Meet the MD: Debbie Houston, Dales Cycles

Debbie's entire professional career to date has played out in her family's business, Dales Cycles in Glasgow. Having negotiated the advent of online shopping and basked in the reflective glow of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, Debbie tells us what's next and why she loves her job.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words.
As MD of an independent family business, I am pretty much involved in everything from training to growing the company, meaning that no two days are ever the same. A big part of my role is buying and as a buyer I need to constantly be up to speed on the latest trends and be aware of what the cycling market wants.  I also get to travel a lot in order to meet with different suppliers and to hear what other countries are up to in the sport which is really interesting.  

What is it the company does?
Dales Cycles is Glasgow’s oldest and largest local bike shop. We sell everything from trikes to £10,000 bikes and include a range of products to suit all levels of cyclists. We also offer a number of services including bike fitting and have the largest dedicated repair workshop in the west of Scotland. Dales also works closely with Scotland’s cycling communities and is involved with a number of cycling groups and events.

Scotland is fortunate to have some of the best road and mountain bike routes and a key focus of the business it to make cycling accessible to everyone particularly as it is also a great way to keep fit. Dales participate in the popular tax-free Cycle to Work Scheme and we were recently awarded ‘Scottish Store of the Year 2015’ for our support of the initiative by CycleScheme, the leading provider in the UK for this product.

What do you believe makes a great leader?
To me, a great leader is someone that can empower their staff and provide them with the support and tools they need to do their job and to grow in the workplace. I also think a great  leader is someone that is willing to get involved in the day-to-day activity, ensuring that they are aware of the business and operations at all times.

What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
As MD of a family business it can be difficult to separate your day-to-day running of the business with the bigger picture as you are often immersed in everything. I’ve found the Family Business Association really great at helping distinguish between the two roles, making it easier to think strategically about the future.

How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
Predictably I enjoy getting out on the bike for a leisurely cycle and find it a great way to unwind after a busy day. I also practice meditation, pass my time reading and love experimenting in the kitchen. My favourite dish to make is currently Italian meatballs with spaghetti, it’s favourite in our house.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always had a notion to be an air stewardess when I was younger. Now I prefer to be the passenger!

Any pet hates in the workplace?
I despise bad customer service and can get quite annoyed as a customer when experiencing it. In today’s customer centric market and with the growth of social media, it is so important that businesses put the customer first or risk getting it very wrong - something I constantly share amongst Dales’ staff.

Where do you see the company in five years time?
It has been a busy few years for Dales Cycles as road and mountain bike cycling becomes increasingly popular. The Commonwealth Games was fantastic for the sport in Scotland in 2014 and we are continuing to see growth off the back of this. As a business we want to continue to grow organically over the coming years.

Our business model is traditional retail bricks and mortar trading and with online becoming a big part of any retail business, we are getting ready to launch a new retail website in the next few months; online will continue to be an important channel for us over the coming years. Equally, so will our traditional retail outlets.  When buying a bike it is important that it fits properly and suits the individual’s needs. At Dales we have a highly qualified team of bike fitters who are on hand to provide this personal level of service. You don’t get this online, so it is important for our business model to be across both channels.   

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Most importantly I would encourage people to be themselves. It is also important, regardless of your sector, that you are up-to-date with the trends and what is happening in your industry. Lastly, I would encourage that people try and have some balance in their life.

Where did you start your career?
At Dales Cycles, 30 years ago!

Give us a brief timeline of your career so far.
I first joined the family business aged 17 where I was encouraged by my dad to learn the ropes. I didn’t really know too much about bikes back then and quickly immersed myself in all things cycling. Not long after joining the business, I started a BMX community, sourcing specific BMX products for Dales’ customers. I really enjoyed the buying side of things and moved into this role where I loved the buzz of identifying new trends, negotiating deals and bringing in products that got cyclists excited. A big part of my career has the seen the growth in the retail side of the shop. In 1987, I took on a more management role and by 1992 I was appointed MD.