Albion Cycles is attempting to future proof its business.

Albion Cycles is attempting to future proof its business.

Frank Conceicao knows a thing or two about competing at the highest level. An elite competitive cyclist and mechanic for the Australian cycling team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada, Conceicao has had to excel in scores of pressure-cooker situations on the sporting arena.

As owner of Albion Cycles, an iconic bike shop in Sydney's eastern suburbs, Conceicao has found retail business every bit as challenging. In recent months he has presided over a complete transformation of his business model, which he hopes will future-proof it against the devastating impact of the internet.

Much of Sydney's cycling fraternity hopes so too because bike shops are closing everywhere. Not only that, Conceicao is one of the sport's favourite personalities and leading trainers. He personally coaches more than 100 people and runs the juniors program for the Eastern Suburbs Cycling Club.

A Portuguese immigrant who arrived in Australia in 1960, Conceicao opened his bike shop in 1979. Business hummed along in the background while he competed at the sport he loves. Then, in 1989, a cycling accident at high speed at the velodrome put him in hospital for nine weeks with injuries that would curb, if not end, his ability to race.

After stints as manager and then mechanic for the national cycling team, and a period from 1995-2000 with Triathlon Australia, Conceicao began to focus on the changes taking place in his bike retail business, first as a result of the dizzying rise in popularity of cycling in Australia, second as a result of the equally dizzying impact of the internet.

"Cycling was not that big in Australia until the 1990s," says Conceicao. "Then it was like soccer, with people getting a lot more exposure to the sport through media coverage of international events. You could watch the Tour de France live on TV."

Bike shops started appearing all over the place. Many of them soon combusted because, according to Conceicao, the owners didn't really know anything about the sport and were just trying to cash in on its popularity.

Then came e-commerce.

Conceicao: "We became a showroom for the internet. A person would thumb through a cycling magazine and see something he liked. Then he'd come into my shop and try it out. Then he'd go away and buy it a bit cheaper on the internet."

The business was hostage to brands that supplied bikes to retailers for a higher price than they were selling the same product at retail on the internet. One important brand did not, and that happened to be one of the world's biggest - Trek - which distributes its products only through independent bike stores.

A close relationship with Trek was to be one of the cornerstones of Albion Cycles' business transformation in the second half of 2013. Conceicao simply stopped selling any other brand, meaning that Albion now only stocked a brand that was not exposed to internet cannibalisation. “Trek supplied not only the bikes but the accessories and everything else as well. So it really simplified my business”, says Conceicao. “I used to sell four brands and had 10 supplier accounts. Now I only have one.”

In October the store underwent a massive and frenetic renovation that modernised its look and feel in time for the all-important Christmas selling season. The change to a single brand along with the store renovation seemed to be an instant hit. “We had a great Christmas season,” says Conceicao.

In a narrow work-room attached to the rear of the gleaming new store, three technicians are busy carrying out repair work on sick bicycles.

A large room upstairs has been converted into a state-of-the-art training studio. Conceicao gets up at 4:30 every morning without fail and if he isn't coaching in nearby Centennial Park he is holding his first training sessions in the studio by 5:30. Cyclists, some hooked up to machines that simulate altitudes of more than 3000 metres, pedal furiously while a digital display at the front of the room spits out data on their heart rates, revolutions per minute, speed and other metrics.

These are not all elite cyclists. Conceicao is nothing if not democratic when it comes to training and many of his pupils are ordinary people just trying to get fit and push their athletic achievement boundaries.

It's his scores of pupils in the cycling fraternity are one of the things that makes him determined to keep going and beat the internet. “If I close my doors tomorrow I am going to let a lot of people down” he says.

“I love what I do. No use being in it just for the money. If you don't love what you do in business you will not succeed.”

Yesterday, at 10:30 on a weekday morning in mid-January when many retail businesses are at their quietest, Albion Cycles was abuzz with customers. Unlike a bike race, the long journey towards a sustainable business model never really ends in retailing. But if anyone has the determination to reach the finish line it's Frank Conceicao. And he has a lot of people pulling for him.