01403 878 026
01903 892 899

Skiers Lounge and Bicycle Barn

Scott Hargraves at Skiers Lounge

Published on 1st January 2021

It’s been a long, hard road back to business for Scott Hargraves. Following the closure five years ago of Edge & Wax and Bliss Bikes in Partridge Green, Scott is back fixing bikes and skis, this time from a small barn on the Knepp Estate in West Grinstead. AAH met Scott to discuss the contrasting fortunes of his dual enterprise...

When did The Skiers Lounge open? It was on Christmas Eve 2019. We were hoping to open before that, but the unit was an empty barn that we transformed into a shop with the look and feel of an alpine hut. Initially, business was slow, but word spread and customers gradually started coming in. Then in February, ski resorts started shutting down because of Covid. It hit Italy and Austria before the UK, but many of our customers were heading to Europe for the winter season, so it was impacting trade even before the lockdown. 

Did you fear the business wouldn’t survive lockdown? I thought I would need to make staff redundant. Fortunately, the furlough scheme was introduced and I could protect jobs. I only have two people working with me, Dudley Oinn, senior boot fitter and bike technician, and Sabina Debono, showroom manager. It was then that we adapted the business and opened The Bicycle Barn. I thought that if we could repair five bikes a week, it would keep us afloat. I had no idea it would turn out to be five every day! 

You’re no stranger to running ski and bike shops… I ran Edge & Wax in Partridge Green, one of the biggest independent ski shops in the country. At its peak, we had 20 staff, running Bliss Bikes at the adjacent unit and turning over several million pounds a year. When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, family commitments took my focus away from the business. I was trying to juggle too many things and the business didn’t survive. 

How did that impact you? Unfortunately, I imploded. The staff and administrators were amazing, working very hard to ensure that as many customers and suppliers as possible were taken care of. But it took me six months to recover from the experience and to feel human again. Looking back, I learned a lot from it. But for a long time, I didn't want to even look at the tools that I'd relied on for 25 years.

What did you do after Edge & Wax? I maintained my Facebook page, occasionally posting advice on equipment and maintenance for bikes and skis. I continued to service ski equipment for friends, on a small scale in my shed. I also worked for Cancer Research UK as I wanted to give something back after they helped my dad, who is fortunately still with us. They had an eBay shop bringing in a small income, but it wasn't very well structured and I used my Ecommerce experience to boost sales. There’s now a team using a photography studio and custom-built software and it’s one of the leading charity sites on eBay. During is one of the things I’m most proud of. 

Why go back into the ski business? I've been an entrepreneur since I started fixing bikes at the age of 13. However, I hadn’t been thinking seriously about going back into business until someone came to my shed and mentioned this barn on the Knepp Estate. Suddenly, the veil lifted and I was ready to try again. 

What have you done differently this time around? My time with the charity taught me how to be frugal with money. When you’re working with donated funds, every penny counts. That has impacted my approach to this business. At Edge & Wax, I tried to be all things to all people, with snowboarding, skiing, bicycles, boot fitting, servicing and a huge range of clothing and accessories. If someone wanted something we didn't stock, I would get it in. Now, I work with selected brands that we would use ourselves. At The Skiers Lounge, the focus was on doing the things that Amazon can’t. So, we specialise in ski boot fitting and servicing. People spend a lot of money buying or renting ski boots that soon become uncomfortable if not properly measured and fitted. We offer a bespoke, customised service, even making orthotic foot soles for comfort.

Presumably, you’ve had to adapt because of Covid? Like many businesses, we’ve reached a new level of adaptability. The initial intention was to focus on face-to-face trade, but when Covid-19 hit, not many people were heading to Europe’s ski resorts. So, we  transferred products online and adapted the range. With more people enjoying the great outdoors, there’s a market for scarves, face masks with extra breathability for runners, gloves and head torches. And of course, The Bicycle Barn was very busy! 

Were you surprised by the cycling boom? I have worked in the bike industry for 32 years and its popularity is cyclical, if you’ll excuse the pun. Every 10-12 years, there will be a surge in demand, then it drops off for several years. There was a boom in 2012 and when lockdown happened, I suspected it could be good for the bike trade. Nobody could have anticipated just how good it would be. It’s been jaw-dropping! In three decades, I have never seen anything like it. 

How has The Bicycle Barn benefitted from that demand? There were opportunists in the bike trade, leading to price increases for bikes. Even parts became difficult to obtain. But it was great being able to help people who needed a bike, including frontline workers riding to work or to improve their wellbeing. It was a win-win for us, as the workshop helped keep the  business afloat. 

Did you see lots of old bikes? People were bringing in cycles that have been sat in sheds for 30 years. We’ve seen Raleigh Lizards, Emmelle Cougars and original Muddy Fox bikes that are collector’s pieces! It was rewarding to get these bikes on the road again. I think a lot of people who have rediscovered a love of cycling will keep it going as a hobby. 

Is there scope to expand the cycling side of the business? That wasn't part of the plan, but considering what has happened, opportunities may arise in future. There’s also a boom in electric bikes, which are ideal in the Horsham District as it’s a beautiful area with lots of accessible climbs and bridleways. We are starting to service and repair more of them now. They are incredible! I’m an ex-professional cyclist, but with my knee injuries, I never thought I'd be able to ride like that again. When I’m going downhill on an electric bike, I’m still a 21-year-old downhill mountain bike racer in my head! 

What are your hopes for 2021? 2020 was tough. But we’re a ski shop that has survived despite having no ski season! So, we adapt and stay positive... 

Visit The Skiers Lounge and The Bicycle Barn at The Ski Barn (behind Cocoa Loco) Hillhouse Farm, Worthing Road, West Grinstead, RH13 8LG. Call: (01403) 915659