Belfast Telegraph

Pedal power sees Northern Ireland bike store owner rocket to tycoon status

By Anna Maguire

It started out as a modest family shop in a small Co Antrim town.

But now the managing director of the local business — which grew to be the world’s biggest online bike store — has been listed as one of Northern Ireland’s richest people.

The eye-watering profit growth at Ballyclare’s Chain Reaction Cycles has seen the wealth of its managing director Chris Watson and his family rocket up the Sunday Times Irish Rich List.

Their wealth has jumped from £125m to £200m.

The 37-year-old Co Antrim man is now listed behind Lord Ballyedmond — whose cross-border veterinary drugs company, Norbrook, is worth £650m.

Mark Burnett and Roma Downey are in second place on the list. Over the last year the couple have added £30m to their reality TV company, which is split between Co Londonderry and Malibu on America’s coast.

However, it is the rags to riches journey of Chain Reaction Cycles that has seen the biggest change in the rich list.

The firm started out in 1984, when George and Janice Watson opened the small bike shop, Ballynure Cycles — named after its north coast base.

Within five years the business had moved to bigger premises in Ballyclare, changing its name to Chain Reaction Cycles.

The couple’s son, Chris, moved quickly from sweeping the shop’s floor to managing the stock — buying in the latest bicycle models. He abandoned a university course two years in to develop the family business’ mail order system — which lead to the establishment of the store’s website, www.chainreaction|cycles.com, before the turn of the millennium.

By 2011, the family business had established itself as Royal Mail’s biggest customer in Northern Ireland, revealing pre-tax profits of £13m. According to a directors’ report and financial statements, pre-tax profits for Chain Reaction Cycles Ltd grew from £8m to £13.3m for the year ending 2010.

By that stage the company’s accounts showed a 40% rise in turnover to £109.4m.

And as the grinding economic downturn continues to bear down on businesses large and small — forcing high-street shutters to fall across the province — Chain Reaction Cycles continues to flourish.

Last year, the bike and cycles accessories giant opened a 10,000 sq ft store at Boucher Plaza in Belfast.

Then came the announcement earlier this month that the firm — which employs 600 people — will create 30 new jobs over the next 12 months as it concentrates on developing its commercial department and key areas of product, e-commerce and marketing.

New IT roles are also due to be announced.

Every week the company dispatches 40,000 parcels around the world — from its original base in Doagh, Ballyclare, and newly opened commercial headquarters in Mallusk and at the Boucher Plaza branch.

But despite the success, the company remains a family affair. Founders George and Janice are the company’s directors, along with their son Chris.

His sisters, Lola, Sabrina and Georgia all work for the business.

Chain Reaction Cycles’ success story has been largely credited to the vision of Chris, who propelled the company onto the global platform through his strategic use of mail order and online selling.

In an interview with The Times in 2006, he said that good service had always been the backbone of the company.

“I remember, in the early days, my father and I would sit in the shop until the wee small hours in the run-up to Christmas, wrapping bicycle parts to take to the local post office the following morning so that people wouldn’t be disappointed,” he said.

1. Lord Ballyedmond, Norbrook, Newry/Co Louth — worth £650m.

2. Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, owners of Malibu/Co Londonderry reality TV company — worth £280m (+£30m)

3. Danny Hill, Chardan Development (Monaco/Belfast) — worth £230m (+£46m)

4. Gerard O’Hare, property company Parker Green International (Newry, Co Down) — worth £220m

5. Sam Morrison, owner of Fairhill Shopping Centre, Ballymena — worth £212m (-£83m)

6= Kevin (left) and Michael Lagan (right) of construction company, Lagan Holdings — worth £200m (-£100m)

6= Chris Watson, Chain Reaction |Cycles, Ballyclare, Co Antrim — worth £200m (+£125m)

8. Paul and Jeremy Eakin, TG Eakin, Co Down — worth £190m (+£50m)

9. John King, Ex Galen, Belfast — worth £164m (-£6m)

10. Barney and Frances Eastwood, formerly bookmakers — worth £150m

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