Quintessentially British brands: Pashley, hand-built bicycles with pedal power
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Quintessentially British brands: Pashley, hand-built bicycles with pedal power

Pashley Bikes Credit: Garry Knight (background image)

If you owned a bike before the 1980s, there’s a good chance it was made in Britain. On the other hand, if you bought your bicycle recently, (and for a relatively low price), you have more chance of getting something that was made overseas.

It may be surprising for modern customers to learn that cycling was once a key industry for quintessentially British brands. The UK used to be the brawn, and the brains of bicycle design on a global scale. We were delivering innovation and creativity around the world, with a form of transport that seemed to be inherently associated with the great British flag.

Over the years, dips in the perception of Britain as a country synonymous with value, combined with less-than-perfect marketing plans have led to an environment that frequently overlooks the British brands that transformed the everyday bicycle into a lifestyle statement. However, despite the rocky road of the cycling industry, some companies have managed to dig deep and stick to their principals.

In fact, thanks to Pashley Bicycles, we can explore what it means to create a brand identity with impact, in an industry where customers might frequently overlook your products and services. Today, the cycling world is seeing a resurgence, not just because health and fitness are now more important than ever, but because the retro identity of Pashley Bikes is appealing to the underlying pride of local consumers.

Today, we’re going to look at what makes one of the most well-known cycling brands in the world so special. From the history of Pashley Bikes to an insight into how they’ve tapped into the marketing value of British nostalgia, we’re going to tell you why we think Pashley Bikes are one of the ultimate Great British brands.

Pashley Bikes

Pashley Bikes: One of the great British brands

Based in Stratford-upon-Avon, Pashley is a brand that’s been creating and selling classic bikes since 1926. That means they’ve been in business for more than 90 years – and they’re still going strong.

Few companies have been able to achieve the same sense of longevity and security – particularly in an industry that’s so subject to change. In our opinion, the key to Pashley’s success is the fact that the brand has embraced an identity that’s focused entirely on old-world heritage, and British pride. In fact, the current owner, Adrian Williams describes Pashley Bikes as “beautiful and useful”.

As the oldest cycle manufacturer in Britain, it’s easy to see why Pashley would be recognised as a quintessentially British brand. Unlike other companies that have evolved and rebranded to suit the needs of the times, Pashley Bicycles have maintained their strong focus on tradition and heritage, believing that the soul of Britain resides within their handmade-structure and powerful attention to detail.

Even the Pashley logo has held true throughout the decades. Today, it’s become a beacon for the Pashley identity, using an inherently luxurious font to inspire ideas of passion, attention-to-detail, and old-fashioned appeal.

Although Pashley suffered a significant blow when the Royal Mail began to phase out the use of their bikes during 2010, it’s still one of the most powerful brands in Britain, and one of only three manufacturers left in the UK. Despite the fact that Pashley’s hand-made bicycles are significantly more expensive than their mass-produced counterparts, the company still sells about 10,000 units a year – highlighting the overwhelming value that consumers place on traditional, British-made products.

If the continued success of Pashley proves anything, it’s that building a brand on solid foundations, and old-fashioned beliefs can still be a successful strategy. In fact, not only do Pashley have a significant presence in the UK, but they also export to more than 50 countries around the world.

When it comes to hand-produced, bespoke, traditional bicycles, people know that Pashley is the company to choose and that all comes down to some truly incredible branding, a British-based USP, and a little bit of marketing success.

Pashley Bikes
Credit: Raniel Diaz

The history of Pashley Bikes: A retro revolution

So, what is it that makes Pashley so appealing as a brand? The answer to that question starts with an insight into the Pashley Bikes history. In 1926, William Rathbone Pashley created a company called “Pashley and Barber” in Birmingham. They built their company around a desire to be the very best, using engineering knowledge and skill to deliver innovation to the world of two-wheeled transport.

As cycling became a more popular pastime throughout Britain, competition in the space heated up, and a new company “Pashley Carrier Cycles” was born, to concentrate on building stronger bikes, capable of withstanding various forms of abuse. In 1936, the company moved into a spacious new factory in Chester Street.

The 1960s was a crucial time for Pashley Bicycles. William Rathbone’s son, Dick, took control of the company after his father retired. Because he had recently moved to Stratford-upon-Avon, Dick chose to move the company into a new premise in Stratford. At the same time, he created a smaller bicycle called the “Pashley Picador”, that was built using an innovative new development method.

In the 1970s, Pashley designed a new bike called the “Tourmaster”, but the most important development for the decade was the start of a forty-year relationship with the Royal Mail. As the postal company began to use Pashley bikes to deliver mail throughout the country, Pashley was responsible for the largest bike fleet in the western world – something that would stick with their brand for the rest of time.

In 1984, Pashley launched what they claimed to be the last “all British” bicycle – known as the patriot. However, in 1998, the company introduced a new range called the “TVSeries” – a collection of products that allowed the brand to drastically move away from their “traditional” theme while maintaining a solid focus on their values.

