can just tell it to play the road.cc Podcast. It’s also embedded further up the page, so you can just press play.

At the time of broadcast, our listeners can also get a free Hammerhead Heart Rate Monitor with the purchase of a Hammerhead Karoo 2. Visit hammerhead.io right now and use promo code ROADCC at checkout to get yours.

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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5 comments

Avatar
Ed302 | 4 months ago
0 likes

Using Evri as their courier wouldn't have helped. I stopped using Wiggle due to too many lost/delayed parcels. 

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mark1a | 4 months ago
1 like

A great interview, thanks. All the best to everyone formerly at WiggleCRC. 

Avatar
BBB | 4 months ago
0 likes

Anyone planning to close their Wiggle/CR account?

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to BBB | 4 months ago
0 likes
BBB wrote:

Anyone planning to close their Wiggle/CR account?

Sorry, I'm too much of a bargain hunter and it costs me nothing to keep around an unused account if they don't have anything that I want. (I did check on there last week for KMC 11-speed chains but they had nothing in stock)

Avatar
WiggleCRC4ever | 4 months ago
4 likes

It's a shame that nobody yet sees that this whole thing with WiggleCRC callaps is chain of events as well as dodgy corrupt deals. CEO of WiggleCRC recently took £5m bonus, then there was a huge failure of so called "End Game" project that seen Wiggle & CRC websites go back by 20 years in functionality, anmoyed customers had walked away from the business that just made their shopping experience more difficult and that's not just shopping but rest of the service like returns, warranty and CS contacts. There was no intention of selling business as a going concers and their plan was always to close it and make as much money for creditors as possible, all this info is on companies house and you can read it on their statements under the purpose of administration section

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