As the millennium emerged, Pashley continued to see more demand for its iconic models, particularly the ladies “Princess” loop-framed bicycle, and the man’s Roadster. Although the company has continued to evolve and adapt their products over the years to suit the latest trends and requirements, one thing has remained the same through 90 years of development: the Pashley identity.

No matter what else changed in the company, the Pashley devotion to British heritage remained the same – something you can see in every design, and every press release given throughout the ages. Today, the image of the Pashley bike is so deeply ingrained into the annals of UK culture, that it’s become a mark of British history.

Pashley Bikes
Credit: Nick Dawe

Pashley, hand-made bicycles: A “Pash” for British heritage

Ever since the company was founded in 1926, Pashley has devoted all their time and energy to hand-making high-quality bicycles as the longest-established British manufacturer in the country.

Part of what made the Pashley identity so unique when it was just getting started, was the fact that the company made almost every component of their bicycles themselves. Only the lugs and tubing were brought in from outside. Pashley continues to emblazon their website and company media with the slogan “Hand-made British bicycles”. The organisation knows how much it means to their customers to get that hand-made sense of care and attention.

In fact, if you go to the Pashley website, you’ll find that their story tells a tale of bicycles that are “lovingly” welded and assembled within their Stratford-Upon-Avon factory.

This devotion to hand-made products is almost as definitive as the Pashley logo, establishing a sense of tradition that’s hard to find from any other manufacturer on the market today. It’s this love of tradition and a deep-set passion for British heritage that continues to drive the Pashley brand forward.

Pashley Bikes
Credit: Nick Dawe

While other competitors across the UK have bowed to the pressure of changing economic times and shipped their manufacturing overseas to reduce costs, Pashley has remained almost stubbornly committed to their British principles. Not only are they a quintessentially British brand from a manufacturing perspective, but they’re also supplied and supported by about 100 other British companies too.

To some extent, Pashley isn’t just a great British brand, it’s also one of the key companies fuelling the resurgence of industry in England.

Interestingly, although Pashley claims that they’re motivated by a deep dedication to satisfying their customers, one of the key components in Pashley’s marketing strategy has been the theme of “exclusivity”. Pashley has embraced the idea that they are one of the few remaining places anyone can get a truly British experience. As such, while demand for Pashley bikes increases, the company have refused to exchange quality for quantity.

Today, despite shipping around 10,000 bikes a year, Pashley only employ a group of about 50 local manufacturers. While the company claims that this is a method of ensuring an unparalleled level of longevity and quality in their bikes, as branding connoisseurs, we believe that it’s a critical way for Pashley to maintain their brand identity, as an exclusive heritage company.

Even the names that Pashley gives to its bicycles are evocative of its position as one of the great British brands. You’ve already heard about the Princess and the Patriot. However, Pashley bikes recently released the “Britannia” another traditional bicycle designed to help the company celebrate their identity.

Though Pashley has evolved from a “family-owned” brand over the years, it certainly hasn’t transformed into a large, corporate entity either. By keeping their team small, and combining a hands-on manufacturing process with a love of British heritage, Pashley has managed to keep their unique British impact to this day.

Pashley Bikes
Credit: bicycleimages

Quintessentially British brands: Pashley today

Unlikely most companies, one thing that helps Pashley to stand out as a quintessentially British brand today, is the fact that it’s maintained the same logo for more than 90 years. The unique typography of the Pashley mark has become almost as powerful as the hand-made cycles themselves. In fact, over the years, it’s become something of a status symbol, with celebrities and influencers around the world clamouring for their chance to get their hands on a bike “hand-built by Pashley.”

If we dive a little deeper into the branding initiatives embraced by Pashley today, we can see that the company identity has become more than just a strong logo. To keep up with the digital age, Pashley has created their own social media presence, where they create and manage highly visual campaigns, focused on sharing their unique sense of traditional style with the world.

Interestingly, Williams has stated in interviews that they market specifically to non-cyclists, and you can see this in the tone of voice, and imagery that Pashley uses in its marketing campaigns. Rather than focusing on the health and fitness benefits that come with a life of cycling, Pashley focuses its brand awareness efforts on selling a lifestyle. They’re not so much selling Pashley bikes, anymore, as they are selling the concept of Pashley as a celebration of British heritage.

A quick trip to their Twitter page shows countless images of inherently “British” experiences, overlaid with sepia tones that create a semi-nostalgic experience.

While the Pashley bicycles are often there in the background of many social media images, they’re portrayed as a natural part of the British scenery, which may be an insight into the kind of identity that Pashley wants to create for itself online.

Everything about the Pashley identity, from their formal yet friendly tone, to their slightly-washed out images looks as though it was plucked straight out of a brochure from your grandfather’s years at Cambridge – and that’s completely intentional.

Managing director Adrian Williams even told the UK company Reuters that Pashley is responding to the growing need for “classically styled bikes” in Britain. Because they’ve stayed true to their traditional image for so many years, Pashley hand-made bicycles are perfectly positioned to offer something unique to the marketplace. They’ve found their point of differentiation by simply sticking to their roots for almost a century.

Even the Pashley website has a traditional feel to it. Although the formatting and design are clean, straight-forward, and easy to follow, there are various elements that just “feel” traditional. From the little British flag in the corner of the screen to the logo emblazoned across every page, you can sense the heritage.

Pashley Cycles: A lesson in retro branding

Of course, we’re not just here to wax lyrical about the beauty and appeal of Pashley as a brand. When it comes to great British brands, it’s important to learn as much as you can from the success stories in the market. As a company that’s lasted for more than 90 years, it’s hard to look at Pashley Bikes as anything else but a master of branding.

In the beginning, Pashley branding was all about that “made in Britain” appeal. While it’s true that the same British heritage appeals to customers today, it’s also worth noting that some of the success that can be attributed to the Pashley brand also comes from the fact that the company has fully embraced the age of nostalgia.

Over the years, the decision to align marketing strategies with emotion has already proven to be a successful solution. However, tapping into fond memories with those emotions can also be an invaluable tactic. From breakfast cereals to fast foods, gaming systems, and music, smart brands have begun to engage with their consumers through retro roots in the form of nostalgia marketing, and that’s something that Pashley does incredibly well.

Pashley Bicycles and nostalgia marketing

Pashley Bicycles are in the perfect position to take advantage of nostalgia marketing because they’ve spent decades building an image of themselves as a quintessentially British brand. They know how to use memories of basket-laden bicycles and old-fashioned posties to fill their customers with nostalgia, which is something you can see in their Instagram posts:

British Brands: Pashley Bikes

How can your brand use nostalgia marketing?

The good news is that you don’t have to be one of the few great British brands to make the most of nostalgia marketing. In fact, companies from all industries are currently experimenting with this trend, from Lego and Microsoft to Herbal Essences.

In an age that’s full of impersonal digital media, companies can build a sense of social connectedness that’s just as powerful as the one generated by the Pashley identity, by connecting through a sense of shared experience. All you need to do is think about how you can combine your brand messages from positive references from the 90s, 80s, 70s – or any other era that works for your company. This humanises your company and creates a meaningful connection between the past and present.

Nostalgia-centric brands and retro campaigns are particularly effective with the millennial audience of the modern age because reliving positive memories and engaging with beloved icons from the past is an experience that younger people enjoy.

Just because we’re living in a world that’s more digitally-focused than ever before, doesn’t necessarily mean that we want to ignore classic experiences. In fact, in a world that’s brimming with hectic work schedules and responsibilities, fond memories that make us smile can be the branding effort that breaks through the walls that today’s customers are building.

Pashley Cycles are using a combination of retro design, and traditional British heritage in their branding, to appeal to the nostalgic cravings of today’s audience and develop all-important brand affinity. After all, purchasing something that seems to come straight from our history gives us a sense of being part of something much bigger than ourselves. That “blast from the past” experience is more than just a stylish trend, it’s something that can connect with audiences on a deep emotional level, like adding a new member to your family tree.

Pashley Bikes
Credit: Raniel Diaz

The Pashley identity: What’s next?

Today, Pashley bikes are continuing to innovate, while staying true to their traditional roots. By appealing to the nostalgia side of marketing to strike chords with millennials that other tactics can’t reach, and building on the heritage that they’ve developed through decades of incredible branding, Pashley has cemented its place in UK history.

Of course, it’s hard to know whether the Pashley devotion to hand-made British bicycles will continue to deliver success for the next 90 years. In London, the average cycling distance has increased by about 60% since 1995, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Pashley is going to lead the charge into a greener Britain.

Bike manufacturing is an expensive business – and making bikes by hand in a tiny factory in the UK is far more expensive than outsourcing your solutions to a company overseas. However, up until now, that challenge hasn’t slowed Pashley down. In fact, Pashley Bikes are more popular today than they’ve ever been, thanks to the general dissatisfaction people feel towards cheap imports, and mountain bikes.

It may be that all Pashley need to do to remain one of the great British brands, is stay true to their focus on traditional luxury. If this is the case, then Pashley are already one step ahead, as they recently launched their “Poppy” range to bring a little more colour to Britain.

As other companies across the globe struggle to find their identity, Pashley has planted its flag in Britain as one of the most inspiring brands. Over decades, the business has overcome controversy and trouble to increase sales in spite of economic downturns. By focusing on its position as a quintessentially British brand, Pashley have transformed their bikes into badges of honour for everyone who rides them.

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Stewart Hodgson
Stewart Hodgson
Our co-founder, Stewart, is responsible for content strategy and managing Fabrik’s publishing team. It’s up to Stewart to bring Fabrik to busy marketers’ attention. As a regular contributor to Brand Fabrik, Stewart creates articles relevant to anyone in branding, marketing and creative communication.

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